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This article is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

On the Dedication of The Waste Land Michael Alexander

IN CONSIDERING ELIOT'S legacies, both what he inherited, modified and passed on, his dedications and epigraphs offer evidence of what he chose to invoke, acknowledge and express in way of indebtedness and homage. His first volume, Prufrock, and Other Observations (1917), has an epigraph from Dante and is inscribed 'For Jean Verdenal, mort aux Dardanelles' and the title poem has an epigraph, again from Dante, in which the eternally damned speaker confides in Dante (as Prufrock confides in Eliot) because 'from these depths' non torno vivo alcun,' no-one returns alive'. The Waste Land (1922) is dedicated to Ezra Pound with a phrase from Dante, and the Latin epigraph quotes the Sybil as saying in Greek, 'I want to die'. 'The Hollow Men' (1924) has as epigraph from Conrad's Heart of Darkness,'Mistah Kurtz - he dead.' So Death appears at the gate to introduce us to many of Eliot's early works - in French, Greek, Italian and pidgin English. The communication of the dead was always, for T.S. Eliot, tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. Ezra Pound is distinguished in this horizontal company as the only vertical one.

I have a definite point to make about the dedication of The Waste Land,,but offer first a word about Dedication. It enjoyed a vogue among Edwardian men of letters - Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad were conspicuous exponents of the courtly dedicatory epistle full of Corinthian attitudinizing. At much the same period W.B. Yeats dramatized himself ...


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