- by Antony Ramm, Information and Research, Central Library
This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.
2014 marks a century since the first meeting of two legendary poets – TS Eliot and Ezra Pound. Although both were already known in literary circles (Pound more so than Eliot), this momentous occasion led directly to the composition and publication of Eliot’s 1922 masterpiece – ‘The Waste Land’ – which Pound edited; an editing of such impact that some scholars credit him with co-authoring the poem.
To celebrate this seminal moment, we would like to bring you details of some fascinating items held in our collection that relate to Eliot and his long, difficult, obscure and, yet, at-times strangely beautiful poem. One of the most interesting of these items is a facsimile and transcript of the original manuscript, a volume that has the advantage of showing Pound’s annotations of Eliot’s first draft. More information about the composition of the poem can be found in MC Bradbrook’s pamphlet “TS Eliot: The Making of ‘The Waste Land’”.
Biographies are a useful source of information about the genesis of any literature, situating the work in the wider context of the author’s life. In Eliot’s case, the Information and Research library holds several works – the most significant being Peter Ackroyd’s 1984 biography, which can be supplemented with T.S. Matthew’s Great Tom: Notes Towards the Definition of T.S. Eliot and Eliot’s Early Years by Lyndall Gordon.
Although it is relatively easy to locate the poem in literary anthologies, the Information and Research library allows you to see the poem as it was originally published. The 1922 edition of The Dial journal – part of a collection covering 1908 to 1926 – presents ‘The Waste Land’ in the context seen by Eliot’s contemporaries; reactions of those peers can be traced using bibliographies such as A Half-Century of Eliot Criticism (ed., Mildred Martin) – examples available in the library include Gilbert Seldes’ essay “T.S. Eliot” (in Volume 115 of The Nation journal).
Noticeably, this first edition of the poem does not contain Eliot’s later footnotes. While it could be said that this omission renders interpretation of the poem more challenging and, perhaps, even more rewarding, those footnotes are fascinating because Eliot’s text is chocked to the brim with allusions and references to the canon of Western literature, including interpolations from Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Andrew Marvell, Virgil, Edmund Spenser, the Bible, Aldous Huxley, Dante, Ovid, and Herman Hesse.
Many of these referenced texts are available from the Information and Research library; among them are all eight-volumes of James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1911-1915), poetry collections from Charles Baudelaire and plays by John Webster and Thomas Middleton. Most notable, perhaps, is a copy of Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail Legend: From Ritual to Romance, of which Eliot wrote “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by [From Ritual to Romance]…[which] will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do.”
Those footnotes have been subjected to scholarly analysis since the day of publication. And, while we should bear in mind Eliot’s own later comment that the footnotes represent a kind of “bogus scholarship” (a remark he made in his 1956 lecture ‘The Frontiers of Criticism’, available in the volume On Poetry and Poets), it is still worthwhile investigating those literary interpretations if the reader finds something of value in the poem itself. Further critical approaches to the text are available in such volumes as Eliot in His Time: Essays on the Fiftieth Anniversary of ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘The Waste Land’ in Different Voices.
Remember – all the items mentioned here are accessible at our Information and Research library, with many being available for loan. Please contact the department for further details: 0113 24 78282.