These images show the typescript draft of T S Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (1922). The original is in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.

What does the manuscript tell us about how the poem took shape?

After straining one of his hands rowing while at graduate school, Eliot preferred to write by typewriter where possible. One example of where it was probably not possible would be in the shelter at Margate. Editors assume that most of the actual manuscript Eliot produced in Margate was destroyed. On this copy, on page 52, we can see him redrafting the closing parts of Part III: ‘The Fire Sermon’, with its lines

On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.

[ll. 300–302]

At the top of this manuscript, corrections, suggestions and comments have been added to the text by hand. In some instances, these are by Eliot’s wife Vivien. The majority, however, are by the poet Ezra Pound, to whom Eliot showed the whole poem in Paris in January 1922. Critics have speculated that by this stage Eliot may already have decided to delete the first section of part I, which describes a night out. But here in the draft, we can see them working together on the rest of this section. The two men worked particularly hard on part III, ‘The Fire Sermon’. Pound suggested the deletion of the first page-and-a-half. As can be seen on p. 24, Eliot then redrafted it by hand, upside-down on the back of the paper. Because he was re-incorporating some lines he had already written, he could refer to these in shorthand. One example is ‘Sweet Thames etc.’

The real thing

As can be seen from this typescript, Pound’s annotations use the terminology of professional editing. On page 26, for example, ‘STET’ means ‘let it stand’ in Latin. Others are in the highly idiosyncratic blend of languages in which Pound communicated, both in person and writing. For example, at various points he annotates the text with the German word ‘echt’, by which he means a compliment: ‘this is the real thing’. Pound continued to help Eliot with the poem after the period in Paris, sending suggestions by letter. On January 24, after Eliot had returned to London, Pound wrote to him with a lightly comic poem praising Eliot’s achievement. He also wrote, ‘complimenti, you bitch’, and suggested, among other things, that the quotation from Josef Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) which stands at the front of this manuscript should be removed.

The version printed later that year does indeed remove the Conrad quotation, a decision which Eliot apparently later regretted. Eliot replaced it with one in Latin and Greek from the Satyricon, an ancient Roman novel attributed to Petronius. In recognition of his editorial work, he also included a dedication to Ezra Pound: ‘il miglior fabbro’. This is a slightly altered quotation from the Purgatorio, the second part of The Divine Comedy (c. 1309–20). In three parts, this epic poem by the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) describes a progression from hell through purgatory to heaven. In the quotation, Dante is pointing at the poet Arnaut Daniel, and calling him ‘the better craftsman’. For some critics this is an allusion to the fact that Pound’s ‘craft’ is perhaps more obscure than Eliot’s. For other critics, it is straightforward praise and thanks.

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