Marina by T S Eliot illustrated by E McKnight Kauffer


This pamphlet contains T S Eliot’s Marina (1929), published with artwork by E McKnight Kauffer as the fourth of Eliot’s contributions to the Ariel series of poems.

The Poem

In Pericles (c. 1609) a play now thought to be authored by William Shakespeare with George Wilkins, Marina is Pericles’ daughter. Her mother Thaisa appears to die while giving birth to her during a storm at sea. Then, having grown up with foster parents, Marina narrowly avoids being murdered when she is captured by pirates and sold to a brothel, where her virtue reforms the clients and her virginity is preserved. In the last act, Marina’s singing revives Pericles from a coma; the two characters recognise each other, and they are reunited.

In 1958, Eliot wrote a letter to an academic who was preparing an edition of the play confirming that

Yes, Marina was suggested by the recognition scene in Shakespeare’s Pericles and has to do, of course, with the same father-daughter relationship. I had no daughter, but the relationship interested me and, of course, recognition, in my experience, is something that comes repeatedly in life.

In imaginatively inhabiting the characters of the play in this way, Eliot is following the example of the dramatic monologues of the poet Robert Browning (1812–89). Throughout, Eliot alludes closely to the language and atmosphere not just of the recognition scene, but the play more generally. Some editors think the ‘sty of contentment, meaning / Death’ is connected to Marina’s description of her state: ‘most ungentle Fortune have plac’d me in this Stie’. The nautical descriptions seem to evoke the atmosphere of Marina’s dramatic birth (‘Marin’ is French for ‘sea’):

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.

The Latin quotation which Eliot uses as an epigraph is from the Roman poet Seneca’s play Hercules Furens. It comes from a scene in which Hercules wakes to find that he has killed his own children: Eliot told the critic G Wilson Knight that he had wanted a ‘crisscross’ between the very different awakening experienced by Pericles.

Eliot’s friend Aurelia Hodgson reported that he once told her that ‘Marina’ was ‘the poem he likes best of all that he has written.’

What was the Ariel series?

Eliot worked for the publisher Faber and Faber. In 1927, their autumn catalogue announced:

This series of little booklets consists of single previously unpublished poems each suitably decorated in colours and dressed in the gayest wrappers. It has been designed to take the place of Christmas cards and other similar tokens that one sends for remembrance sake at certain seasons of the year. Some of the poems have Christmas for their subject: but a genuine poem is not a thing appropriate only to one season of the year, and any one of these poems with its attendant decorations would be a joy to read and see at any time, whatever the season might be…

Eliot contributed 6 poems in total, and later used the title ‘Ariel Poems’ when he incorporated them into his own collections. The other contributors included many other established and lesser-known poets, and artists including Eric Gill, Paul and John Nash, and Eric Ravilious.

The artwork

McKnight Kauffer (1890–1954) was an artist, graphic designer and friend of Eliot’s. His work was commissioned by a number of high-profile clients including the London Underground and British Empire exhibition. It became fashionable to the extent that, in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1945) the fictional Charles Ryder remembers displaying one of Kauffer’s posters in his Oxford college rooms in the early 1920s.

According to Eliot himself, Kauffer ‘did something for modern art with the public and something for the public with modern art.’ He also worked with Eliot on Journey of the Magi (1927). Here, some of the silhouettes of faces seem similar to those Pablo Picasso was producing at the time. Eliot had written in a letter to the artist on 24 July 1930 ‘Yours is the only kind of decoration that I can endure … The theme is paternity; with a crisscross between the text and the quotation.’ In the proof copies, McKnight Kauffer had put the final words of The Waste Land (1922), ‘DATTA/DAYADHVAM/DAMYATA’ across the torso of the figure in the illustration inside the book. Not wanting everything he wrote to have that poem ‘stamped upon it’, Eliot asked for it to be removed, and was happy with the second version.

Full title:
Marina by T S Eliot. With drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
1930, Faber & Gwyer, 24 Russell Square, London
Faber & Faber
Pamphlet / Illustration / Image
T S Eliot, E McKnight Kauffer
Usage terms

E McKnight Kauffer: © Simon Rendall. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence.

Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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