T.S. Eliot

If it is possible to have a “hero” as a writer, then I choose T.S. Eliot as mine. Now being called a “paleo-modernist” (as if he were some class of dinosaur), I believe he speaks to every age that has succeeded him, that his poetry and drama are rich, inspiring literary works, and that the more repeatedly he is read, the more one gains from him, both emotionally and intellectually.

Of late, the emphasis has been on the recently-opened letters that he’d written to Emily Hale (over 1300 of them!), his comments on the eventual publicizing of those letters, and the loss (at his direction) of the letters she wrote to him. He wanted no biography written of him, yet there are a few, the most notable (and well-written) by Peter Ackroyd (T.S. Eliot: A Life, 1984), and Lyndall Gordon (T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life, 1998). I hope that these biographies are re-edited one day to reflect the information from the Eliot-Hale letters (which are supposed to be published sometime in 2022, I believe).

Eliot the man was certainly “imperfect” in ways that all of us are – sometimes short-sighted, or petty, or narrow-minded, sometimes cruel, or unsympathetic, or even stupid, but the poet was none of these, even at his worst (I don’t think much of the “Old Possum” stuff). In his critical essays and prose, he shows a more “human” face but less sympathetic to ordinary humanity (perhaps that is what, however, is exactly “human”), and often far too pontifical. But, it’s still T.S. Eliot through and through (never “Tom”). I’m still reading and re-reading his work, and still finding so much to admire and enjoy. One of the best “reading” of Eliot is to listen to recitations of his poetry, whether his own or by others (notably Jeremy Irons). Eliot believed in spoken poetry to convey meaning through sheer sound, not sense; i.e., an initial reliance on phonology rather than morphology. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy his work.

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