27 October, 2009

Manganiello on Dante and Eliot

Citing Pound's acknowledgment of Eliot as "the true Dantescan voice" of the modern world, Manganiello explores Dante's influence on Eliot, outlining Eliot's literary, thematic, and theological/philosophical indebtedness to the Florentine poet (Qtd. Manganiello, 1). Manganiello draws a connection between Eliot's preoccupation with "Death By Water" and Dante's Ulysses, recognizing in both the same core recognition of the dangers of seeking without faith, but finding Eliot's development of this theme in "Marina" to mirror more closely the pilgrim Dante's own journey. The motif of exodus which Dante uses throughout his Purgatorio similarly informs "The Waste Land" and "The Hollow Men," developing into garden imagery reminiscent of Dante's Earthly Paradise with the utterance of the Word in the desert. Underlying these thematic similarities is, however, a deeper correspondence between the two poets, manifested in their parallel political views, that consists in their common understanding of experience in time as having meaning only in relation to the timelessness of the "love which moves the sun and the other stars." Manganiello's argument focuses on Eliot's major poems, but takes into account his essays and minor poems to assemble a complete model of his thought; he also balances close readings of passages that show a peculiar degree of linguistic similarity to Dante's work with a fine attention to the philosophical arc of the poetry.

26 October, 2009

Marie de France

One of the poets whom we're studying in Medieval Lit. I highly recommend her lais, which are both amusing and insightful. To anyone interested in fairy tales, they're especially interesting, because many of the elements of the classic European fairy tales can be found here.

Not so shabby...

Eliot in general

Erudite and imbued throughout with a highly sophisticated wit, T.S. Eliot’s body of poetry undergoes a dramatic conversion in tone from a sense of pessimism regarding the disjointed state of the modern world in his early work to a humble realization that the ideal for which he longs is unattainable in this life. The poetic career that began with the bleak picture of J. Alfred Prufrock’s utter inarticulateness in the face of the “overwhelming question” of modern urban life ends with a sense of joyful anticipation of the “Still point,” the true fulfillment of the Bradleian “Absolute” that so enthralled him as a student of philosophy (“Prufrock” 10; “Burnt Norton” 2.16).

The sense of conflict in Eliot’s poetry derives from his acute desire for the unification of society in a coherent and meaningful whole and his equally acute awareness that modern life, as quintessentially demonstrated in the fragmentation of the modern city (one of Eliot’s primary images), fails to live up to this ideal. The dramatic quality of his poetry arises from this very tension and is perhaps most apparent in “The Waste Land,” where an essentially dramatic structure—the quest motif—underlies the lyric passages so that their meaning is only comprehensible in light of a certain action or (initially) lack thereof. Contributing to the sense of conflict is Eliot’s ability to ventriloquize a multiplicity of voices, a talent which adds to the dramatic quality of the poetry and which reaches its acme in “The Waste Land.” Not only does he make use of a variety of characters’ voices, such as that of Tiresias, the typist, or Madame Sosostris to drive home the sensibility of conflict; he also ventriloquizes other artists through his ubiquitous allusions to deepen the ambiguity of his images and even of his metric forms. These forms and images are revealed to be peculiarly multifaceted as we recognize allusions which layer the simple picture of the girl in the hyacinth garden with overtones of Tristan and Iseult’s tragic love, or which put the prose poem “Hysteria” in the context of Baudelaire’s similar experimentation with form that led to the exploration of the labyrinthine modern city in the prose poems of “Spleen de Paris.” Through this cubist method of fragmenting his images and forcing us to make unintuitive connections between, say, Sweeney and Agamemnon (“Sweeney Among the Nightingales”) or between Queen Elizabeth I and the mundane typist (“The Waste Land”), Eliot is pushing the reader to an acute perception of the modern world’s lack of cultural unity. His bathetic juxtaposition of images of grand cosmic significance with startlingly mundane, even sordid scenes of modern life reinforces the tone of pessimism with which he treats the emptiness of a world preoccupied with “the profit and the loss” and disconnected from tradition (WL.IV, 3).

A spectacular shift in tone characterizes Eliot’s post-conversion poetry. He continues to recognize the lack of cultural unity and accompanying societal malaise, but the quest of “What the Thunder Said” has been transformed into a more personal journey towards the emptiness which will allow God to fulfill him. Corresponding to this shift in tone is a move towards a more resolute, calm diction and imagery. Eliot retains his allusiveness, but the diction of the highly prophet of tradition almost arrogant in his education largely disappears in favor of one who, like his Magi describing their journey with a simplicity that lends conviction to their account, speaks in a more down-to-earth syntax about a truth which would make a mockery of mere eloquence. The form of his poetry consequently moves towards a more conversational accentually-based meter, imitating other metrical patterns rarely and, when doing so, drawing on a highly significant association in a manner that enhances the musicality of the sequence, as we see in “Dry Salvages” II. Moreover the allusions no longer shock the reader with a kaleidoscopic picture of the fragmented world. The words of Lancelot Andrewes (Journey of the Magi) or echoes of the Bhagavad Gita (“Dry Salvages”) do not aim at the violent juxtapositions of the Sweeney poems or “The Waste Land,” but are rather presented as objects of the poet’s meditation; they are not examples of the modern world’s dissolution, but rather form part of a conversation in which Eliot climbs to higher apprehension of his faith through the work of these “dead master[s]” (“Little Gidding). Eliot’s poetry reflects his realization that through the modern world suffers from this fragmentation, the Incarnation of Christ provides a real solution and puts mankind into contact with the ideal that is the whole of reality.

24 October, 2009

Donald Childs on T.S. Eliot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night"

Prefacing his article with an argument for “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”'s temporal antecedence to Eliot's rejection of Bergsonism, Childs performs a cogent close reading of “Rhapsody” in terms of Bergson's thought. The moon and the street lamp—the two light sources of the poem—both prompt the speaker to meditation, affecting his memory, but the influence of the former is importantly opposed to that of the latter. The lamp illuminates certain objects with a clear but circumscribed light, and its effect is to stir up what Bergson calls the practical memory (479)— memory limited and defined by the intellect's association of the past with a specific object of present experience. The moon, however, dissolves the street lamp's string of associations and as the lamp dies down the night's images are understood in terms of a medley of disparate experiences: this is the influence of Bergson's "pure memory" (479), memory understood in terms of its entire indeterminate content. The end of the poem Childs reads as a painful return of the practical intellect after a near-mystical approach to apprehension of the whole, an apprehension which, he notes, will be the consistent object of Eliot's quest for the ideal.

19 October, 2009

Eliot by Wyndham Lewis

Anthony Cuda on Eliot: "T.S. Eliot's Etherized Patient"

From its first appearance in "Prufrock" to its reemergence in "East Coker" IV, the trope of the "patient etherized upon a table" is central to Eliot's poetry, Cuda argues; its development occurs in the undercurrent of conflict between passivity as a danger to the individual's spiritual progress and its necessity as a precursor to surrender to the divine. Passivity in "Prufrock" is to be feared: the image of the patient intensifies the sense of the vulnerability of the person left open to the action of random influence. Later theological development augments Eliot's awareness of the dangers associated with passivity- when allowed free reign in the conscience, pernicious influences have a disastrous effect. Yet Eliot's simultaneously growing recognition of the necessity of humble self-surrender to God, as particularly shown in "East Coker," creates a drastic conflict within his understanding of what it means to be passive. Eliot's eventual conclusion is that the terror of surrender can be accompanied by great spiritual joy if the passivity is a freely chosen acceptance of purgation; passivity is thus "transfigured in the light of the divine" (413). Cuda's argument hangs together, but is not improved by several significant departures into the realm of psychological/ biographical speculation which do no more than give a less-than-compelling recapitulation of the points which Cuda accurately proves from the poetry itself. Such digressions serve to make excessively long an otherwise creditable essay.

04 October, 2009

Elisabeth Däumer on T.S. Eliot

One of the articles I recently read for the 25-source annotated bibliography I'm writing for Junior Poet is “Charlotte Stearns Eliot and "Ash-Wednesday"'s Lady of Silences” by Elisabeth Däumer. It's not the best article on Eliot I've read thus far, being rather too focused on biographical detail and psychological speculation to be entirely convincing (reading too much biographical detail into an artist's work, especially one as consciously impersonal as Eliot always raises a red flag).

Basically Däumer aims to explain Eliot's depiction of women in “Ash Wednesday” as the poetic resolution of his highly ambiguous response to his mother's significant influence on the young Eliot's personal and artistic development. Compared to the semi-misogynistic portrayal of women in his earlier poetry, “Ash Wednesday”'s picture of the “Lady of Silences” and the “Holy Mother” is much more positive, describing womanhood in terms of the Beatrician/Marian ideal which directs the poet towards heaven. Yet he retains the ambiguity of his relationship with his at times overly influential mother by emphasizing that the women of “Ash Wednesday” are destructive forces as much as they are creative. They must reduce the speaker to a heap of dry bones before their reception of the Word can restore him to life.