Saturday, February 04, 2006

Eliot's Audience?

This just in from Lizette:

I have some comments regarding Eliot's poems. For one thing, what is a loto (Burnt Norton, line 36)? The word's not even in my dictionary.

Reading these poems is even more of a research exercise than was reading Pound. Wading and slashing my way through thickets of allusions only snatches me, repeatedly, from the dream of the poem, from its milieu, message and story. While tracking down all of the fascinating facts proves interesting, the necessity of engaging in the wading carries the risk of derailing the reader. I have to wonder which persons Eliot considered to be his audience, his readers. We've all been raised in different placesin different decades, and with different canons. At times I get the impression that these poets (Pound, Eliot and their contemporaries) were writing solely for one another. More maddening still is when the book itself refers the reader to a cross reference on another page and poem (i.e., "See footnote 19 about the title of Part V.").


Claire said...

The OED says that "loto" is short for lottery, but I suspect that Eliot meant it as an archaic spelling of "lotus."

It's funny -- I find Eliot generally much easier than Pound when it comes to allusions. I find the core ideas and images much closer to the surface, so to speak; not as hidden behind veils of references. With Pound I feel as if the only way I could truly understand his poetry would be to actually be Pound, or at least have experienced an education identical to his. Some of Eliot's poems are denser than others, but I imagine that I can divine meaning and images more easily. This might just be delusion on my part, but at the very least, even Eliot at his densest evokes more emotion in me than Pound's Cantos did.

Lara said...

I actually really love digging through these poems to get to all the allusions. It's the sleuth in me, I guess. I just find it so satisfying to learn by being forced to figure out connections.
I'd agree with Lizette that It is a little unnerving to get caught up in some of the less interesting footnotes, but in "The Wasteland," the form of the poem reinforces the theme that the Grail is not really there anymore, there is not a singular goal, we grapple in the footnotes, the journey is not in search of closure. Hence the odd ending that Jeff pointed to in his post... There is more to be learned in all the wandering. Although I may be scowling at some of the stuff Eliot says (too much to get into here), he at least shows that the male/female lance/grail roles (that Weston mentioned) are severely problematized. Everyone is flailing in all this misunderstanding of one another and clinging to old values and myths. No closure. So you know what? I keep going back and back.

Shilpa said...

The audience question is a little more amorphous. My impression is that most poets wouldn't deliberately think about an audience (in an ideal world) but it is always a possibility. Considering he worked as a banker and lived a pretty conventional life on the surface, I'd be surprised if he deliberated over that with great concern, but I can understand the latent inquries that lie beneath the surface.

On a somewhat tangential note, I really liked "Preludes" this time around. It seems like one of Eliot's most famous lines is from this poem: "The sight of some infinitely gentle / infinitely suffering thing." While several of his longer works tend to meander into various, sometimes unconnected thoughts -- I found this one to be cohesive and graceful.

I also felt that Eliot touched well on that most loved of modern themes: isolation and self-exile (thought maybe that's not as prominent as the first theme). He has a sort of compelling rather than biting way of putting things, though far from hiding under the guise of perfection.

For example, the line, "You had such a vision of the street / As the street hardly understands" seems to speak volumes on isolation itself. I see some parallels with some of the modern fiction that was produced during this era as well, so its interesting to see how writers (whether of prose or poetry) grappled with many of the same issues.

For its asthetic imagery, I also loved "La Figlia che Piange" (which we were not assigned to read) but it was fairly short and the last three lines caught my eye. It is really quite a lovely poem and one of the few where these predominant themes don't surface.

rodney k said...

Great comment thread! I love Lara's idea about the footnotes being a formal feature of the poem that mirrors its content--we're on a "journey without closure," to paraphrase Lara: we grapple in the footnotes the way the different voices in Eliot's poem, or snatches of voices, grapple for the Grail of a singular meaning or goal.

I wonder if the footnotes may be a way of acknowledging that there's no singular audience anymore, either. Eliot assumes you won't simply recognize his references, that they need to be explained. A fragmented readership, reading this fragmented mini-epic, trapped in a fragmented culture ... big Modern fun!