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From the Archive:
T. S. Eliot and The Waste Land

By Faber Editor, 14 October 2022

Vintage editions of The Waste Land on a table
A century after its first appearance in The Criterion around 15 October 1922, T. S. Eliot’s enigmatic masterpiece remains one of the most influential works ever written, and yet one of the most mysterious.

The Waste Land has been called the ‘world’s greatest poem’. It is said to describe the moral decay of a world after war, to find meaning in a meaningless era. It has been labelled the most truthful poem of its time; it has been branded a masterful fake.

 

 

Vintage editions of The Waste Land on a table
‘Eliot’s Waste Land is I think a justification of the “movement”, of our modern experiment, since 1900. —Ezra Pound

The poem was first published in the US in 1922 in The Dial magazine, and appeared in book format accompanied by Eliot’s notes that same year. In September 1923, Leonard and Virginia Woolf published the first book edition of The Waste Land in the UK, which Virginia typeset entirely by hand, under their own private imprint The Hogarth Press.

Pictured here are various Faber editions of The Waste Land found in the Faber archive.

Black and white portrait of T. S. Eliot

When the New York Public Library announced in October 1968 that its Berg Collection had acquired the original manuscript of The Waste Land, one of the most puzzling mysteries of twentieth-century literature was solved. The manuscript was not lost, as had been believed, but had remained among the papers of John Quinn, Eliot’s friend and adviser, to whom the poet had sent it in 1922.

If the discovery of the manuscript was startling, its content was even more so, because the published version of The Waste Land was considerably shorter than the original. How it was reduced and edited is clearly revealed on the manuscript through the handwritten notes of Ezra Pound, of Eliot’s first wife, Vivien, and of Eliot himself.

In order that this material might be widely available for study, the poet’s widow Mrs Valerie Eliot prepared the present edition in 1971, in which each page of the original manuscript was reproduced in facsimile, with clear transcript facing pages. Mrs Eliot also included an illuminating introduction, explanatory notes and cross-references, together with the text of the first published version of The Waste Land, thus completing the evolution of the most influential poem in modern literature.

Inside pages of The Waste Land Facsimile
Inside pages of The Waste Land Facsimile
Inside pages of The Waste Land Facsimile
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T. S. Eliot
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First ever full-colour edition of The Waste Land to mark the 50th Anniversary edition of the revolutionary poem by T. S. Eliot.

About the Author

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1888. He settled in England in 1915 and published his first book of poems in 1917. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Eliot died in 1965.

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Black and white portrait of T. S. Eliot