Magazine article World Literature Today

Young Eliot: From St. Louis to the Waste Land

Magazine article World Literature Today

Young Eliot: From St. Louis to the Waste Land

Article excerpt

Robert Crawford. Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land. New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2015. 493 pages.

In his essay on Philip Massinger, T. S. Eliot wrote that good poets steal but convert their thefts into something new or at least different. Robert Crawford has shown that they also absorb whatever impinges on their consciousness. By tracing the arc of Eliot's life from his St. Louis boyhood to the publication of The Waste Land, Crawford has opened the vaults of Eliot's memory bank, releasing his myriad influences.

His Eliot, whom he affectionately calls Tom, was the youngest of six siblings, including four sisters. He was a bookish lad whose mother also wrote poetry and whose father quoted Latin. He was girl-shy but, like most adolescents, hormonal and eager to lose his virginity. If one feels currents of sexuality rippling throughout The Waste Land with its motifs of impotence, sterility, mechanical lovemaking, lost innocence, and even homosexuality (Mr. Eugenides propositioning the speaker), Crawford supplies evidence that Eliot was much obsessed with sex, quoting his scatological limericks that can still evoke a blush. …

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