Thursday, September 6, 2007

Thoughts on T.S. Eliot’s "Three Voices of Poetry," from On Poetry and Poets.

『文学理論』という授業を取っている。先週は最初だった。一回目は『詩経』、『古今和歌集の序』、本居宣長の『石上私淑言』、M.H. Abrams’s “Orientation of Critical Theories”、T.S. Eliot’s “The Three Voices of Poetry”、Jorge Luis Borgesの短編小説 「Averroes’s Search」、その六つのものを読み、その中から一つを選んで感想文を書くことが宿題になっているが、先生が全く説明してくれなかったため、どうすればいいのか誰も分らないようだ。ただ、実力をいかんなく発揮し、二年ぶりに英語の文章を書いてみるしかあるまい。先生に受け入れらるかは、不自信です(っていうか不自信って言葉あるかな?)。

Eliot divides the voices of poetry into the following three categories.

First voice: poet’s “own voice”; audience-less.
Second voice: poet’s “own voice”; audience, large or small
Third voice: poet’s “assumed” voice; audience, large or small.

This grouping, however, poses several problems. First, he assumes that there is a “self” with its own inner voice that is exists independently from “other voices," which are the “assumed voices” of drama. Second, he assumes that this first voice is singular (he calls it the poet’s “own voice” rather than “own voices”), and that it there is little, if any, difference between what exists in the mind of the first-voice poet and what he puts on paper. The problem is, of course, that there is no clear distinction between “outer voices” (i.e., influence) and inner voice (“one’s own voice”). Moreover, the reciprocal relation between the outer and the inner is so vastly complex that drawing a line between the two is ultimately an arbitrary and misleading act. Eliot insists however that there exist examples of this first type of voice, which make up what he calls “meditational poetry.” I would instead argue that no such example exists, that all voices, including those of the most maudlin Romantic “meditational” lyricists, are “assumed,” and that the differences between these three types of voice are determined not by vocal ownership or audience presence, but by the artificial structure imposed upon the work. Keeping with Eliot’s grouping of three, I would instead define the voices as follows, noting that they nearly always overlap.

First voice: “assumed own audience-less voice ”
Second voice: “assumed own audience-addressing voice”
Third voice: “assumed voice(s) addressing an audience, either explicitly or implicitly”

Eliot defines the third type of voice as that which “attempts to create a dramatic character when speaking in verse.” As I have said, this definition can apply to the first two voices as well, since first-voice “meditational” poetry is invariably a dramatic construction, and is very rarely, if ever, “what he [the poet] would say in his own person.”
Yet, still there exists something of an “abyss” between the first and third types of voice. What, then, causes this abyss, if not the difference in voice ownership? (We’ll have to explore this some other time.)

Toward the end of the essay Eliot strengthens his argument by making several concessions. First, he admits the overlap between the three voices― “in any poem there is more than one voice to be heard"-- and, second, he points out that, in the dramatic type, “all three voices are audible.” Furthermore, he notes that a poem for the author alone “would not be a poem at all”― a statement suggesting that Eliot might agree with my assertion that the first voice of poetry is also an assumed voice.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This reminds of an essay Paul Valery (1871-1945) wrote, called “Poetry and Abstract Thought,”in which he talks of the poet as a sort of machine that seeks the total domination of the reader.

Some other points he makes: Science, philosophy, and poetry all come from the same source; there is always a pendulum swinging between form and content.

On the corruption of language, he writes: "The [dirty piece of] paper has passed through so many hands. . . . But words have passed through so many mouths, so many phrases, so many uses and abuses, that the most delicate precautions must be taken to avoid too much confusion in our minds between what we think and are trying to think, and what dictionaries, authors, and, for that matter, the whole human race since the beginning of language, want us to think . . ." (916).

And, most famously, on the differences between prose and poetry: "Walking, like prose, has a definite aim. It is an act directed at something we wish to reach . . . . The dance is quite another matter."

Still, whether dancing or walking, the body "uses the same organs, the same bones, the same muscles, only differently coordinated and aroused."

Prose dies once the message, or meaning, is transported. "The poem, on the other hand, does not die for having lived: it is expressly designed to be born again from its ashes and to become endlessly what it has just been. . . it stimulates us to reconstruct it identically."

To demonstrate, Valery describes a musical experience he had while on a walk. The "poetic" states arise out of nowhere. Some make in into poems; others do not. "They came about from no apparent cause, arising from some accident or other; they developed according to their own nature, and consequently I found myself for a time jolted out of my habitual state of mind."

On poetic emotion and the effect produced by poetry. In poetry, the objects of the world (both external and internal) "become (if you will permit the expression) musicalized, resonant, and, as it were, harmonically related."

[For more on the subject, see James Merrill's "Lost in Translation"; Valery's "La Jeune Parque"; Stephen J. Gould work on tragedy; Joseph Nieden on Chinese medicine and metaphor making; and the first chapter of Nietzsche's "Birth of Tragedy"]