The Wasteland: A Facsimile – Review

T. S. Eliot. The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Ed. Valerie Eliot. New York: Harcourt, 1971. Print.

When I was in college, the profs and instructors in the English Department generally had unkind words about Valerie Eliot, T. S. Eliot’s widow. They were upset because she was not releasing anything from her late husband (1888-1965) and not even allowing anthology editors to annotate his poems in any way.

That suddenly changed in 1971 when this facsimile edition of The Waste Land came out. I had never seen it until recently though I recall the excitement when it was published.

It turned out that Mrs. Eliot and Ezra Pound (still alive back then) were going over the 61 typescript and manuscript pages that had been given to the New York Public Library in 1968 by the heirs of John Quinn, a friend of Eliot’s who died in 1924.  Quinn had helped Eliot get the poem published in the United States and Eliot had given him the typescripts and manuscripts he had worked on while composing the poem.

These things are detailed in a 22-page introduction about Eliot’s life and his association with Pound and Quinn from 1915 when Eliot was first noticed until Quinn died. The Waste Land came out in 1922.

These drafts contain annotations and corrections by three different people: Eliot himself, Ezra Pound, and Eliot’s first wife Vivienne. Perhaps most striking is how much longer the original was. Pound struck his pen through whole pages. For the most part, it was worth it. Good writing means rewriting, and rewriting often means editing things out.

Most of what was left out falls into two broad categories:

(1) Material that would have repeated ideas or images already in the poem. Although Eliot was often successful with a stream of consciousness narrative approach, the parts that were cut out were often little episodes in a bar or other social situations illustrating more of the “wasted” people of the unreal city like the “young man carbuncular.”

(2) A lot of the lines and words stricken were images that echoed other poems or other parts of the poem. It seems as though some of those images later found their way into “The Hollow Men” (1925). In fact, the original epigraph Eliot had was a quotation from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness ending with Kurtz’s dying words—”The horror — the horror.” Pound questioned this, but Eliot would use a similar epigraph from the same book for “The Hollow Men”—”Mistah Kurtz, he dead.”

The quotation from Petronius Arbiter’s Satyricon which became the epigraph of The Waste Land was originally alluded to in the second section “A Game of Chess” which had been subtitled “In the Cage,” referring to the cage that the Sibyl of Cumae is suspended.

This facsimile edition does contain the good copy of the 1922 Waste Land. It takes up about sixteen pages. That does not mean that 44 pages were cut. Among the pages owned by Quinn were many duplicate pages and about a dozen drafts of other short poems (or perhaps unpublished sections of The Waste Land) that were used in some way in the longer poem.

There are surprisingly few annotations or corrections by Pound. Pound mostly struck lines and whole sections. Most of the word changes appear to have been made by Eliot. Mrs. Eliot had a few general comments on some parts of the poem, but her input was minor. A number Pound’s comments—all were brief—indicate what he thought Eliot was alluding to. In most cases Pound apparently understood what he was reading.

The book contains seven pages of editorial endnotes explaining certain allusions and comments on the drafts. In some cases Pound apparently explained them to Valerie Eliot, and to the reader, what was going on. These notes do give insight into understanding the poem.

I recall studying this poem in graduate school, after this facsimile edition was well known. Our professor suggested that the little piece in the last section “who is the third that walks always beside you?” alludes to the story of the Emmaus Road in Luke 24:13-33. There is a short poem in this edition entitled “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (111) which alludes to those words from John 11:25 as well as Hindu sacrificial rites in the Bhagavad-Gita. The Hindu words are echoed in the end of Part IV of the poem. One could understand, then, that the third man is the resurrected Jesus before the two disciples identify Him.

Nowadays there are annotated versions of The Waste Land. Many students become familiar with the notes in any of several Norton Anthologies, for example. No doubt these annotations, like my professor’s observation, get some of their inspiration from these drafts. At the very least, we get a sense of how the poem was composed. We, too, may understand why Eliot was grateful to Pound’s editing, severe as it may have been.

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