T. S. Eliot and Prufrock's 'Daring' Peach
Today's blog entry will likely interest only me, for I'm merely adding some details about a couple of scholars who have interpreted T. S. Eliot's "peach" in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as a reference to the "forbidden fruit" of Genesis.
The text shown in the image above, T.S. Eliot: A Critical Study, is by Amar Nath Dwivedi and was published in 2003. I'm not sure that Dwivedi can be trusted as a scholar, given his interpretation of the famous "ragged claws" that Eliot has Prufrock allude to:
The reference here is to a kind of seagull having rough and rugged claws and running swiftly on 'the floors of the silent seas.' Left with no other options to console himself, the protagonist walks down the seashore dandyishly in his white flannel trousers where he can part his hair to conceal his baldness and 'risk the solaces of a peach' -- the sole forbidden fruit . . . . (page 31)Can one trust a scholar who has mistaken a crab for a seagull? Or who misquotes the famous "silent seas" line? Or who invents -- or so I gather -- the quote about peach risk? Probably not. But I have to acknowledge the reference to forbidden fruit.
The other scholar might be more trustworthy. Young Min Hyun (현영민) -- in an article titled "T. S. Eliot's Poetry: 'Do I dare to eat a peach?'" -- tells us the following, at least in the English abstract:
T. S. Eliot's impersonal theory of poetry is closely related with his nature of a Catholic, Calvinistic, or Puritanical temperament, which became the basis of his religious and sexual imagination in his poetry. We should bear in mind that his concept of tradition expounded in his essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" is inseparable from his belief in the Christian dogmatic belief in Original Sin, as he explained in After Strange Gods, a lecture delivered at the University of Virginia in 1933.This sounds a little more scholarly, if a bit off about Eliot's religion -- was it "Catholic, Calvinistic, or Puritanical"? -- but since the article itself is in Korean, I can't check it on my own. Hyun's comparison of the peach to Eliot's fig and apple will bear looking into, it seems.
Eliot interprets the Fall of man as originated in man's sexual passion which is symbolized in the act of eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis. This forbidden fruit is variously featured in Eliot's poetry as a peach in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," or a fig in Ash-Wednesday, or an apple in Four Quartets. Man should continually avoid the bodily desires not to eat the forbidden fruit. To relieve himself from the fear of His punishment, he should continually humiliate himself before God. This religious myth is accommodated to Eliot's impersonal theory of poetry which asks of the artist a continual surrender or self-sacrifice. In Eliot's poetry, women are dismissed as a temptress to be avoided. By cleansing his desires by the burning spiritual fire, man is recreated. Therefore, Eliot's ideal woman is a lady of silences in white and blue dress like Virgin Mary, a lady like Dante's Beatrice, a lady like Poe's Helen or Annabel Lee, whose beauty cannot be defiled by man's animal desires.
His poetic assimilation of his religious belief in terms of sexuality is inherited from the Puritan poetic representation of the abstract and spiritual value in terms of the concrete and sensual image, as seen in Jonathan Edwards, a last Puritan.
I might as well note K. K. Ruthven's article, "The Poet as Etymologist," in Critical Quarterly (Volume 11, Issue 1, March 1969, pages 9-37), which is not about Eliot but which offers the following obscure but intriguing remark:
The word has been potentially ambiguous ever since the peach was a 'Persian apple' (persicum malum) on account of the similarity between malum ('apple') and malum ('evil') . . . .Unfortunately, I don't have the page number or the context since I'd have to purchase the article.