Words and Meanings: a Note on Eliot's Poetry
. . . the intolerable wrestle With words and meanings.
( 'East Coker')
THE obscurities of Eliot's poetry are of different kinds. One results from the suppression of connecting links between statements or evoked images, the suppression in which Ezra Pound encouraged him and which he approves of in St-J. Perse. The second comes from ambiguity; two meanings, neither in itself obscure, are offered by the same phrase. The third and most interesting is the direct and necessary outcome of attempting extremely difficult statements.
The first kind has often been discussed and a good deal of exegesis consists in guesses about the suppressed links. That indeed points to the inherent danger of the method: besides achieving vividness and concreteness it offers too inviting a challenge to crossword-intelligence, just as Eliot's use of allusion may make understanding abdicate to erudition. From his Preface to the translation of Anabasis it sounds as though Eliot maintains the possibility of judging the appropriateness of a sequence of images and ideas without knowing or guessing what implied statement is linking them. Perhaps inevitably, he gives no clue to the criterion by which we 'distinguish between order and chaos in the arrangement of images'; he only says that people who do not appreciate poetry find it difficult to make the distinction. He recommends repeated readings to reach conviction about the imaginative order-