Early Poems by T.S. Eliot Works Show Depth of Sources

Article excerpt

INVENTIONS OF THE MARCH HARE

POEMS 1909-1917

By T.S. Eliot Edited by Christopher Ricks 472 pages, Harcourt Brace, $30 ***** TWENTY YEARS AGO the widow of a noted poet and editor asked my advice on whether his unpublished poems, many of them bawdy and scatological, were of a quality worth publishing. Although I appreciated their tone and cleverness, I simply couldn't decide, and I believe they remain unpublished. The 40-odd poems T.S. Eliot wrote and kept in a notebook he titled "Inventions of the March Hare," from 1909 to 1917, offer a similar dilemma for readers. In this case, however, Valerie Eliot, the poet's widow, com missioned the publication of Eliot's early poems, doubtless in the interest of furthering Eliot scholarship. While they add little to Eliot's reputation, they reveal the strong depth of his influences and sources, particularly in French Symbolist and Parnassian poetry. In the 80 years since Eliot's first volume, "Prufrock," appeared, followed by "The Waste Land" five years later, the "new thrill" and novelty of Eliot's poetry has diminished considerably. Three generations of modernist, post-modernist, beat, confessional, new formalist and other movements have worn the luster from his fresh, daring and even flippant lines, many of which (as in "The Waste Land") his friend Ezra Pound revised or rewrote. Yet we can still marvel at and enjoy the skill and craft of these early "Inventions." Eliot was among the earliest Americans (with Pound, Amy Lowell and John Gould Fletcher) to appreciate and assimilate the work of newer French poets after Baudelaire. …