Dramatis Personae

The Waste Land and The Cantos may be read as an ideology critique of the kind Hulme set out in his introduction to Reflections on Violence. Both poems question and severely criticize the religious, social and political ideologies that structure our lives. But to retain the integrity of the poetry, the poems' arguments cannot be made in the authorial voice: that would be to descend to the level of the propagandist. Instead, Eliot and Pound make their poems out of many voices - some imaginary, some quoted from written sources - that speak as if directly to the reader, without the mediation or interpretation of the author. 'You cannot create a very large poem without introducing a more impersonal point of view, or splitting it up into various personalities', remarked Eliot (1980: 321). To use Hulme's terms, in these poems, ideas appear 'facing one as objects which we can then consciously accept or reject' (1994: 248).

Before Eliot's reading of Jessie Weston suggested the title of The Waste Land, the poem was called 'He Do the Police in Different Voices', a quotation from Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865) by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) that praises a character's newspaper-reading skills. The original title is an apt summary of the poem's dramatic qualities, and indeed drama and dramatic poetry were important models for The Waste Land and The Cantos. During the period in which he was conceiving and writing The Waste Land, Eliot wrote a series of journal articles on drama, most of which were collected in The Sacred Wood (1920).

In 'The Possibility of Poetic Drama', he foregrounds the problem of finding an appropriate form to represent contemporary concerns. The Elizabethans, he argues, found it in blank verse drama, but the new experiences of industrial modernity that began in the nineteenth century have as yet found no equivalent form to express them. What Eliot is calling for here is not just a metrical form, but a 'framework' that contains within it 'a precise way of thinking and feeling', 'the "temper of the age"'. Poetic drama seems to suggest that one can maintain the integrity of subjective experience, while presenting that experience in an expanded, objective form: 'The essential is to get upon the stage this precise statement of life which is at the same time a point of view, a world' (1976: 63-64, 68; Bush 1984: 47-48).

While Eliot was thinking through this problem in relation to Elizabethan drama, Pound found inspiration in two quite different locations: Japanese Noh drama and the dramatic poetry of Robert Browning. In 1914, at the end of his essay, 'Vorticism', Pound had related that he was 'often asked whether there can be a long imagiste or vorticist poem'. His answer then was that he 'saw nothing against a long vorticist poem', and as evidence he cited the Noh drama he was at that time translating from Ernest Fenollosa's papers: 'in the best "Noh" the whole play may consist of one image. I mean it is gathered about one image' (1970a: 94). However, unlike imagism, and the Japanese haiku to which it was indebted, Noh plays were part of a series: five plays were typically performed together, and the whole, Pound thought, 'presents, or symbolizes, a complete diagram of life and recurrence' (1970c: 222). Indeed, in 1917 Pound compared The Cantos to what has been called the archetypal Noh play, Takasago (Bush 1976: 108). Although Pound was specifically drawing attention to their shared theme (that of human and divine love, mirrored in an ideal relationship between humanity and nature) Noh drama also made a vital contribution to The Cantos' structure. Just as Eliot saw that the formal qualities of poetic drama expanded the insights of the single speaker without losing integrity, Pound admired Noh drama for its presentation of single units built up into a complex statement of meaning — what Pound now called the 'ideogrammic method'.

If Noh drama showed Pound how his long poem could be built up from sections of poetry 'gathered about one image', the work of Robert Browning suggested how he might solve the equally pressing problem of relating those sections to each other and conveying their significance. Browning's poetry had been a major model for Pound since his college years, when he had written imitations of the dramatic monologues. When planning The Cantos, however, Pound turned for inspiration to Browning's long, famously difficult poem about the thirteenth-century Provençal troubadour, Sordello (1840). Sordello begins with the narrator explaining that to relate the story of Sordello he will not use the method of dramatic monologue, where the protagonist speaks directly to the reader, instead he will adopt the method of a showman of a diorama (an early form of cinema), who presents the images to his audience with apparent objectivity, but also adds a commentary. Browning thus creates a framework in which the story of Sordello can be told with the immediacy of a dramatic monologue, but which also accommodates substantial intervention from the narrator, who comments on the story, explains jumps in the narrative and discusses the relationship between the thirteenth-century story and the nineteenth-century present. Pound recorded his admiration for Sordello and its device of the narrator-showman in the first published canto (1917), which began with the lament 'Hang it all, there can be but one Sordello!', and went on to suggest ways of adapting Browning's poem for 'the modern world' (1917: 113). That canto, along with the second and third published, was all but deleted from The Cantos as it now exists, and the debate with Browning disappeared. But the method remains and is literalized in cantos 4 and 12 where Pound pictures himself in the Verona Arena, looking down and commenting on the action of the poem (1994: 16, 53).

Pound dramatizes this method succinctly in his opening canto, a translation of the section of the Odyssey in which Odysseus calls up the souls of the dead. What Pound seems to want to suggest by beginning with this passage is that he will not merely describe the actions and ideas of figures from history; instead he will, like Odysseus, call up the dead and let them speak directly to the reader. This, indeed, is the method of much of The Cantos, which is so full of direct quotation from the diaries, letters and documents of what Pound called 'factive personalities' that it verges on an anthology (1970b: 194). United States presidents such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, sages and prophets such as Confucius, Renaissance rulers such as Sigismondo Malatesta, are quoted at length as sources of wisdom. But at the same time, even in the first canto, Pound reminds us that history is never conveyed without some form of mediation. The section from the Odyssey is, after all, a translation, and in fact, Pound reveals at the end of the first canto that it is a translation of a translation. His English translation derives not from a Greek source, but from Andreas Divus's Renaissance Latin translation of the Greek. In this way Pound performs a delicate balancing act: he affirms the integrity of the individual voice, but he simultaneously reminds us that transmission inevitably affects the voice.

The Waste Land does not begin with such a directly programmatic account of its intentions, but it does contain vignettes which, like Pound's use of the Odyssey, can be read as descriptions of the poem's method. In 'The Burial of the Dead', we attend a tarot card reading by Madame Sosostris, 'famous clairvoyante', who sets out a series of cards before the reader that introduce several of the poems' key figures. Like Madame Sosostris, Eliot presents us with a series of fragmented images or condensed narratives that singly are meaningless, but juxtaposed suggest an interpretation of the present, if not the future. But, like Pound, Eliot establishes his integrity by pointing out the shortcomings of his own method, and Madame Sosostris is implicitly compared with the rather more famous prophet, the blind Tiresias, on whom Eliot provides a tantalizing note: 'Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a "character", is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest [. . .]. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem' (1969a: 78).

Critics have tended to see Eliot's remark about Tiresias's unifying eye, like his insistence on the importance of Frazer and Weston, as truer to the poet's intention than to the poem's actuality. But this disjunction itself is important, and indicative of a characteristic feature of modernist writing. As readers, we may choose to emphasize either the poems' will to order, or the fragmentation that is a sign of their integrity — but both are present. In The Waste Land, Tiresias's eye might try to unite the poem's protagonists, but Eliot also invokes Bradley's arguments on the privacy of the self (1969a: 74, 80). In The Cantos, the fugal structure suggests an overall coherence and completion, but Pound approvingly quotes Confucius on 'historians [who] left blanks in their writings, / I mean for things they didn't know' (1971: 210; 1994: 60).

The Waste Land and The Cantos make us question many of our presuppositions about poetry, authors, readers and even the act of reading itself. If we turn back to the previous chapter, we can see that these poems are the practical application of many of the ideas on these subjects

Eliot and Pound explored in their essays. Most obviously, both poems highlight the fact that they exist within a literary tradition, through allusion, quotation and translation. We are encouraged to see The Waste Land and The Cantos as parts of a vast textual landscape, parts of the 'simultaneous order', which also contains Dante's Divina Commedia, Homer's Odyssey, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and the letters of Thomas Jefferson. Eliot's 'Impersonal theory of poetry' is pushed to an extreme, demonstrating the collaborative nature of all literary works, however original they seem to be (Eliot 1980: 14, 18).

The Waste Land was a collaborative work in a very literal way. When the facsimile of The Waste Land manuscripts was published in 1971, it showed the extent of Pound's editorial work on the poem; the manuscripts provided, as Eliot had remarked, 'irrefutable evidence of Pound's critical genius' (Sutton 1963: 17). Pound worked on the drafts during January 1922, making major cuts from the beginnings of parts one, three and four and from the middle section of part three (the typist section), and suggesting many more changes to individual words and phrases. This is not the place to give a detailed account of Pound's editing (see Badenhausen 2004: 62-110, Eliot 2005: 23-25); the point to emphasize here is that Eliot and Pound had successfully created a literary context where editorial intervention and collaboration could be celebrated as part of the creative process. Their essays, as we saw in the previous chapter, emphasized the close relationship between the critical and the poetic, and in fact Eliot saw this as a marker of the modern classicist stance. In 1923 he wrote that the romantic tends to 'propound the thesis that the great artist is an unconscious artist' and therefore 'overlooks the capital importance of criticism in the work of creation itself. Probably, indeed, the larger part of the labour of an author in composing his work is critical labour; the labour of sifting, combining, constructing, expunging, correcting, testing: this frightful toil is as much critical as creative' (1980: 30).

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