Typescript draft of Ted Hughes's introduction to a reading of The Waste Land


Ted Hughes regarded T S Eliot as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century – ‘the master of masters’. Having first read his poetry as a teenager, Hughes later worked with Eliot at Faber & Faber, where the elder poet was a publisher.

In 1992 Hughes collected his tributes to Eliot in A Dancer to God. The work includes this piece, here found in typescript draft, containing Hughes’s introduction to a reading of The Waste Land at the Palace Theatre, London. It was held on 25 September 1988, the centenary eve of Eliot’s birth, in association with the Arvon Foundation.

Drawing on ancient Celtic tradition to depict Eliot as a contemporary ‘seer’, Hughes provides a beautifully lucid overview of the poem. He observes, for instance, the, ‘approach, through the last section of the poem’, of ‘Datta’, ‘Dayadhvam’ and ‘Damyata’, ‘spaced at intervals like the steps of the thunderstorm bringing rain to the purgatorial Waste Land’.

Acknowledging that The Waste Land is a ‘notoriously difficult work’ yet also ‘a popular poem’ – often with ‘unexpected audiences’ such as 14-year-old boys – leads Hughes to one of the most interesting points in the speech. He suggests that the poem, as a ‘drama of voices’, becomes ‘wide open to those who can hear it as a musical composition’. By tuning into the poem’s multiple voices, ‘many bizarre noises’, and sequences and cadences of words as if listening to a piece of music, Hughes believes that our understanding of the poem becomes clearer and more coherent.

Full title:
Edward James Hughes Papers: Speeches, Eulogies and biographical pieces
estimated September 1988; whole volume 25 September 1988–20 November 1993
Manuscript / Typescript
Ted Hughes
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© The Ted Hughes Estate. No copying, republication or modification is allowed for material © The Ted Hughes Estate. For further use of this material please seek formal permission from the copyright holder.

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British Library
Add MS 88918/6/11

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