TS Eliot's letters to 'muse' Emily to be unveiled after 60 years

After more than 60 years sealed in a library store, about 1,000 letters written by poet TS Eliot to confidante Emily Hale will be unveiled this week, with scholars hoping they will reveal the extent of a relationship which has been speculated about for decades.

Many consider Hale to have been not only his close friend but also his muse, and they hope their correspondence will offer insight into intimate details of Eliot’s life and work.

Students, researchers and scholars will be able to read the letters at Princeton University’s library from today.

“I think it’s perhaps the literary event of the decade,” said Anthony Cuda, an Eliot scholar and director of the TS Eliot International Summer School. “I don’t know of anything more awaited or significant. It’s momentous to have these letters coming out.”

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Hale and Eliot were lifelong friends who exchanged letters for about 25 years, beginning in 1930. They met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1912 but did not rekindle their friendship until 1927.

Eliot was already living in England and Hale taught drama at US universities.

In 1956, Hale donated the letters under an agreement they would not be opened until 50 years after either her or Eliot’s death, whichever was later. Eliot died in 1965, Hale four years later.

Biographers say Eliot ordered Hale’s letters to him to be burned.

Their relationship “must have been incredibly important and their correspondence must have been remarkably intimate for him to be so concerned about the publication”, said Mr Cuda.

Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1888 and gained notoriety as a poet early in life. He was only 26 when ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ became his first professionally published poem. His best known works include ‘The Waste Land’, ‘The Hollow Men’ and ‘Four Quartets’.

The first poem in the Quartets series, ‘Burnt Norton’, piques the interest of enthusiasts, says Eliot scholar Frances Dickey, because of lines which suggest missed opportunities and what might have been with his muse.

The poem is named after a home in England which Eliot visited with Hale in 1934.

“His relationship with her seems to be deep and meaningful and it’s a door he chose not to open,” said Ms Dickey.

The letters could also reveal details of Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism, which he deeply cherished, she added.

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