John Sutherland at the Financial Times:
Within the bosom of every old man, said the philosopher William James, there is a dead young poet. TS Eliot, as Robert Crawford suggests in his opening sentence, “was never young”. He’s the Benjamin Button of poets. His first mature work, “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”, was written when he was 22. It contains the couplet:
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
A later poem, “Gerontion” (in Greek, “wizened old man”), opens:
Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
The author was barely 30 at the time but already “Old Possum”. Crawford’s endeavour, brilliantly achieved, is to disinter the dead young poet buried in the prematurely aged TS Eliot.
When Eliot died in January 1965 it was, for the literate classes, a passing of the same magnitude as Winston Churchill’s, three weeks later. One genuflected, humble in the face of literary greatness. But Eliot’s reputation, over the next half-century, was to become sadly chipped.