The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem by Matthew Hollis review – a classic laid bare

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A period ago, a antheral with a treble beingness published 1 of the astir celebrated, anthologised and dissected poems successful English literature. TS Eliot spent six days a week astatine the offices of Lloyds slope and crammed the concern of poesy and literate disapproval into the evenings and Sundays. This allowed him to constitute The Waste Land, a densely allusive enactment that drew connected Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Jacobean tragedy, tarot and the Upanishads to make a dazzling representation of some the ruins of postwar Europe and the interior alienation of modernity. But it was not, arsenic Matthew Hollis’s captivatingly exhaustive “biography of a poem” demonstrates, a enactment conceived oregon executed successful isolation; and main among Eliot’s enablers were his wife, Vivien, and his chap writer and indefatigable literate fixer, Ezra Pound, who looms astir arsenic ample successful the publication arsenic does Eliot himself.

One of the galore illuminating anecdotes of their entwined lives sees TS Eliot present a parcel to James Joyce successful Paris astatine their archetypal ever meeting. Entrusted with the acquisition by Pound but forbidden from knowing its contents, Eliot, alongside his chap traveller Wyndham Lewis, ceremoniously presented the bundle arsenic the trio assembled astatine a Left Bank edifice and waited arsenic Joyce struggled with its strings until, for privation of a knife, a brace of nail scissors was found. Within, a intelligibly second-hand brace of brownish shoes, prompted by Pound’s anxiousness that Joyce, whom helium liked and admired, was abbreviated of funds and successful request of sturdy footwear. “‘Oh!’ said Joyce faintly, and sat down.” That nighttime the Château Latour flowed, and subsequently a humiliated Joyce settled each bill.

It is simply a emblematic and strangely bittersweet lawsuit of wherever Pound’s scattergun vigor would pb – arsenic his ain penning faltered, and was progressively met with indifference oregon outright derision, his gargantuan efforts connected others’ behalf remained undiluted, adjacent erstwhile misguided. By the extremity of Hollis’s narrative, Joyce has published Ulysses, Eliot The Waste Land, and Pound has discontinue England, good connected his mode to an exile that would see his apprehension by Allied forces for broadcasting from fascist Italy and incarceration successful a infirmary for the criminally insane. Towards the extremity of Pound’s life, Hollis records, helium told his daughter: “I should person listened to the Possum”, his nickname for Eliot.

It is due to the fact that the Possum listened to Pound that The Waste Land is arsenic it is; their collaboration, Hollis argues, didn’t simply marque it amended – it allowed it to go a poem alternatively than a postulation of fragments: “They had recovered a mode for the poem to beryllium wrong them some astatine the aforesaid moment, possessed by neither but possessing of both.” As Eliot, connected permission from the slope suffering tense exhaustion, progressed from the Kent seaside to Switzerland, wherever helium would consult a doc recommended by Lady Ottoline Morrell, helium wrestled with each constituent of the poem, from metre, connection and enactment to conception bid and titles. At each constituent helium sent drafts to Pound, whose interventions – minutely detailed, exacting, vivid – radically altered some the words connected the leafage and the mindset with which Eliot approached it.

There is overmuch other beside adjacent textual speechmaking successful this awesome introspection of creator creation. Hollis is adept astatine blending biographical item with literate criticism. He charts Eliot’s peculiar upbringing successful St Louis, Missouri, his conflicted narration with his parent and the fearfulness that was his matrimony to Vivien Haigh-Wood, who lived astir the past decennary of her beingness successful a psychiatric hospital. He reports the antisemitism that disfigured Eliot’s and Pound’s work, without minimising oregon mitigating it, arsenic they did, and helium is live to the egotism that besides resulted successful nonrecreational missteps and idiosyncratic cruelties. It’s a testament to his ain endowment astatine dissecting his taxable substance and infusing it with imaginative empathy that the scholar comes distant from his “biography” acceptable to look astatine The Waste Land with caller eyes.

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