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The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem

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There is much else beside close textual reading in this impressive examination of artistic creation. Even if you flinch at the idea of a poem demanding a biography, an exception has to be made for The Waste Land.

Two: this extensive and wide ranging book, could easily, by Mr Hollis, have been twice as long, and never once been boring.S. Eliot's enigmatic masterpiece remains one of the most influential works ever written, and yet one of the most mysterious.

It has seen the second volume of Robert Crawford’s beautifully weighted biography of the poet ( Eliot After the Waste Land) and also, this month, the publication of Lyndall Gordon’s The Hyacinth Girl. Those letters cast some retrospective light on Eliot’s own sense of the creation of his era-defining poem.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. What it is, essentially, is a narrative of the autobiographical elements that Eliot would pen and Pound edit into the great poem. True understanding of the poem, in my opinion, can only really come from what the reader takes from it. Within, a clearly second-hand pair of brown shoes, prompted by Pound’s anxiety that Joyce, whom he liked and admired, was short of funds and in need of sturdy footwear.

Instead, they found an old and enfeebled culture that Eliot would famously describe in his poem The Waste Land. It is because the Possum listened to Pound that The Waste Land is as it is; their collaboration, Hollis argues, didn’t merely make it better – it allowed it to become a poem rather than a collection of fragments: “They had found a way for the poem to exist within them both at the same moment, possessed by neither but possessing of both. Vivien has been lying in the most dreadful agony with neuritis in every nerve, increasingly – arms, hands, legs, feet, back.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. Matthew Hollis’s new book is not another literary study of The Waste Land nor is it merely a biography of Eliot and Pound.

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