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The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem

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Those letters cast some retrospective light on Eliot’s own sense of the creation of his era-defining poem. He reveals the cultural and personal trauma that forged The Waste Land through the lives of its protagonists — Ezra Pound, who edited it; Vivien Eliot, who sustained it; and T. When Eliot included a fragment of that marital neurosis in The Waste Land – “My nerves are bad tonight.

Entrusted with the gift by Pound but forbidden from knowing its contents, Eliot, alongside his fellow traveller Wyndham Lewis, ceremoniously presented the package as the trio assembled at a Left Bank hotel and waited as Joyce struggled with its strings until, for want of a knife, a pair of nail scissors was found. But it was not, as Matthew Hollis’s captivatingly exhaustive “biography of a poem” demonstrates, a work conceived or executed in isolation; and chief among Eliot’s enablers were his wife, Vivien, and his fellow poet and indefatigable literary fixer, Ezra Pound, who looms almost as large in the book as does Eliot himself. Out of that dryness, out of his own desiccation, Eliot made progress on the poem that he’d had in mind for many months. The Waste Land lends itself so well to this kind of social narrative because it was almost a collective project.Matthew Hollis’s new book is not another literary study of The Waste Land nor is it merely a biography of Eliot and Pound. Two: this extensive and wide ranging book, could easily, by Mr Hollis, have been twice as long, and never once been boring.

This year’s centenary has been marked with a series of readings and events in the UK, the US and across the world. By the autumn, after a disastrous visit by his mother, Eliot has taken refuge in the Albemarle hotel in Margate to recuperate from a breakdown.While well-written and generally interesting ( as, indeed, any decent book covering this fascinating period in English literature is bound to be ), potential readers must be advised that this is certainly not 'A Biography of a Poem' ( I suspect 'publisher-ese' there! The result is an unforgettable story of lives passing in opposing directions and the astounding literary legacy they would leave behind.

Eliot and Ezra Pound left an America sullied, in their opinion, by recent immigrants (my own among them) to emigrate to England believing they could initiate a renaissance in the arts that could save Western civilization itself.If you are looking for the 'origin story' of 'The Waste Land', then this is certainly for you; however, be aware that by the time the poem has been completed within the narrative, the book effectively closes.

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