The Love Affair Fueled His Poetry—Until the Bitter End

TS Eliot disses muse Emily Hale in note from beyond the grave
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2020 5:40 PM CST
The Love Affair Fueled His Poetry—Until the Bitter End
Emily Hale and TS Eliot pose in a 1946 photo in Dorset, Vermont.   (Princeton University Library via AP)

"Footfalls echo in the memory/Down the passage which we did not take/Towards the door we never opened," reads TS Eliot's poem Burnt Norton. The words have found new meaning with the release of Eliot's 1,131 letters to muse Emily Hale, who donated them to Princeton University on the condition that they be made public 50 years after both were dead. Released Thursday, they span 1930 to 1957, per the Guardian. "My love is as pure ... as any love can be," the American poet living in England wrote to Hale, of Boston, in October 1930, after the Harvard schoolmates had met up at a London party. A month later, Eliot, married to a woman he described as "mentally ill," wrote that Hale had made him "happier than I have ever been in my life … though it is the kind of happiness which is identical with my deepest loss and sorrow."

Though Hale's replies were destroyed at Eliot's request, per the BBC, she gave an account of the relationship before her death, saying she was surprised by his admission of love and initially did not share his romantic feelings. That changed by the late 1930s. Indeed, "marriage, if and when his wife died—couldn't help but become a desired right of fulfillment," she said. Yet a decade after Vivienne Eliot's 1947 death, the poet married another woman in what Hale said was "both a shock and a sorrow." In a 1960 statement released in tandem with the letters, Eliot wrote that Hale was a "mediocre teacher of philosophy" who "would have killed the poet in me." But Matthew Hollis of the London Poetry School believes the cutting reaction should be taken with a grain of salt. It was that of "a man in pain" who "clearly felt that his privacy had been invaded," he tells the BBC. (More TS Eliot stories.)

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