Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Elliot's Allusions

I'm no Elliot scholar, and I'm no Dante Scholar, but I have tried my hand at allusion-laced poetry, so I've thought some about literary allusion. I have a three thoughts and a question:

1. Allusions are of (at least these) two kinds: universal and particular. That is, if I am writing a poem I can allude to some part or episode from another poem or I can allude to a general theme by simply describing it. In other words, I can describe people walking around bearing lodestones, bent double, which makes us think "Oh! Dante!" or I can talk about pride and lowliness by using the words "pride" and "lowliness", which makes us think, if we've read Dante, "Oh yeah, Dante talks about pride and lowliness too."

Do you see the difference?

2a. The point of making what I am calling a Universal Allusion is first and foremost simply to grapple with and give your take on the topics and themes about which people have been giving their takes since we have existed; and, secondly, perhaps, to self-consciously associate yourself with those who have undertaken to grapple with the same topics. It is a sort of symbol or badge saying, "Yes, I too, with Dante and Petrarch and Tal Bachman want to write a poem about how women are divine."
2b. The point of what I am calling a Particular Allusion is one of (at least) two: First, it could simply be a means of 2a. You could be using the same image from Dante of an Eagle as divine justice but doing so only because it is expedient for your treatment of divine justice. In the second use, though, you could be wanting to say something about Dante's image. In this second use, you draw up the Eagle, for example, so as to critique or praise Dante in his use of it.*
Of course, both of these uses may be, and often are, simulteneously.

I'm not being terribly clear. Are you with me?

My main point, the one that attempts to explain your experience of Elliot, is this:
3a. Insofar as Dante used specific images and instantiations of universal or general themes, his imagary is difficult not to allude to. He used many unique and self-invented images, but he himself used allusion to a profuse degree, drawing from, two that come to mind, for instance are that imaginative storehouse called The Holy Bible, and Virgil's Aeneid. A poet who desired to make an allusion to Dante could allude to Dante proper or alludeto the same thing Dante is alluding to: in this case, scriptural images, Virgil, what have you. Elliot is doing both. For this reason, you will see a lot of Dantean images in Elliot.
3b. Insofar as Dante described and dealt with universal themes directly, he is impossible to avoid. He wrote about "God, the Universe, and Everything" to use Douglas Adam's phrase, so when I (or any poet) talks about one of those three things they are entering the same arena in which Dante flexed his poetic power. In this way Elliot merely happens to be discussing some of the same themes, and what seem like Dante allusions, but only are so incidentally, wil abound.

Now, my question.
What kinds of Dante allusions do you see? Are they, if you buy my distinction, of a "Universal" or "Particular" type?
What do you make of all that?

*The more subtle you want to be, the more you will account for. Dante did not, of course, invent the eagle, or first notice is appropriateness as an image of divine justice, so him who is able will comment on Homer's treatment of the eagle, the early Roman treatment, and Dante's, all in one fell swoop.


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