The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem

Alex Clark in The Guardian:

A century ago, a man with a double life published one of the most celebrated, anthologised and dissected poems in English literature. TS Eliot spent six days a week at the offices of Lloyds bank and crammed the business of poetry and literary criticism into the evenings and Sundays. This allowed him to write The Waste Land, a densely allusive work that drew on Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Jacobean tragedy, tarot and the Upanishads to create a dazzling portrait of both the ruins of postwar Europe and the inner alienation of modernity. But it was not, as Matthew Hollis’s captivatingly exhaustive “biography of a poem” demonstrates, a work conceived or executed in isolation; and chief among Eliot’s enablers were his wife, Vivien, and his fellow poet and indefatigable literary fixer, Ezra Pound, who looms almost as large in the book as does Eliot himself.

One of the numerous illuminating anecdotes of their entwined lives sees TS Eliot deliver a parcel to James Joyce in Paris at their first ever meeting. Entrusted with the gift by Pound but forbidden from knowing its contents, Eliot, alongside his fellow traveller Wyndham Lewis, ceremoniously presented the package as the trio assembled at a Left Bank hotel and waited as Joyce struggled with its strings until, for want of a knife, a pair of nail scissors was found. 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. “‘Oh!’ said Joyce faintly, and sat down.” That night the Château Latour flowed, and subsequently a humiliated Joyce settled every bill.

More here.