You and I it appears think of "making" differently. In my way of
thinking about it, it is not possible for us to "know a great deal
more about it than Lewis did" -- because Lewis had the poem. We
might learn more about the background to its composition, but either
the "making" is accessible through the poem itself, ie it is a
successful poem, or it isn't. And the degree to which it is or
isn't, or a comprehending rendering of its registry as a poem, what
it does as a poem, also does not depend on ever expanding background
I know what the usual objections to this are, and I know where they
go off track. But communicating that I'm not so good at, because
really, to understand what I'm trying to get at you 'd have to, as
Eliot once said, believe it first. Perhaps "see it first" or
"experience it first" would be less objectionable ways of putting
it. The long and short of it is, you have to work out not what the
poem meant for Eliot -- he gave you all you need to know when he
published it -- but what it means for you, Nancy Gish, for your
existence as a human being, i.e. you have to participate, really
participate with your whole being, in the creative act that is the
making of the poem. It can't just be Eliot's life on the line, it
has to be yours, too. Always referring it back to Eliot only
guarantees that the creative act will never be availed to a reader,
thus the whole purpose of having the poem in the first place is
As I said, I'm not particularly skilled at presenting this. I
offered the Lewis piece really just because Eliot in it is so
un-Prufrock like, I hoped it might be a wake-up call that shakes
someone off that dead-end track.
On 10/23/2015 12:49 PM, Nancy Gish
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I am unable to see here what the "meaning" of the poem
ostensibly is. But if it is about the "making," we know a great
deal more than Lewis did (though the excerpt below says nothing
about the "making" of "Prufrock." In a fascinating seminar led
by Cassandra Laity at the TSE Society, a lot of new information
appeared. In my own case, I was focused on the writing of
"Prufrock's Pervigilium," which was inserted in the Notebook and
then removed (See IMH). It offers a quite disturbing and very
different voice. But it is part of what was very much in the
What, for example, is presumed to be the meaning that
provides an absolute significance to "grow old" as literal?
Or did I miss something?
>>> Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>10/23/15
12:30 PM >>>
Some years ago, when my wife's father was stopped going the
wrong way on a one way street in this small town, the officer,
well known to Red, said, "Red, don't you know this is a one way
street?" "But Rod," said Red, "I'm only going one way."
Red, of course, knew he was making a joke with the law. Happily
he was let off with a warning. Carrol, on the other hand, wants
us to believe that a one way street really is a two way street.
Well, okay, you pays your money and you makes your choices. But
what you choose doesn't determine the nature of the street, only
the approach you bring to it.
I don't see any new questions or pressing observations in his
post, and all in all don't believe my certainty exceeds anything
Carrol always has on display. To the degree that "Prufrock" is a
successful poem, it's meaning inheres in its making, which,
again, would have been what Pound so enthusiastically pounced
Consider Wyndham Lewis' account of meeting TSE:
" As I entered the room I discovered an agreeable stranger
parked up one of the sides of the triangle. He softly growled at
me, as we shook hands. American. A graceful neck, I noted, with
what elsewhere I have described as 'a Gioconda smile.' Though
not feminine -- besides being physically large his personality
visibly moved within the male pale -- there were dimples
in the warm dark skin; undoubtedly he used his eyes a little
like a Leonardo. He was a very attractive fellow then....I liked
him, though I may say not at all connecting him with texts Ezra
had shown me about some fictional character dreadfully troubled
with old age, in which the lines....'I am growing old....'.....I
was unable to make head or tail of.
Ezra now lay flung back in typical posture of aggressive ease...
However, he kept steadily beneath his quizzical but
self-satisfied observation his latest prize, or discovery -- the
author of Prufrock. The new collector's piece went on
smiling and growling out melodiously his apt and bright answers
to promptings from the proud figure of his exhausted captor."
After this description of a most un-Prufrockian like character,
Lewis stumbles in the same place Carrol does, but only partly
for the same reason: he can't make sense of the meaning of the
"growing old" line for Prufrock, whereas Carrol's attention is
in another dimensionaaaaa, trying to make it work for Eliot. The
answer lies in how Prufrock's actions and alarms make him what
he is and bring him to an end meant to be perceived as
his fall, but moreover, in the first place, meant to be
perceived by the structure and technique and signs in the poem.
I think the telling phrase used to be "follow the lines of
PS I am impressed by Carrol's evident respect for "Prufrock." In
a post from him I stumbled upon by virtue of my email client
deciding to open to posts from 2009, he noted that in the long
run Eliot would be largely forgotten by future generations with
only two poems, in a minor way, meeting the test of time. No
doubt "Prufrock" is one of them. I suppose it is only a matter
of time until this projection comes to pass, and we will all be
on the Marianne Moore list, discussing as per Carrol those much
richer and more powerful poems.
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