T. S. Eliot’s Sacred Wood

TSEHere is a favorite bit from a youthful T. S. Eliot (he’s just turned thirty but that’s young to me now): after leaving America for England and abandoning the teaching job at Harvard his family was expecting of him, he made an unfortunate marriage and started a literary life of day job, essays and reviews, and (when he could), poetry. He eventually had enough essays for a small book which he called The Sacred Wood. On January 6, 1919, he wrote to a patron and friend in New York on the possibility of the book being published in America, and says the following, no doubt echoing the anxieties of many writers. His father died the day after this letter was written:

I am not at all proud of the book—the prose part consists of articles written under high pressure in the overworked, distracted existence of the last two years, and very rough in form. But it is important to me that it should be published for private reasons. I am coming to America to visit my family some time within the summer or autumn, and I should particularly like to have it appear first. You see I settled over here in the face of strong family opposition, on the claim that I found the environment more favourable to the production of literature. This book is all I have to show for my claim—it would go toward making my parents contented with conditions—and towards satisfying them that I have not made a mess of my life, as they are inclined to believe. The sooner it is out therefore the better, especially in view of my approaching visit. Forgive these domestic details, but I wanted you to understand why I am so very anxious to get the book printed. (Letters Volume 1, Revised Edition, 315)


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