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PATRICIA GALLIVAN 'The Comic Spirit' and The Waste Land What we learned from the published Waste Land drafts was very often what we knew, or at least what we suspected: that Eliot worked like a magpie, saving the bright bits for future use; that the material he sent to Pound was of shockingly erratic quality; that Pound gave the poem its unity by separating what Hugh Kenner (before the publication of the drafts) speculated would be the looser work from that of first intensity.l We can find confirmation in the drafts for the view that Pound discerned what Eliot did not - the proper matter and manner for the work - that Pound, as A.D. Moody wrote, found 'the poem in the drafts.'2 It is easy to assume, when we look at The Waste Land drafts, that Eliot aimed from the beginning at what he produced in the end, that the drafts show the chipping and carving to the form that always lay in the material. Most reviewers of the facsimile did assume that, and so concluded that this most self-conscious of poets was not always able fully to understand what he was doing, or that somehow, perhaps because of the emotional stress he was under at the time, he could not achieve sufficient aesthetic distance to recognize his own real intention, or, as A.D. Moody concludes, that he moved with extreme difficulty from the position of excessively selfcriticizing poet to that of freely-inspired singing voice. There are reasons to question that assumption. For one thing, Eliot had been thinking about his poem for two years before he gave it to Pound, and during that time he gave his view that invention in literature meant the invention of structure.3 For another, when, years later, he described the poem's early state he said, 'There were long passages in different metres, with short lyrics sandwiched in between' - a remark which suggests , at least, that the poem was planned to be like that and that the poet was persuaded to see that organization as 'sprawling' and 'chaotic.'4 Then, the 'sandwiched lyrics' in The Waste Land, beginning with the opening lines as they were published in 1922, show no difficulty in attaining the condition of music: to support his conviction that Eliot had to struggle for lyricism, Moody is obliged to believe that the major cancellations were early work. Furthermore, what the drafts show is negotiation on the subject of order. Pound's blue-pencillings show a principle for revision. They are remarkably systematic: on the whole the material they dispose of is of one kind. They urge Eliot to get rid of what Helen Gardner called 'the UTQ, Volume XLV, Number 1, Fall 1975 36 PATRICIA GALLIVAN weakly satiric and topical' matter.5 And, finally, there is the fact that the material in the facsimile is not always in a first, nor even, perhaps, in an early draft: two of the major cancellations went to Pound twice. Eliot stuck to some of the ultimately abandoned material in The Waste Land for some time. We cannot, I think, see the cancelled sections of the drafts as merely failed attempts to do exactly what other sections of the poem do. They show Eliot's attempt at something different. In negotiations with his 'cher maitre,' Eliot altered not only his text but also profoundly his conception of the poem. I want to suggest that the poem Eliot sent to Pound was planned to be like that, although not that it was perfect, and that the order Eliot worked to was what he saw as comic order. I do not want to argue that The Waste Land is a funny poem: a Meredith hypergelast might not dare that, one of the'excessive laughers, ever-laughing, who are as clappers of a bell, that may be rung by a breeze, a grimace; who are so loosely put together that a wink will shake them.'6 Furthermore, Eliot's own qmception of comedy is decidedly dismissive of the idea that it exists primarily to be funny. But both in its order and in the kind of material it includes, the early version...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 35-49
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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