Eliot & Pound

Twenty-five-year-old T. S. Eliot and twenty-eight-year-old Ezra Pound met on this day in 1914, one of the most famous friendships and collaborations in twentieth-century literature beginning with a cup of tea in Pound's Kensington flat. When The Waste Land appeared eight years later, it was dedicated to il miglior fabbro, Eliot using Dante's term for the "better craftsman," and when Eliot died a half century later, Pound elegized him in the Sewanee Review as "the true Dantescan voice":

…Recollections? let some thesis-writer have the satisfaction of "discovering" whether it was 1920 or '21 that I went from Excideuil to meet a rucksacked Eliot. Days of walking—conversation? literary? le papier Fayard was then the burning topic. Who is there now to share a joke with? Am I to write "about" the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot? my friend "the Possum"? Let him rest in peace. I can only repeat, but with the urgency of fifty years ago: READ HIM.

Eliot's "Possum" nickname and Pound's corresponding nickname of "Brer Rabbit" came from their shared childhood enjoyment of the Uncle Remus stories, these popularized in America by Joel Chandler Harris. The two friends would often slip into the Remus dialect in their letters, or exchange poetic ditties, the following from Pound's March 28, 1935 letter to Eliot:

Ez Po and Possum
Have picked all the blossom,
Let all the others
Run back to their mothers…

Both poets enjoyed extempore verse, and biographer Humphrey Carpenter notes that the two collaborated on more than The Waste Land in the early days. Their partnership sometimes went in unexpected directions: when Pound found Eliot's stash of bawdy poems, he wanted to print them in BLAST magazine, but Wyndham Lewis would make no exceptions on his policy of avoiding four-letter words. To their contemporaries, Pound described Eliot as having "more entrails than might appear from his quiet exterior," and as having a special talent for satire. When Eliot started to move away from satire and closer to orthodox religion, Pound regretted the personal and poetic loss, though he could only stand by and "lament the psychosis / Of all those who abandon the Muses for Moses."


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.