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Unread 05-29-2013, 04:03 PM
Janice D. Soderling's Avatar
Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
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Location: Sweden
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Default The Sacred Wood

Most readers here will know of T. S. Eliot's The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism.

If you already know about this poem below, or can't be bothered to reply without knowing what the Internet has to say, pls don't spoil the fun at once. I hope we can entertain some virgin thoughts about this text for a few posts before the cats are out of the bag.

I'd like you, gentle reader, to peruse the poem below and, without rushing off to the Internet for a quick fix, to register and record your thoughts about this poem. The title says it is a prose sonnet. Is there such an animal? Is it a poem? Do you imagine that Eliot was influenced by this poem to make the title of his book or do you think the poem was written with Eliot's book in mind. And what shall one say of the combination of O and o and a number of &'s? Do we approach a text purporting to be a poem (or prose poem) with a set of checkboxes to determine that "this is not a poem" (and sometimes "this is a poem")?

I ask this, because I've noticed over the years and not least in the past few weeks or days a recurring pronouncement in the crit: This is not a poem.

Your immediate thoughts, please.

Woods, A Prose Sonnet
Wise are ye, O ancient woods! Wiser than man. Whoso goeth in your
paths or into your thickets where no paths are, readeth the same
cheerful lesson whether he be a young child or a hundred years old.
Comes he in good fortune or bad, ye say the same things, & from age
to age. Ever the needles of the pine grow & fall, the acorns on the oak,
the maples redden in autumn, & at all times of the year the ground
pine & the pyrola bud & root under foot. What is called fortune &
what is called Time by men—ye know them not. Men have not lan-
guage to describe one moment of your eternal life. This I would ask of
you, o sacred Woods, when ye shall next give me somewhat to say,
give me also the tune wherein to say it. Give me a tune of your own
like your winds or rains or brooks or birds; for the songs of men grow
old when they have been often repeated, but yours, though a man have
heard them for seventy years, are never the same, but always new, like
time itself, or like love.

Last edited by Janice D. Soderling; 05-29-2013 at 04:05 PM.
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Unread 05-30-2013, 12:17 AM
Chris Childers's Avatar
Chris Childers Chris Childers is offline
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Location: Middletown, DE
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It would not have occurred to me to google if not for all the instructions not to, but there the contrarian impulse kicked in and I did, and was confirmed in my general enjoyment of the piece. The only thing I'm here to say, though, is not a result of googling. I don't know the extent to which this poem may have influenced Eliot or vice versa, but the 'sacred wood' of poetry is a concept older than either. Eliot probably got it to some extent from James Frazer, but a 'sacrum nemus', say, is most definitely a thing in ancient poetry. Off the top of my head, the end of Horace I.1 is relevant. He is talking about lots of other types of people (and poets), then says

me doctarum hederae praemia frontium
dis miscent superis, me gelidum nemus
nympharumque leves cum satyris chori
secernunt populo

me though the ivy--reward for my poet's brow--
will elevate to the gods, me the chilly wood
and the light-footed choruses of nymphs and satyrs
sequester from the commons...
Okay, so it's a gelidum nemus (chilly, not sacred, grove) but the connotations of sacredness come through strong enough here, and sacred groves are a dime a dozen in Latin poetry. The 'sacred wood' was an important topos in poetry long before Eliot et al.

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Unread 05-30-2013, 12:51 AM
Christopher ONeill Christopher ONeill is offline
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Location: Cardiff, Wales, UK
Posts: 333

I'm comfortable with Eliot's own explanation of his title for The Sacred Wood. The poetry establishment is a pack of thieves who can't wait to murder each other. This seems about right to me.

As for the 'poem' (which I haven't googled, and don't anticipate googling anytime soon):- I am always wary of folk who talk to trees - even Clint Eastwood.
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Unread 05-30-2013, 01:19 AM
Jeanne G Jeanne G is offline
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Location: Ottawa, ON Canada
Posts: 608

Well Janice, since all my thoughts are ever virginal (bats eyelashes demurely), I'd say it's kinda ott stylized w/ the funky combo of KJV english, plus ampersands. This makes me rather suspicious of what he was smoking at the time. Definitely a poem though; not sure why it's considered a prose poem when it's a sonnet form in blank verse.

Talking to trees isn't always a bad thing.

*hippy chick flower child, tree-hugger*
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Unread 05-30-2013, 01:20 AM
Brian Geffre Brian Geffre is offline
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Default First Thoughts

You wanted virgin ears, well mine are as virgin as they come.

In the title, I see the identity of the woods as a paradox. The woods are both prose and poetry.

Prose has a beauty that has no rhythm, rhyme, its beauty is not repeated nor is it in repeated forms. The beauty of prose comes in a linear manner. A forest is never the same really. Leaves change constanatly, trees grow and die. Like prose, the forest tells one story that does not repeat.

And yet, the woods are filled with examples of poetic form. Wind wiggles the leaves into song that repeats. Trees inspire thoughs of immortality because of their great age. The forest sticks around for even longer stretches of time. Like poetry, the forest celebrates each moment of life with immortality.

Is this work poetry, yes. Is it prose, yes.

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Unread 05-30-2013, 03:43 AM
Janice D. Soderling's Avatar
Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
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Chris, I did realize that in the sphere of Eratosphere, the whole no-googling admonition was equivalent to saying, Children, don't put beans up your nose while I'm gone.

I'll refrain from further comment for now.
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Unread 05-31-2013, 01:12 AM
Janice D. Soderling's Avatar
Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
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I'm bumping this up for the weekend.
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Unread 06-02-2013, 09:01 AM
Janice D. Soderling's Avatar
Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
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A less than subtle bump hint did not elicit any more discussion so I'll put a lid on it by responding to comments and thanking.

Chris. Actually I haven't read The Golden Bough though it languishes somewhere on my shelves because I know I should. I am guessing though, blatantly speculative, that the poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson was in Eliot's mind when he named his collection of essays. I've read somewhere, if my memory still functions, that Eliot was influenced by Emerson's work

A book I covet but certainly cannot afford might tell contain the answer "The Making of T.S. Eliot: a Study of the Literary Influences" by Joseph Maddrey and I'd hoped some of the illustrious minds that inhabit this site might know for sure. The Maddrey book does contain a chapter on Emerson (I discovered when goggling) but it can't be read online.

I found the Emerson poem in "Great American Prose Poems" (Editor David Lehman) where it was the lead poem. As you say, the concept of a holy grove dedicated to various Greek gods appears throughout the mythologies, but it was just the wording "Sacred Wood" rather than "Sacred Grove" (the usual translation, I believe (but I am willing to be corrected) which led me to that perhaps presumptuous conclusion.

Christopher. You seem to have the information I wanted. What was Eliot's explanation of choosing the title?

Jeanne, my thoughts were similar to yours—the ampersands somehow make it seem modern—but then I googled forth that in the 1800s the ampersand was the last letter of the alphabet.

Brian. I agree with you and Jeanne that it is a poem. I think not everyone would agree with us, but they have remained silent, so poem it is.

Thanks to all of you for contributing to this thread about a subject I will continue to muse on.
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Unread 06-04-2013, 06:34 AM
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John Whitworth John Whitworth is offline
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I may not know much about Art but I know what I don't like, which is flatulent nothings dressed up as poetry simply by calling it that. As for The Golden Bough I did read it when I was young. But then I also read The Communist Manifesto and nearly half of Finnegans Wake. One does those things.
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Unread 06-04-2013, 06:48 AM
Janice D. Soderling's Avatar
Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
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Could you be more specific about what these nothings are? the Emerson poem, Eliot's essays, The Golden Bough, the Communist Manifesto, or Finnegans Wake.

I too have gone into a trance in my youth over texts that now seem flat or flatulent. But we learn as we go along (in the best cases) and if we hadn't read them we couldn't have an opinion now.
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