The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot

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He studied at Oxford, was briefly a teacher, then began to work for Lloyd’s Bank. In 1915, he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood (an English writer), but the marriage was a tragic disaster. Eliot spent his honeymoon sitting icily in a deckchair while his new wife trashed the hotel bedroom. She became closely attached to the philosopher Bertrand Russell, and penniless, Eliot appears to have agreed to a ménage a trois of sorts with ‘Bertie,’ who was happy to engage in a passionate affair with Vivienne, which sadly broke her, and Eliot into the bargain. He was so close to a nervous breakdown by 1921 that he went to a Swiss sanatorium on Lake Geneva (or Leman) on medical advice. He returned two months later, stopping off in Paris to give his close friend Ezra Pound the manuscript of The Waste Land . Vivienne became increasingly unstable without Bertie, and started to run through other men and take drugs (including ether-sniffing apparently, perhaps as some kind of bizarre homage to Prufrock). Eliot, racked by hatred of Vivienne, whom he saw as a whore, and, no doubt, by hatred for himself (as he had, effectively, pimped his wife to Bertrand Russell) was acquiring a rather grim and monastic religiosity. He joined the Church of England in 1927 and was encouraged by his Anglican friends to leave his wife in 1933. She was eventually committed to a mental home where she died in 1947. Her husband never visited her.

Eliot went on to marry again, and to become the epitome of the ‘smiling public man’ to quote his fellow poet Yeats. He worked for many years for the publishers Faber and Faber, and Eliot was responsible for publishing just about every notable English or American poet for the next thirty years. Partly through this influential post, he acquired a position in the highest echelons of English literary life by, as Ezra Pound put it, ‘disguising himself as a corps.’ Pound’s nickname for Eliot was ‘Possum’ (possums are famous for ‘playing dead’) and Eliot, ironically, is most famous now for his book of children’s verse Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which has been made into a successful musical.
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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The name ‘J. Alfred Prufrock’ is carefully chosen. Alfred was a typically Victorian name; ‘frock coats’ respectable Victorian dress, and ‘pru-’ suggests ‘prudence,’ ‘prudery’ and other words that combine to suggest a stuffy old-fashioned Victorian gentleman, long past his sell-by date. The idea of such a person having a ‘love song’ is humorous from the outset.

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T.S. Eliot