T. S. Eliot on the Value of Plot and Narrative Line

From The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism:

‘The chief use of the ‘meaning’ of a poem, in the ordinary sense, may be (for here I am speaking of some kinds of poetry and not all) to satisfy one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while the poem does its work upon him: much as the imaginary burglar is always provided with a nice bit of meat for the house-dog.’

I suspect you may disagree with my reading of “meaning in the ordinary sense” to be equivalent to “the surface narrative.” The diversion-during-delivery sense of the paragraph, though, and the burglar-housedog analogy supports this interpretation, doesn’t it?

I’ll be using this Eliot aside in my revisions to Unlocking Harry Potter. I think I’ll send it on to Lev Grossman as well, if only to suggest he use it as a weapon against the horde of angry academic villagers the next time they storm his castle for suggesting plot is a good thing.

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