Three Writers in Exile: Pound, Eliot & Joyce

By Doris L. Eder | Go to book overview
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T. S. ELIOT'S SEARCH FOR ROOTS

In my beginning is my end. . . . In my end is my beginning.

There is a satisfaction in following the trajectory of Eliot's career: he is buried in East Coker, the same Somersetshire village from which his ancestors left for America three centuries before his birth. It is tempting to see this poet's progress back to the land of his forefathers as highly deliberate and purposive, yet chance played a part in it too. Though Eliot's life was much more charted and controlled than Pound's, and he was outwardly less battered and baffled by the winds of fortune, Eliot too was subject to unpredictable, irrational forces impinging on him from without and within. Examining the seemingly ineluctable curve of his career, certain episodes stand out as joins or breaks, which made all the difference. Suppose Eliot had, as his parents desired and expected, gone on from distinguished work in graduate school to become a professor of philosophy at Harvard; suppose World War I had not caught him in Germany, hurried him to England, and encouraged him to remain there; suppose he had not contracted the miserable first marriage from which some of his poetry seems to spring, would we then have had his revolutionary poetry, or his enormously influential criticism, or the plays?

Some of the reasons for Eliot's self-exile from the United States are clear; others are obscure. Eliot's life, like his work, is obscure and enigmatic. Eliot was a most reticent, evasive, selfeffacing, and private man. There could be no greater contrast than that with Joyce, who is shamelessly explicit, self-revealing, confessional even, or with Pound, who can be garrulously self- advertising. Eliot's will stipulated that no biography of him be written--an injunction his widow feels obliged to override. 1 A hushed air of confidentiality pervades even letters of Eliot dealing with the most routine and innocuous matters. Much of the correspondence is inaccessible while Valerie Eliot prepares her

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