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"Replacing the Waste Land--James Merrill's Quest for Transcendent Authority"--An Essay by Alan Nadel

Replacing the Waste Land--James Merrill's Quest
for Transcendent Authority [1]
by Alan Nadel

There can be little doubt that the poetics of modernism, especially as typified by T.S. Eliot and codified in The Waste Land, formed the artistic umbra under which James Merrill came of age. The purpose of this essay will be to take an extended look at Merrill's poem, "Lost in Translation" (Divine Comedies, 1974), as a crucial work in understanding Merrill's movement away from the poetics of high modernism toward a poetics of transcendence most manifest in his epic trilogy, The Changing Light at Sandover.[2]  Based on extensive transcriptions Merrill and his housemate, David Jackson, actually took from a ouija board, Sandover reports the messages not only of Merrill's deceased friends but also of such notables as Gertrude Stein, William Butler Yeats, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Akhenaton, Homer, Montezuma, Nefertiti, Plato, Gautama, Jesus, Mercury, Mohammed, the angels Michael, Emmanuel, Raphael and Gabriel, and the nine muses, among others. This epic trilogy has been compared to the works of Yeats, Blake, and Dante.[3]  In a review of it, Clara Claiborne Park explicitly posited that it might replace The Waste Land as what she calls "the central poem of our generation" (533).[4]

If on the ouija board Merrill finds the faith that The Waste Land marked as missing, he does so, I believe, only after he writes an extended response to Eliot's Waste Land vision in "Lost in Translation," one that reveals a context for the implications of The Waste Land, that is, for the dubious status of faith in modernism. A close reading of that poem, therefore, helps explain Merrill's motion from fabricated to mystical revelation, and hence away from Eliot's brand of modernism and toward an epic with the potential to achieve the status Park ascribes to it. The poem, moreover, helps situate Sandover in relation to Merrill's canon and that canon in relation to modernism. It especially focuses our attention on the status of metaphoric assertion brought into question by such modernist works as The Waste Land, and the relationship of metaphor to the ideas of anonymity and objectivity articulated by Eliot.[5]

Merrill's early work particularly shows the influence of modernism's (and New Criticism's) treatment of art as inherently autonomous, its unity and resolution relying solely on the design of language. Sanford Schwartz has noted that during

Eliot's long reign as critical arbiter of the English-speaking world, the modern poet was applauded for cultivating impersonality, objectivity, and detachment . . . . Expanding on Eliot's "impersonal theory of poetry," the New Critics shifted the focus of attention from the author to the work, from the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" to the "verbal icon" itself. The artist was no longer "a man speaking to men" but a craftsman designing a complex artifact. (71)

This aesthetic, asserting the self-reliance of art, that followed Eliot's attempt, as Andrew Ross has termed it, "to outdo the masses in their anonymity" (6), almost appears to have been invented for Merrill, a poet whose technical proficiency was recognized from the outset and whose early poems tended to rely for their authority and resolution on a system of well constructed tropes and poetic schemes.[6] At the same time, however, Merrill's manifestation of this aesthetic had troubling implications astutely noted, for example, by James Dickey, who wrote of the poems in Merrill's first two volumes that "Each entails the weaving of an elaborate figure of speech in a shimmering mesh of its own correspondences and identifications, its connotations and its teased-out reciprocal agreements . . . . Merrill's [poems] nearly always make neat summations, prefigure, insist on, furnish explicit judgments, instruct, edify, so that experience itself comes to resemble a dandyish, Gidean private-school teacher" (99).

Coming to share to some extent Dickey's discomfort with this technical neatness, Merrill even goes so far as to parody himself as "Gidean private-school teacher" near the end of "The Thousand and Second Night" (Nights and Days, 1966), when he assumes that teacherly voice to gloss the poem by announcing (and complimenting himself for doing so) "form's what affirms" (15). When the untimely classroom bell intrudes, however, he must abandon that pose and affirm his resolution in a different, more poignant voice, one that recounts the wholly imaginary dialogue between the Sultan, who wants to search for "joys along that stony path the senses pave," and Scheherazade, who seeks to refresh her soul "in that cold fountain which the flesh knows not" (15). Since for Merrill, at this point in his work, the two goals are irreconcilable (except for the school teacher he had cut off in the poem's preceding section), the couple must separate. She becomes the night-dream-moon figure of Merrill's dualistic world, while the Sultan becomes the experiencing, day-real-sun figure.

The resolution, however, as Stephen Yenser notes, leaves unclear the nature of the hierarchical relationship, if any, between the two figures. Instead, Merrill foregrounds the dualism and paradox of their relationship.[7] "In the end, Merrill accords the intuited unity of the soul and body no higher status than the sense of the divided self" (Yenser, 136).[8]  In so doing, Merrill further highlights a concern he shares with Eliot--the relationship between knowledge and experience. Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley was the title of Eliot's dissertation, which focussed on the problem that while knowledge can only come through the necessarily fragmented experience of the senses, Truth can only be known through the necessary wholeness of an Absolute.[9]

Because Eliot, like many of his contemporaries, saw metaphor as "a construct that mediates between conceptual abstraction and concrete sensation" (Schwartz, 75), his concern with the opposition between abstraction and sensation helps explain, among other things, "the apparent inconsistency between the [modernist] rejection and celebration of metaphor" (Schwartz, 113). Merrill cogently expresses this problem in "The Thousand and Second Night" when he gives thanks for "voyages not wholly undermined by fluid passages of metaphor."[10]  Since the word "passages" refers both to autobiographical journeys and to their textual substitutes, we could say that Merrill is restating another version of Eliot's concern about the relationship between art and experience or artistic tradition and the individual artist. In many of his works (with not always the same conclusion), Eliot ponders the extent to which the individual gives himself up to tradition. As Louis Menand puts it, the question Eliot might have asked himself is "What is 'mine' about my poem?" (77).[11]  Menand further shows that in The Waste Land, under the rubric of its governing metaphor and its formal implications, Eliot provides the answer: "everything." In that way, Eliot creates coherence by devising a metaphor that makes an aesthetic of fragmentation.[12]

One way to look at Merrill's career, then, may be as an attempt to unify a fragmented vision strongly influenced by modernism, and particularly The Waste Land, by reconciling its resonant dichotomies--past vs. present, experience vs. imagination, natural vs. artificial. Merrill does this by seeking a way to relinquish authority in favor of faith and thus to change the status of his metaphors and the role of his artifice. For the equating of truth with beauty or poetry with transcendence, lauded by the Romantics, required a merger of the poet's temporal voice with an eternal vision. In the modern age, the authority for such a merger had dissolved, and the moderns, as Schwartz points out, were driving an effective wedge between themselves and the Romantics by reacting to what they regarded as the "excessive subjectivity of the nineteenth century" (72). The Waste Land thus violently marks the limitation of metaphors at the same time as it provided modernism with its most powerful metaphor.

Looking at this problem with a slightly different emphasis, Menand has shown how Eliot's method does not so much allow his assertions as become them. Menand pinpoints the dilemma implicit in Eliot's work that formed his most significant legacy for Merrill: "The trouble with the form is that without a figure of speech to give the objects a grammatical field in which to play, no emotion will be recognizable. It is the problem posed by a poetic that has declared what is merely literary to be illegitimate: where everything must be genuine, everything will end up looking artificial" (26). This insight applies equally well to the first part of Merrill's career and thus supplies a useful context for understanding "Lost in Translation" within the framework both of Merrill's poetry and of modernist poetics.

"Lost in Translation" opens by describing a scene in a home library in which "A card table in the library stands ready/ To receive the puzzle which keeps never coming." The description is coherent, but the language reveals many dichotomies beneath the veneer of order. The Sultan's "real" light of day and the wife's artificial light of "The Thousand and Second Night" are echoed again as "Daylight shines in or lamp light down/ Upon the tense oasis of green felt," the table top. This table forms a complex tableau for a working out of the rivalry between imagined and real, night and day. It seems to reflect both the anticipatory emotion of tension, and its aftermath, that which has been "felt." Comparing the table top to an oasis further complicates the scene because the empty top is more like a desert than an oasis. If it is an oasis, however, the desert must be the life which surrounds it, "full of unfulfillment." Ready to receive the puzzle, the table stands as an oasis of promise--in other words as that distrusted "imaginary scene"--recontextualized first by memory and then by the language which gives that memory a form in which experience and imagination can merge and thus provide the boy in the poem a site where he can find a projection of the tensions for which his life denies him a medium. The boy's life is, after all, only a "mirage arisen from time's trickling sands/ Or fallen piecemeal into place." It is, in other words, composed of bits that are not pieced together; they are so random that it is difficult to tell whether that mirage/life is rising ("arisen from time's") or falling ("fallen piecemeal"). The cited bits seem random in the list that follows ("German lesson, picnic, see-saw, walk/ With the collie who 'did everything but talk'") but they also suggest a hidden (or artificial) order: they comprise the only rhymed couplet in the section.[13]

In the following line ("Sour windfalls of the orchard back of us"), the word "us," introduces a present speaker, remembering, not experiencing, who gives the poem's first piece of commentary: "A summer without parents is the puzzle/ Or should be." The conjunction "or" further compounds the confusing nature of the world being described. Are we going to hear about things as they are or as they should be? The next lines, "But the boy, day after day,/ Writes in his Line-a-Day No puzzle," moreover, complicate the situation with the question of point of view. Who shall focus the poem? The "but" which introduces the boy underscores the dualistic world the opening presents, in which the speaker, for whom the narration is memory, is differentiated from the boy, for whom it is experience. The boy, clearly identified with the "day world" of experience by the triple use of the word "day," is further distanced from the commentator because the boy writes "No puzzle," indicating that, unlike the commentator, he neither knows what the puzzle is nor what it should be. The boy knows only the experience--the negative experience--of not having the puzzle. Oxymoronically wishing for a puzzle that "keeps never coming," he reveals the curious interdependence of hope and disappointment, of things as they are and as they are desired.

The irony, of course, is that the puzzle keeps never coming because it is already there. The world itself is puzzling: oasis barren, life full of unfulfillment, summer without parents, puzzle that keeps never coming. The bits and pieces lack a unifying context. It takes more than experience, however, to create a puzzle. In the imaginative reordering of experience, the narrator first creates the puzzle, lays out the pieces. For the boy the puzzle is something wooden; for the narrator it is larger, more complex and encompassing; it is the process of finding a context within which the relationship between things can be made real and literal. For the narrator, the puzzle signifies discovering the world in which the "cold fountain the which flesh knows not" can coexist with the "stony path the sense pave." In this poem, that embrace is not between the Sultan and his wife nor, as it is represented in "Dreams About Clothes" (Braving the Elements, 1972), between Art and the old clothes man. It is between the narrator and his childhood self, the boy.

At the beginning of the poem, the conscious narrator, assembling and organizing remembered experience, remains apart from the boy he is remembering. Although the boy is referred to in the third person, the voice reflecting on that boy is not identified by first person pronouns. The words "I" and "me" do not appear in the first half of the poem. After the introduction of and quick retreat from the puzzling "us" in the first section, first person pronouns disappear and the narrator is identified only through his editorial tone and the presence of parentheses.

The implication is that the narrator and the boy have not yet found a context in which they can occupy the same realms of language. That context, of course, is the larger context of the poem, and thus as the wooden puzzle begins to make sense, half way through the poem, the "us" reappears: "a piece/ Snaps shut, and fangs gnash out at us!" But not until almost exactly the middle of the poem does the "I" emerge: "Puzzle begun I write in the day's space." The line stands in direct contrast with the beginning of the poem where the boy writes "No puzzle," a contrast emphasized by the fact that the two lines contain the only uses of italics in the poem. (Such a distinction is particularly emphatic in this poem, given Merrill's choice not to italicize the poem's many foreign phrases). The italicized phrases, in addition to signaling the shift from "boy" to "I," thus also serve as virtual titles for the halves of the poem.

In so doing, they function both literally and ironically. The first half of the poem is largely full of anticipation and reflection. Curious pieces of the boy's life are laid out alongside the pieces of memory the narrator has about other, seemingly unrelated, experiences: Valery's "Palme," Rilke's version, a medium in London who identifies an unseen puzzle piece, the "Mademoiselle" with "French hopes" and "German fears." Juxtaposed, these pieces are indeed puzzling, but the puzzle is the reader's and the narrator's, not the boy's. In the first half of the poem, this distance comprises, in the most general sense, the nature of the distance between the narrator and his boyhood self.

When the assembly begins to reveal some hidden sense, "Puzzle begun" appears. But since the concept of a puzzle implies a solution, the title marks the beginning of the resolution: only with the solution in sight can one, examining experience, differentiate "puzzle" from "chaos." Only then do the pieces become part of a coherent picture which itself implies a narrative (just as the poem about the puzzle will give coherence and identity to the narrative fragments of the first half).

Coming together, the puzzle parts simultaneously gain identity and give it, in that they start to identify a narrative marked at one end by the boy and at the other by the narrator, to form the text of their shared life. Just as "solution" identifies a puzzle, so "narration" identifies a narrator. When the narrator emerges in the first person, his "I" substitutes not for his formerly elliptical self but for the third person "boy," thereby merging the two. This creates a narrative design in which the experiencing boy who "writes in his line-a-day" becomes the artist "I" who "writes in the day's space." In filling the day's space, the voice in "Dreams About Clothes" that called upon Art, together with that Art, seems to be moving out of the dream world and into the daylight.[14]

The narrative suggested by the picture on the puzzle's surface reflects as well the narrative surrounding it, that of the boy whose divorced parents make separate demands on him. The picture shows a dark haired woman in mauve being helped down from a camel by a page boy who is looking backward at "a Sheik with beard/ And flashing sword hilt." "Houri and Afreet/ Both claim the Page. He wonders whom to serve,/ And what his duties are, and where his feet . . . ." The picture's background--"Eternal Triangle, Great Pyramid!"--not only suggests another dimension of the picture, but also resonates with another dimension of the boy's life, the Oedipal triangle. Since this is a theme that runs through much of Merrill's poetry, it adds the dimension of Merrill's canon as well to the picture, and helps reveal the pun on "Page." David Kalstone's recommendation that we pay special attention to Merrill's puns and settings because "they open alternative perspectives against which to read the time-bound and random incidents of daily life" (111) could not be more apt here. The Page being claimed is the boy in the picture, and the boy in the poem assembling the picture, and the boy whom the poem is about, and the boy who grows up to write the poem, and the page on which the poem is written. The claimants are the Sheik and wife, the boy's parents, the Sultan and Sheherazade, experience and imagination, old clothes and art, in other words, the poet's biological parents and his poetic heritage.

For these reasons, the scene as it spreads out on the table has all the elements not only of the boy's puzzling life but also the puzzle of Merrill's struggle with poetry. Through the medium of this puzzle, Merrill thus attempts to avoid the split between the worlds of experience and imagination. With the "Puzzle begun," the "I" unites poetics and biography to express a sense of identity and wholeness.

The verse too becomes formal, taking the stanzaic form of FitzGerald's Rubaiyat, and the poem appears to move toward the affirmation through form, characteristic of Merrill's earlier work, but the rigid form, ending with the completion of the puzzle, is broken by the following lines: "It's done. Here under the table all along/ Were those missing feet. It's done." The feet under the table belonged to the boy in the puzzle and the boy assembling it and, finally, the narrator who is that boy. The iteration of "It's done" sandwiching the finding of the feet shows the interdependence between finishing the puzzle and identifying the pieces within a larger context.

This recontextualization, moreover, does not rely on formal resolution but on the breaking of form. As Yenser shrewdly observes, the presence or absence of rhyme in the second of these two lines would have identified them either as a fragment of a Rubaiyat stanza or a short paragraph. "It is a matter of 'missing feet'--and of a missing metrical foot or two. A closure that is an opening, this passage is irrevocably in transition" (26). Since the table, furthermore, is an oasis, the found puzzle piece is like the wellspring beneath the surface that gives the palm tree life. Both the Valery poem, "Palme," and Merrill's search for Rilke's translation of it--mentioned parenthetically near the beginning of the poem and directly at the end--come to mind. The aspects of the experiential and emotional quest in the poem thereby connect with the literary quest, and the poem grows rich with reverberation. Each motif echoes the next so closely that they almost merge. Everything becomes part of something else and, ultimately, part of a puzzle, tenuous and fragile in its unity, but nonetheless always capable of that unity.

Knowledge of that (puzzling) relationship enables Merrill to confront the dismantling with an unequivocal surety. Not the puzzle itself but the relationship it reveals gives the narrator identity. Applying the informing insight in retrospect, as emphasized by the phrase "in the mid-Sixties" (which indicates as well the location of the rental shop), the narrator realizes that much of what he took to be disparate experiences were really puzzles with missing pieces:

Something tells me that one piece contrived

To stay in the boy's pocket. How do I know?
I know because so many later puzzles
Had missing pieces--Maggie Teyte's high notes
Gone at the war's end, end of the vogue for collies,
A house torn down; and hadn't Mademoiselle
Kept back her pitiful bit of truth as well?
I've spent the last days, furthermore,
Ransacking Athens for that translation of "Palme."

In this way the unassociated parts of the first half become organized as pieces, albeit now lost, of a puzzle, with the poem the medium of translation, turning a fragment into an identifiable part of a great system. Finding this medium, furthermore, is more important than preserving the intact puzzle. For the knowledge of the relationship translates into a source of faith--the wellspring that feeds the palm--which enables Merrill to overcome his distrust of the imagined. Despite the fact that he can't find the Rilke translation, he can say: "I can't/ Just be imagining. I've seen it. Know . . . ." Here begins a series of sentences each beginning with "Know." The knowledge asserted about Rilke's experience of translating "Palme" cannot be empirical but rather is inferred imaginatively from the author's experience of other puzzles.

Arriving at "knowledge" in this way, Merrill reconciles a central conflict in modernist sensibility, one which David Hollinger has identified as the conflict between the "knower" and the "artificer." Hollinger notes that modernism has seemed to value both models of artistic production, despite the inherent conflict in authority they imply. The impact of Einstein, Freud, Darwin, and Marx--all evoking the authority of science--created a view of "reality" infinitely more complex in its physical, psychological, and social dimensions than had been previously imagined and thus placed empirical knowledge in competition with artistic insight.[15]  Instead of competing with experience, however, at this point in "Lost in Translation," imagination informs it, making possible the kind of transcendent knowledge precluded by a "Waste Land" vision.

A mode of expression at that point new to Merrill's work reflects that knowledge. Not only does the word "know" express an absolute state (as opposed to "think" or "believe") but also, with the subject omitted, the series of sentences takes on a quasi-imperative form. Both the grammar and content reverberate with deeply-rooted affirmation, dependent not on what one can do but on what one can do without, what one can forego:

How much of the sun-ripe original

Felicity Rilke made himself forego
(Who loved French words--verger, mur, parfumer)
In order to render its underlying sense.

With this understanding, the narrator can forego the "I" discovered as the puzzle was begun. Eclipsing the "I," however, results not in the distancing split persona of the poem's first half, but in an affirmative command form. Having put the puzzle together and discovered the "I," the narrator now expresses the strength to forego it. He understands, knows, that Rilke's struggle with language was one of restraint, not of indulgence. That restraint in translating is what differentiates Rilke from FitzGerald. The asceticism of the Rubaiyat was lost in FitzGerald's translation, and the narrator's shift from FitzGerald's stanzas reflects his understanding of how to forego.

In his self-restraint and self-effacement, the narrator lines up with the "heroes" of the poem: Rilke, the Mademoiselle, the boy without parents. Words themselves and languages are also puzzle parts and finally the knowledge--the imagined knowledge--of Rilke's struggle with language translates into a paradigm for everything in the poem. Despite the fact, therefore, that the narrator has not found Rilke's "Palme," he knows it is not lost because its evidence is everywhere: "all is translation/ and every bit of us is lost in it." Knowing this is to know that the multiple implications of a word or sound reveal the complex relationship between thought and expression constructed by countless centuries of usage. Each word contains the secret history of its speakers, and the fact that it can move in two directions (or more) at once is proof of its history, of its meaning. In this context, the history and meaning are transcendent truths and the poet is the translator who discovers the medium for language that will reveal those truths. In Merrill's hands, the process of "simultaneously contracting or imploding several meanings into one statement and expanding or exploding one statement into many," as Lynn Keller contends, "is a liberating one and also evidence of human liberty" (253).

This power of liberation is emphatic in "Lost in Translation," which ends as a source of hidden strength and an assertion of faith:

But nothing's lost. Or else: all is translation
And every bit of us is lost in it
(Or found--I wander through the ruin of S
Now and then, wondering at the peacefulness)
And in that loss a self-effacing tree,
Color of context, imperceptibly
Rustling with its angel, thus turns the waste
To shade and fiber, milk and memory.

Without directly mentioning the tree, Merrill has created the translation of "Palme" which he sought, translated it free of form and content, to provide something "the color of context." It is the palms--tree and poem--as they equally claim the (written) page, and it is the authors--Valery, Rilke, Merrill--as they equally share it. It is the tree of knowledge too that enabled Merrill to assert: "Know/ How much," "Know already," "Know that ground plan." And it is the tree of faith that enabled him to free himself by losing himself, by eclipsing the "I." Finally, it is the proof of fertility in the absence of rain--a tree of life that proves a wellspring exists beneath the surface.

Read as a response to The Waste Land, "Lost in Translation" suggests that Eliot was looking up for water when he should have been looking down. Like the missing puzzle piece that lay beneath the table at the boy's feet--and also was the boy's feet (a clue that every piece has its puzzle, its language, its place)--the necessary ingredient was there all along. Thus, wandering through personal loss ("the ruin of S,") the narrator finds not "a heap of broken images" but a "self-effacing tree," which is both the proof of fertility and the piece of a larger puzzle. With the phrase, "Now and then," past and present merge; instead of wandering the narrator finds himself "wondering at the peacefulness," the pun of "peacefulness" simultaneously suggesting a world full of interlocking pieces (piece-full-ness) and the calm to which it gives rise.

Since Mademoiselle is a surrogate parent here as well as surrogate mistress, we can see this poem as responding to The Waste Land in yet another way. Whereas that poem presents a marked absence of parental figures, "Lost in Translation" marks their inescapable presence. The broken images of The Waste Land suggest an irrecoverable loss of parental authority, at all strata of society. Lil's aborted fetus (Section II), like so many of the poem's images of infertility, thus presents one detail in a universally broken cycle of generation and hence regeneration; the unborn child signifies also the unreborn God, so that the domestic family, the royal family, and the holy family share equally in the season without parents. In her surrogacy, however, Mademoiselle not only substitutes for the missing parent figures but also helps summon up those figures as icons in the puzzle. By imposing her narrative--which is also the boy's narrative and, in recollection (and re-collection), the poet's--onto the scene, she gives the puzzle iconographic authority and thus simultaneously restores authority both to the fragmented family and to an image of Egyptian rite and monarchy, an image to whose loss of authority The Waste Land specifically alludes. The memory of Mademoiselle and of her role in assembling the puzzle, furthermore, focuses the poem and thus makes present in yet another way--as poetry--Merrill's lost and puzzling family.

This means that the Mademoiselle might be viewed as a medium as well as a surrogate, one whose role is to summon up. Since her role in summoning the puzzle's scene is doing borders, she evokes as well an historical context:

Mademoiselle does borders. Straight-edged pieces
Align themselves with earth or sky
In twos and threes, naive cosmologists
Whose views clash. Nomad inlanders meanwhile
Begin to cluster where the totem
Of a certain vibrant egg-yolk yellow
Or pelt of what emerging animal
Acts on the straggler like a trumpet call
To form a more sophisticated unit.
By suppertime two ragged wooden clouds
Have formed.

This scene, while it translates into a picture of Europe on the verge of WW II, also suggests the fragments of Mademoiselle's personal history: "only French by marriage./ Child of an English mother . . ./ And Prussian father . . . ./ With 1939 about to shake/ This world . . ./ To its foundations, kept, though signed in blood,/ Her peace a shameful secret to the end." She too is a child of divided parentage, language, loyalty, authority. She too puts forth a puzzling facade--French with a German accent--and keeps her peace (by keeping back her missing piece). In doing borders, like the boy in and out of both the puzzle and the puzzle's picture, she does not know where to locate her feet.

If the boy's dilemma is pointedly familial, hers is specifically historical, and thus her situation suggests a larger context for his. This context is particularly significant, again, because of its absence in The Waste Land, which levels history and locale so as to make parallel Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, and London. As "Unreal" cities, they yield their temporal situatedness to Eliot's static, and thus eternal, poetic figure, thereby suggesting an apparently unbridgeable gap between temporal Earth and eternal Heaven.[16] Drawing cogently on a number of Eliot's essays, Michael Levenson has explained how "a moment of stasis" becomes the cornerstone of Eliot's "classicism" in which "individual accomplishments become part of a single 'simultaneous order' and, in any case, art 'never improves'"(212). Eliot substitutes an anthropological perspective for an historical one. In so doing, Levenson argues convincingly, Eliot historicizes himself in such a way that he may position his classicism not as "just one party among others" but as "'a goal toward which all good literature strives'. [Eliot's] classicism thus absorbs its rivals" (Levenson 212). What Levenson delineates as Eliot's historicizing of himself becomes unavoidably, I think, Eliot's rhetorical device for escaping the vicissitudes of time. [17]  Although many have noted the way in which Eliot substitutes "myth" for "history," I think Ross is perhaps more precise in saying that Eliot's poem "articulates the 'failure' of History, or at least the failure of an established conceptual view of history" (40).[18] By making a moment of stasis his goal and equating his sites in a static vision, Eliot reifies fragmentation. That act is the antithesis of the act of translating, for translating subsumes fragments in a process, thereby making connections that are never again wholly severable. Such connections and translations delineate the myriad relationships in "Lost in Translation," including those between Rilke and Valery, between the historical subject and the literary, between metaphor and message, artifice and art.

The Waste Land, viewed through "Lost in Translation," thus can be read as a world of surfaces, of misleading clues which suggest that the pieces of experience do not fit together. Learning to forego the temptation of surfaces, the narrator of "Lost in Translation" views the world as a puzzle not a ruin, full of pieces not broken but missing, misplaced, or withheld. Language, perhaps, or poetry can become a medium for replacing the pieces and restoring if not the context then at least the color of the context. The self-effacing tree, "rustling" instead of wrestling "with its angel," becomes a unifying image instead of a dividing one. Even Eliot is encompassed as the tree "turns the waste/ To shade and fiber, milk and memory." Because the poem in its largest sense is a search to construct something fruitful out of the barrenness of loss, the palm is an ideal image to arrive at: it does grow in barren places and does provide shade, fiber and (coconut) milk.

A parenthetical section in the first half of the poem makes this point in another way. The narrator recounts a recent experience in London with a psychic medium who identifies a hidden object:

"But hidden here is a freak fragment
Of a pattern complex in appearance only.
What it seems to show is superficial
Next to that long-term lamination
Of hazard and craft, the karma that has
Made it matter in the first place.
Plywood. Piece of a puzzle." Applause

Like all the interpolations of the poem's first half, this section requires the context of the whole poem to give it meaning. The medium's interpretation of the puzzle piece resonates strongly with the poem's ending wherein again fragments lose their freakishness by being included in a pattern the apparent complexity of which becomes superficial. As with a word, or poem, or poet (or any bit of experience), the puzzle piece's surface appearance becomes subordinate to the "long-term lamination/ Of hazard and craft" that "Made it matter in the first place." The introduction of a psychic and the use of the word "karma," however, suggest an even broader context for the medium of translation, one which finds its full resonance in light of the ouija board epic.

If "Lost in Translation" responds to The Waste Land, Sandover supplements it, supplying the authority The Waste Land marks as absent, and completing the quest it marks as failed.[19]  "Book of Ephraim," the first of the trilogy, focuses more concretely the vision with which "Lost in Translation" concludes--the vision of a universe in which every part has its place. The puzzle parts, instead of being analogous to the letters of the alphabet, become those letters as they are arranged on the ouija board and rearranged as transcriptions in the lives of Merrill and Jackson. Even more strongly than a puzzle, a ouija board seems to confirm the idea that no arrangement is capricious, that apparently random and imperceptible vibrations have a concrete message which can find its medium.

If "Lost in Translation" ends by stressing language as an animated landscape, in "Ephraim" language becomes the puzzle as well as the landscape. Alphabetical order, the "arbitrary" order of the Roman alphabet, provides the external structure for the twenty-six-section-poem. The poem's arbitrary structure orders the apparently random elements of Merrill's life--the disconnected bits of experience, memory, and imagination. At the same time, within that alphabetical ordering unfolds the narrative of Merrill and Jackson rearranging the alphabet to give it new meaning.

Because it presents life as a medium both arranging the puzzle of letters and arranged by it, "Ephraim" can be seen as a variation on "Lost in Translation." The important difference, however, is that in "Ephraim" the limiting elements have exchanged places with the limited. In "Lost in Translation," the boy frames the puzzle. He both assembles it and is represented by the picture it reveals, so that it connects two versions of him. In "Ephraim," on the other hand, the poet (the boy grown up) comes between and thereby connects two arrangements of the puzzle (i.e., the alphabet). We have the option, of course, to step back and say that the alphabetical order of the sections is controlled again by the poet who chooses to put the poem in that order. If we try a comparable step forward inside the poem, however, we see that the ouija arrangements do not reveal another reflection of Merrill but instead Ephraim as arranger, a mystical spirit ostensibly existing outside the purview of Merrill's imagination. The cosmology of the poem, therefore, can be charted:

Organizer 1: Merrill, who put the poem in alphabetical order.

Organizer 2: The Roman alphabet.

Organizer 3: Merrill & Jackson, who transcribe from the board.

Organizer 4: The rearranged alphabet that comprises the poem.

Organizer 5: Ephraim, who talks through the board.

Looking at the levels of "Ephraim" this way may suggest the old Merrill rivalry between experience and imagination. Ephraim however is the representative of a world above and beyond both Merrill's experience and his imagination. We might almost see Ephraim (level 5) in competition with Merrill (level 1) as rival arrangers of the poem. They are vying for authority over the quotidian Merrill & Jackson of level 3. Merrill & Jackson are either characters in Merrill's poem, or his poem is merely a detail in Ephraim's cosmos. In this context, the book can be read as a narrative of their submission to Ephraim's authority.

In Mirabell, the next book in the trilogy, the submission is more or less complete, with Merrill and Jackson accepting their roles as subjects of a universe in which their mortality--all human mortality--is a small part. Most important, the metaphoric and literal have changed places, and thus "EVEN THEIR MOST/ CHERISHED MEASURING SYSTEM IS PART OF THE MYTH. TIME IS/ THE MANMADE ELEMENT" (82). It is, in other words, a metaphor for the limitations of the human condition. What Merrill had traditionally regarded as experiences are, he is told, merely metaphors, the human condition itself one of metaphor-making, while what he had traditionally relegated to the realm of metaphor--death, God, creation--is literal. When early in the book we are told that the dead spirits fear life (reincarnation) as much as the living fear death, the terms of the poem as part of Merrill's continuing investigation of the relationship between experience and imagination become clear. For these extra-worldly spirits, life requires relinquishing memory; unbound by time, the spirits have all knowledge of who they are and were. Return to life means sacrificing the knowledge of their own experience, in return for which they acquire the capacity for imagination which translates the unknown into recognizable, forms, in other words, into metaphors.

In Mirabell, Merrill relinquishes (although never completely) the allure of the imagined for the possibility of knowledge, and the book ends with the ouija board replacing "the outside world, crayon-book life we led" (53). Artistic control even beyond the dictation of Merrill's book is qualified when we learn that "Rimbaud ghostwrote 'The Waste Land'" (123) and that Yeats moves Merrill's hand. "The whole thing's controlled" (123), Jackson exclaims, but even that shock is tempered with resignation and, in the next section, Merrill and Jackson acknowledge, somewhat sadly, somewhat stoically, what they lose in exchanging the imperfectly imagined and remembered for the known:

The blue room after dinner. DJ (depressed):
Each day it grows more fascinating, more...
I don't know. Isn't it like a door
Shutting us off from the living? I've no zest
For anything else, can't even watch TV.
This town's full of good friends we hardly see.
What do you feel? Will that door readmit
Us to the world? Will we still care for it? (123-4)

Merrill thus gives us one more version of Plato's plight--objectified by the domestic after-dinner setting and Jackson's yen for TV--of the enlightened facing return to the cave. But these enlightened are much more accepting of their fate than are Plato's:

JM (touched by his uncomplaining tone):
What can I say? Nothing we haven't known.
Remember Sam and Frodo in their hole

Waterless desolation overshot
By evil zombies. They of course come through
--It's what, in any Quest, the heroes do--
But at the cost of being set apart,
Emptied, diminished. Tolkien knew this. Art--
The tale that all but shapes itself--survives
By feeding on its personages' lives.
The stripping process, sort of. What to say?
Our lives led to this. It's the price we pay. (124)

They pay their price not only for enlightenment but for enlightenment translated into art, thereby enabling art to transcend the realm of the merely imagined, the language of the material world. The rivalry of art and life, then, dissolves through art's merging with knowledge, and its making life the subservient translator. Art thus escapes its "dry hell of volatile synthetic solvents" by resonating not with the material world but with the objective other-worldly: "Empathy is art./ Strange, though, to zero in upon the heart/ Of matter only--when smoke clears--to find/ Another antechamber of pure mind" (130).

This Platonic view of knowledge is further valorized in the third volume, Scripts for the Pageant, in which their guide, the spirit of their deceased friend, Maria Mitsotaki, turns out to have been a reincarnation of Plato. Much of the rendition in this volume, as the title suggests, is dramatic, formatted like the script of a play--most often a closet drama, pageant or masque. This generic shift further reconstitutes the roles of Merrill and Jackson, to the extent that drama renders the narrative and hence the narrators transparent. What Merrill has termed "the stripping process" can be seen as a relinquishing of authorial authority, wherein the author sees himself as the creator's translator, rather than the creator, so that as he says in "Lost in Translation," "all is translation/ And every bit of us is lost in it."

"Lost in Translation" is a prophetic gloss for Scripts for the Pageant in other ways as well. Called "Enfants" by Maria, Merrill (along with Jackson) once more is identified with the childhood version of himself, and he is once again placed in a scene which allows him to organize the fragments of experience in a context that makes sense. "Making sense," indeed, the poem tells us, is exactly the enterprise of the archangels, both in terms of clarifying and in terms of rendering sensible, i.e., available to the senses. This making sense, then, is the ultimate act of translation, the one which produces the physical world as a reflection of the other-worldly which in this (Platonic) rendering is the real. The next act of translation is recognizing the physical world as figural, in other words, as the transparent sign of the real.

In chronicling developments in the history of human understanding, Michel Foucault believed that the moment when the sign ceased to be transparent marked the emergence of the human as subject and, as well, the beginning of representational art. In other words, it marked the birth of exactly those conflicts at work in Merrill's poetry between art and what it represents: the relationship of the narrator to the narrated and of experience to imagination. So long as the narrator created the narrative, distributed significance, created metaphor, the authority for that creation remained in doubt, a doubt which grew under the influence of Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Einstein to culminate in the crisis voiced by The Waste Land. To put it another way, Eliot's poem can be viewed as an objective correlative for what he identified in "The Metaphysical Poets" as the "dissociation of sensibility." Whereas the seventeenth century poets, he argued, "possessed a mechanism of sensibility which could devour any kind of experience" (273) and "were, at best, engaged in the task of trying to find the verbal equivalent for states of mind and feeling" (275), later poets came to separate thought from sensibility, emphasizing one at the expense of the other, a situation from which poetry has never recovered.[20]  For Eliot, the implications of this situation presented a clear charge for modern poetry: "Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into its meaning" (275).

From a Foucauldian point of view, this imperative--a mini-manifesto of modernist poetry--seems impossible to meet because it mislocates the problem. The question is not one of inappropriate literary influences but of a shift in human understanding which erased the transparency of the sign and hence rendered impossible the idea of a verbal equivalent for states of mind and feeling. The emergence of the human as subject (a phenomenon, as Foucault marks it, roughly coterminous to Eliot's dissociation of sensibility) undermined the faith that made temporal experience cohere with eternal. This faith is impossible, for Foucault, so long as the human is the subject and thus the sign is representational, for so long as that is the case, the human distributes meaning and the temporal human, not the eternal gods, "make sense." From this perspective, Eliot's charge and the conventions of modernism that followed from it addressed questions not of sensibility and transcendence but merely of technique.

Eliot had also created a view of history located in a question of aesthetics and again suggested an unbridgeable gap: between a world of associated sensibilities and one of dissociated sensibilities. This reflects in yet another way Eliot's belief that Truth requires a system and cannot be perceived as a dissociated fragment. Yet in its mimetic enterprise, its attempt to correlate language to reality, The Waste Land appears capable only of mirroring a world of dissociations. The charge to represent "truthfully" thus seems at odds, from Eliot's perspective, with the charge to present "Truth." If Truth for Eliot was possible only as part of a system, then any attempt in The Waste Land, no matter how successful, to let history articulate itself could not authorize Truth, since History, as the poem demonstrates, had failed to be systematic. The Waste Land, as Menand points out, "is presented as a contemporary reading of the Western tradition, which . . . is treated as a sequence of gestures whose original meaning is unknown, but which every text that is added to it makes a bad guess at" (90). Instead of History, therefore, James Longenbach has argued in great detail, Eliot was employing the authority of Eastern mysticism, especially in "What the Thunder Said," to provide the system that would give his fragmented poem transcendent truth (200-237).[21]  But if The Waste Land is a mystical work, one that reflects most extensively Eliot's broad and attentive reading of mystical literature between 1908 and 1914, it is also a poem that came to represent the failure of a unified vision. As such, it marks the gap between the history of myth and the myth of History, and it marks the absence of a mysticism adequate to bridge, hide, or erase that gap. To the extent, in other words, that Eliot's reliance on mysticism becomes apparent in the poem, it does so as another form of longing, as an unfulfilled desire, as an inadequate cosmology.

The cosmology of Sandover both embraces and responds to The Waste Land by reformulating the fragmentation its cosmology presents. Aesthetic concerns are as important to Merrill's spirits and mentors as they are to Eliot, but those spirits do not view those concerns as a purely human enterprise. Rather they are the highest work of God B and God's agents. Since God B is biology, however, this translates into the work of science, and since the work of science is change and progress, it translates into history. As Rachel Jackoff points out, the movement of Merrill's epic "is circular, in keeping with its cyclical sense of individual and cosmic history. The cyclical turns of historical time are connected to the very structure of the atom, its plus and minus charges both necessary to life" (159). In Merrill's cosmos, the senses thus become an historical medium, but as Helen Vendler correctly reminds us, "Merrill's argument for the senses denies the old propriety that would distinguish the aesthetic from the sensual" (88). The activity of personal, world, and cosmic history does not stand apart from asthetics. To the contrary, Art is both its greatest activity and its highest goal. The pursuit of that goal, furthermore, is a family enterprise, writ universally big, and that cosmic family allows the faith necessary for metaphoric assertions.

This is what Merrill learns in the lessons of the gods which he translates in a schoolroom setting that not only reconstitutes the scribes as students/children (as opposed to "Gidean school teacher") but also the mentors/angels/gods as family, constantly stressing their filial relationship to one another. Because each of the archangels constitutes a basic element, the elements too exist in an eternal, filial relationship. The "summer without parents" which is the puzzle in "Lost in Translation," thus comes to an end as patriarchal and matriarchal authority unite and the enmity of the Oedipal triangle dissolves in the setting which makes sense of (god-the-) father.

In making that sense, furthermore, Sandover completes Eliot's quest to achieve his criterion for great art--that it commune with the dead (Longenbach, 18-19). It does so, as I have been arguing, by moving that communion from the realm of imagination to the realm of experience. That move thus becomes the next (or final?) step in the quest Eliot articulated. As such, Sandover becomes The Waste Land's supplement, a point that becomes uncannily clear in yet another way, when we refer to facsimile of The Waste Land's original draft. There we discover in the final passage that the original draft contained the line "These fragments I have spelt into my ruins" (Facsimile, 81) instead of "These fragments I have shored against my ruins."[22] Longenbach is correct, I believe, that the earlier version lends credence to a reading of the poem as attempting to express wholeness:

Exfoliating from the thunderous and meaningless "DA," The Waste Land spells the entire history of language into the texture of modern English. The final lines of the poem move from Sanskrit to Latin, Provencal, French, and back to the mystical origins of language and tradition in the Sanskrit "Shantih"--"The Peace which passeth understanding." (236)

The attempt to express wholeness, however, and further to authorize that wholeness "in the mystical origins of language," remains an attempt, the most direct sign of which is erased from the poem's final draft. Eliot replaces the "spelt into"--the act of translation that would unite fragments with ruins, art with history, language with experience--with "shored against," a phrase that reasserts the fragmentation of language and experience. Almost exactly half a century later, with the publication of "Lost in Translation" and "Book of Ephraim," Merrill begins to spell out what Eliot had erased: in "wandering through the ruin" of language, one can discover the peacefulness that is part of a larger system and that passeth understanding.


1. Like many academic pieces, this essay has benefitted from the advice of several readers. To all of them I am grateful, but I wish to mention in particular two: David Kalstone, who read the earliest draft, years ago, and Leonora Woodman, who read a much more recent version. To their memories this essay is dedicated.

2. Yenser indicates the importance of "Lost in Translation" to Merrill by noting that in the reissued edition of his first nine volumes of poetry (From the First Nine, 1946-1976), "Lost in Translation" was moved to final position in the volume, virtually the only poem to have its position drastically altered. "[Merrill] did so, I think," Yenser states, "because it is a consummation--and thus a place to begin" (10).

3. See: Berger, Brisman, Jackoff, Lehman, Park, Vendler; also: Sacks, 163; Moffett, chapter 8; and Yenser, chapters 5, 6, and 7.

4. "Might Eliot's long legacy be spent? The trilogy is sufficiently unlike the literature of the last sixty years, the best and the worst, that we need have no trouble recognizing its differences. In the midst of fragmentation, it unifies--science and poetry, past and present, public and private, cosmic and domestic, the dead and the living--as epic used to, and as no short poem can. In the midst of literature (and lives) made out of heartsick discontinuities, it is continuous, with the continuity not only of reason--purposeful narrative, tightly connected event--but of the heart--of loyalty, friendship, of love that so yearns for continuity that it seeks it beyond even that black discontinuity that JM and DJ refuse to take as final. In the midst of personal and linguistic privatism, it manifests for the reader an affectionate concern that we'd forgotten could exist in serious literature, and a shining faith in the power of language to render shareable our grandest imaginations and our most personal experience, to make the private public." (Park, 533). Park's essay reviews Scripts for the Pageant (1980), the final book of the trilogy, when the three were published separately. They were later republished together under the title The Changing Light at Sandover. In this essay, like Park, I shall be citing the works as they originally appeared, under the following titles: "Book of Ephraim" (Book I, comprising two thirds of the volume Divine Comedies, 1976); Mirabell: Books of Number (Book II), 1976; and Scripts.

5. This is not to equate Eliot with The Waste Land, for as much as Merrill's Eliot's own career can be seen as a movement away from the implications of his monumental poem. The path of that movement, unfortunately, lies outside the scope of this essay. It is therefore important to point out that my references to Eliot here are to the Eliot who helped to codify modernism in the first three decades of this century, and to the poem that defined, for so many readers since then, the major spiritual, psychological and aesthetic issues of the modern age.

6. Of Merrill's early work, Richard Howard, for example, said: "The jealous voice of a man capable of no more than objets d'art addressing a man capable of an art transcending objects might easily be the voice of the early James Merrill apostrophizing the writer he was to become" (327). See also: Vendler, 69-70.

7. Both Keller and Yenser attend closely to Merrill's dualism. For Keller, Merrill's growing "tolerance of uncertainty" (352), distinguishes him from Auden and other modernists who try "to hold side by side two seemingly contradictory aspects of actuality" (242). Rather than balance discrete oppositional forces, Merrill's double focus, she argues, embraces the contraries as a form of fluid process located in language, i.e. as a form of translation (226-253). Yenser, as well, frames his discussion of Merrill by noting the embracing quality of Merrill's dualism: "Merrill insists, 'One nature dual to the end.' It is as though he were such a dualist that he must also be a monist. Throughout his work one senses either a yearning for oneness or, more often, an intuition of it. This attraction to unity motivates many of the paradoxes that riddle his writing, as well as his characteristic moot questions . . . and his framing of alternatives so that they seem to be aspects of one another" (6).

8. "Looked at in some lights, the poem undoes its resolution with a single clean yank . . . and we are plunged back into the real world of blindness and befuddlement and loneliness. For the Sultan becomes the poet at the beginning, who is also alone, waking, in the Orient, and divided from himself. . . . [The poem's] meaning exists in process, and [its] process, overseen by Scheherazade, is so fraught with paradox that it will be somewhat different each time through" (Yenser, 136). This paradoxical resolution is one of the poem's many similarities to The Waste Land. Yenser notes several others, including the organization in five sections, the fragmented structure, the extensive use of quotation (including quotation from Eliot), a plot built around spiritual impotence and the quest in foreign lands for resurrection, the focus on the poet's problem that he feels he does not feel anything, and the projection of the site (Istanbul) as an "unreal" city (120-136).

9. In recent years, many critics have examined Eliot's poetry and criticism in light of his work on Bradley. Schwartz details the debt of Eliot's poetics to his understanding of Bradley's investigation of subject/object relations (155-208). Michaels is particularly illuminating on this issue; reviewing Eliot's dissertation in detail, he shows how Eliot tries to conceive a pragmatic approach to knowledge that would mediate between idealism and realism. In order to do this, he posits intermediate steps between immediate experience and the Absolute, for Eliot found untenable Bradley's concept of the Absolute. In order to create this "pragmatic" mediation, Michaels demonstrates, however, Eliot creates "a middle justified only by its beginning and end" and also taking "its place finally at the expense of its beginning and end" (200). Menand, Longenbach, and Ross all note the significance of Eliot's rejection of Bradley's concept of the Absolute (Menand 48-49, Longenbach 203-204). Longenbach particularly examines the problems implicit in asserting Truth--which for Eliot relied on a totalizing system--in the absence of an Absolute (164-176, 200-237), and Ross argues convincingly that despite Eliot's arguments to the contrary, Eliot's privileging of the objectivism in subject-object relations requires a concept that approaches some form of Bradleyan Absolute (Ross, 6-32).

10. In the earlier "To a Butterfly" (Water Street, 1962), the same problem is addressed explicitly. The caterpillar represents the earthbound creature, "feet and fur," experiencing the world by "rebounding to the wind's clear jig," and the butterfly represents the imaginative world of artistic embellishment. Considering the insect's metamorphosis, the poet misses the caterpillar, resents the embellished world: "how tired one grows/ Just looking through a prism:/ Allegory, symbolism./ I've tried, Lord knows,/ To keep from seeing double." Nevertheless, he is "not yet proof against the rigmarole." The poem itself, which relies so heavily on a schematic metaphor and thus proves the poet's dependence on artifice, concludes with the image of metaphor and experience locked in one another's jails.

11. Menand is situating this question in the context of the nineteenth-century line of thought that "undertook to defend the status of human endeavor against the implications of scientific determinism" (77). He also points out that various works in Eliot's canon express different positions on this issue.

12. "Eliot appears nowhere," Menand points out, "but his fingerprints are on everything. And this gives him a victory over hermeneutics as well, for there is no level of reading of Eliot's poem at which it is possible to say that we have reached a meaning that might not have been put there by Eliot, himself" (91). Bedient's provocative reading of the poem tends to support Menand on this point to the extent that Bedient sees the poem as constructed to foreground Eliot through his performance of sundry voices; Bedient argues for the poem's having a unified protagonist--a stand-in for the poet himself--who mimics an array of voices as a cunning strategy "to get round the hostile skepticism of the age by disguising a extremism of faith with an apparent extremism of ironic disorder" (xi).

13. Yenser demonstrates in further detail how this opening section contains hardly a line that does not tug "in Merrillian fashion in two directions," (15).


"Tell me something, Art.
You know what it's like
Awake in your dry hell
Of volatile synthetic solvents.
Won't you help us brave the elements
Once more, of terror, anger, love?
Seeing there's no end to wear and tear
Upon the lawless heart,
Won't you as well forgive
Whoever settles for the immaterial?
Don't you care how we live?" (61-2)

15. The connections between the ways "scientific" thinkers problematized the twentieth-century concept of "reality" and the conventions of Modernism have been very widely noted. See, among a large number of discussions: The Modern Tradition, edited by Ellman and Feidelson; Modernism, edited by Bradbury and McFarlane; The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918, by Stephen Kern; and the Spring 1987 issue of American Quarterly, "Modernist Culture in America," edited by Daniel Joseph Singal.

16. Bedient emphasizes the ways in which Eliot's privileging metaphoric assertion allows his protagonist to "turn his back on the abject realm of history with its heap of rubbishy metonyms, and head off into the allegorical mountains of an interior region . . . . Here, only metaphor can help him to his meanings, intuitive correspondences between figurations and the Nonfigurable" (5).

17. Riddel employing a different approach comes to a similar conclusion about the fragmentation of the The Waste Land, arguing that reflects a nostalgia for the center that attempts to transcend time.

18. In his 1923 review of Ulysses, Eliot asserted that myth was "a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history" (103). "For the protagonist [of The Waste Land], as for Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses," Bedient points out, "history is a nightmare from which he is (already, if hardly known to himself) trying to wake: in his case into the true present of the Absolute. If Eliot does not credit a notion of historical cycles as readily as other modernists do . . . the reason is his utter metaphysical resistance to the very element of time" (66). See also, for example: Brooks, 43-46, and Knapp, Chapter 2 ("Modernist Form and the Evasion of History," 37-58). Knapp employs his very astute summary of this concensus position, it should be noted, in order to launch a somewhat divergent argument--that modernism's "formal innovations may remind us that history is a human construct, and so serve to resist a powerful social discourse like that of scientific management, which depends on the perception of historical inevitability" (46).

19. Ross and Menand both demonstrate that Eliot created poetic capital out of the marking of "failure."

20. Eliot claims that "this dissociation, as is natural, was aggravated by the influence of the two most powerful poets of the [seventeenth] century, Milton and Dryden. Each of these men performed certain poetic functions so magnificently well that the magnitude of the effect concealed the absence of others. The language went on and improved....But while the language became more refined, the feeling became more crude" (274). At the other extreme, Eliot explains here and elsewhere, the influence of the "sentimental age" valued feeling instead of or at the expense of thought, thus exacerbating the dissociation. This he sees as a reaction against Milton and Dryden.

21. Kearns provides the most extensive examination of the Eastern influence on Eliot; also see Hay.

22. The line is particularly significant because it is the only line in the poem's concluding section (last 11 lines) that is not an allusion or a direct quote. It is, in other words, the protagonists last direct assertion in the poem, and his only direct assertion in the concluding section. Levenson underscores the significance of the line by noting it as the site at which the poem becomes conscious of itself: "What had been a series of fragments of consciousness has become a consciousness of fragmentation: that may not be salvation but it is a difference, for as Eliot writes, 'To realize that any point of view is a point of view is already to have transcended it.' And to recognize fragments as fragments, to name them as fragments, is already to have transcended them--not to an harmonious or final unity but to a somewhat higher, somewhat more inclusive, somewhat more conscious point of view" (192). In a subsequent correspondence, moreover, Eliot was emphatic about the fact that he did not alter a word of that concluding section from the first draft, a claim that was both true and untrue. In the original, the words "shored against" are written directly above "spelt into," but, in uncharacteristic fashion, neither phrase is deleted or marked, either by Eliot or Pound.

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Schwartz, Sanford. The Matrix of Modernism: Pound, Eliot, and Early Twentieth Thought. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985.

Singal, Daniel Joseph, ed. "Modernist Culture in America." Special issue, American Quarterly, 39 (Spring 1987), 1.

Vendler, Helen. "James Merrill." In James Merrill, ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1985, 69- 93.

Yenser, Stephen. The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.

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