My good friend Rina asks about the meaning of Prufrock:
“I get the impression it is about growing old? The reflections of an old man?”
I grow old . . .I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
This is a partial answer, the rest is somewhere in the poem. It has to do with mermaids and love.
But here’s another issue, one that extends the last two posts: the poem is the meaning. How does one paraphrase the guitar work of Lara y Reyes? Neither Lorca, Eliot, or Williams declair meaning. They merely write the image, the narrative, or the series of stanzas and the audience is left to wonder and respond. But what is a response? How does one respond to Thomas Mann’s Aschenbach in Death in Venice or this from Jimmy Santiago Baca, from Work We Hate and Dreams We Love:
. . .
Life is filled with work
and while he saws, 2X4’s,
trims lengths of 2X10’s on table saw,
inside his veins another world
in full color etches
a blue sky on his bones,
a man following a bison herd,
and suddenly his hammer becomes a spear
he tosses to the ground
uttering a sound we do not understand.
The image is clear. A carpenter unhappily at work. But this is just the present time, the surface that covers another world, another time going on simultaneously within the border of his physical self, the history of his ancestors (inside his veins) that he can only dream about. The old world is in color, contrasting with the single wood beige of the present, more alive and alluring. In contrast also is the hate/love, the static repetition of the sawing remains in places vs. the action of a moving bison herd. The sound is possibly where the different times meet, the sawing of the wood, the pounding of hooves that we can only imagine. The man becomes his dream, “his hammer becomes a spear” and he speaks in the ancient language of his ancestors. (Although I’m thinking of the language, it doesn’t feel right to me because it would be something we would indeed understand–the language of common ground.) It is metamorphosis by desire. It is daydreaming to the enth degree. The change is complete when he tosses his hammer to the ground as if it were a spear. What we don’t know is if he can walk away completely. It is a feeling that we relate to, with any job we did not want to do. With people we did not want to be. A dream.
Probably it is more important that a piece have a sense of relativity, a spark of common feeling to readers, rather than how well a piece is written. Writing also allows for second thought–and third, and fourth–on both the speaker’s end as well as the reader’s, so while gut feeling is a starting point, intellect and experience can enhance and clarify; a definite advantage over verbal skills.
For example, after being presented with Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” by ecstatic nuns in grade school, I had it ripped apart by my high school English teacher to show it for the ridiculously impossible image that it was: mouth against the earth while looking upwards to God, arms upraised, and a snowy bosom. But the initial response to this poem has almost always been positive, and further analysis is the revelation.
I would say Ouch! Yes, he is torn between dreams and work he must do, but he nailed his finger by daydreaming. This reaction came as a clear cut image from my mind before I read Gibb’s response. All of what Gibb described was compacted into a single reaction for me; it emphasized the day dream. A response can be quick or slow and when an author is effective I think he can draw different images from different people. I also think different images can be drawn apon from the mood and experience the reader has at the time of reading a poem. It takes an artist to offer such diversity for its readers.
Beverly, that’s wonderful! I can clearly see this interpretation, and it changes the meaning of the poem according to the reader’s reaction–even the “uttering a sound that no one understands” holds then another language, perhaps that of a string of curses.
This illustrates beautifully how meaning of narrative is open and dependent upon the reader’s personality as well as frame of mind. You have brought Meiyo back to reality while I have him disappear back into his history and we each come out with a different feeling of the same group of words. Nice.