New Edition of T.S. Eliot Poetry Explores Poet’s Sexuality
It isn't all a Wasteland.
This story was first published on The Reading Room.
To many, sexuality is a matter of privacy. To T.S. Eliot, his sexuality was a source of inspiration and a common theme in his poetry. A new edition of T.S. Eliot poetry reveals that his sex life, contrary to common popular opinion, wasn’t completely bleak. Eliot’s previously published work portrays his sex life as broken and depressing, in part due to his troubled first marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, as well as a few failed trysts. His negative feelings on sexuality, as expressed through his writing, also served as a symbol of his distaste for modern society. Louis Menand of The New Yorker once said that, “the sex in Eliot’s poetry is almost always bad sex, either libidinally limp or morally vicious.”
However, newly published T.S. Eliot poems show a different side of his sexuality. An expanded edition of Eliot’s poetry, featuring poems written to his beloved second, rather tall wife, Valerie, “reveals the more assured side of the modernist master,” says The Guardian. Valerie was nearly thirty years younger than Eliot, who, knowing he would die long before his young wife, gave her a notebook with poems written specially for her to hold onto after his passing. These erotic poems, with titles including “How the Tall Girl’s Breasts Are,” and “How the Tall Girl and I Play Together,” show a happier, more satisfied man.
Although Eliot was open and often sexually explicit in his work, these poems were apparently meant to be private. After Valerie’s death, editors Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue decided to publish them. If you are looking to read these previously unseen poems, look for the newest edition of T.S. Eliot’s collected poems coming this November.