Eliot1[Posted by Jia Yu for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was published as a single book by Boni&Liveright in November, 1922. The first edition of The Waste Land comprises of 1000 copies, and one of these can be viewed at Watkinson Library, Trinity College. The book I held in hand is about the size of an A5 notebook and has 64 pages in total. Judging from its appearance, the book probably has been checked out many times by readers over the years. The stiff board binding is lose, and the place for a title sticker is torn off from the black canvas cover (Fig.1). According to the bookplate, the book was initially received by Trinity Library as a special collection with the donation from Elton Fund, which was founded by a Trinity alumni, John, P. Eton, in 1854, and this collection later merged with Watkinson Library after it was built.

The worn-outness does not veil the aura the book emits. On the limitation page, it writes, in 5mm type front: ““Of the one thousand copies printed /of The Waste Land this volume is /number 894” (Fig.2) Gazing at it seems to throw you into an imagined community –who are the original readers of the first thousand copies? The number 894 becomes enigmatic which seems not only to identity the uniqueness of the book, and offers an imaginary space for its readers. With this design, the editor seems to have in his mind the future collective value of the book.

Reading the poem in a book format is slightly different from reading it in Eliot’s Selected Poems. Unlike Selected Poems, one has “Sweeney Among the Eliot2Nightingales” before it and “The Hollow Men” after the poem, which all might have impacted one’s understanding of The Waste Land. As a single book, the poem becomes its own context and content. Firstly, the epigraph that is printed in the beginning of the poem is moved to the title page. The epigraph is put in the middle of the title page, between the author’s name and the name of the publisher. By making the epigraph a part of the title page, the editor separates it from the rest of the poem and gives a weightier meaning to the title itself. Only after flipping through the limitation page, the second half title page, one finally finds the real poem. In addition, the book invites a participatory experience towards the reading.

Interestingly, copious notes are made by several different readers. These note makers attempt to identify the sources of the quotes and at the same time try to unravel what is Eliot’s intention. For example, one find notes marks about the allusion, such as “Philomel” beside “Twit twit twit/Jug jug jug jug jug/So rudely forc’d/Tereu” (30). One also find comment like “humanism?” beside “Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,” (16); One writes “To Hollow man” beside “Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing?/Do you remember/ nothing?” (21); one writes “tempest” beside the sentence “Those are pearls that were his eyes.” One also finds “extreme despair?”  beside “What shall we ever do? (22); One marks “extreme despair?” beside “what shall we ever do?” And one marks “form of grief” beside “Treu” (31). For these readers, reading The Waste Land means putting a lot of effort of identifying connections, just as what we were doing in class.

On the last page of the book, one finds an “epitaph” -two readers’ response to the book that further affirm the authorial ethos this book attempt to present (Fig. 3). These two notes are transcribed as below:

Eliot3Eliot’s presentation is good- Lasting examples! – although- he writes absolutely and many can not gain the entire value – modern man is in a hurry “Hurry up please its times” – can’t take time to analyze all material again greatest fruits.

Modern moralists recognize the fault in the 20th cent(ury) human but do not give any corrective measures- Philip Wylie, (An) Essay on Morals, Eliot does!

Judging from the tone of the writing, the first note probably comes from the first owner of the book. He is delighted to find the poem resonant with the fast pace of modern life. The second reader responds both to the first reader and the book itself. He cited from a book to argue that the modern writer does give a “corrective measures” to the fault of modern life.  Since this book, Philip Wylie’s An Essay on Moral is published in 1947, the note is definitely made later than that. Over twenty years, the first reader identifies Eliot as a speaking voice for his time and the second reader attempt to read him into a representative moralist figure. Both readers recognize the positive energy Eliot generalizes in a poem seemingly full of despairs. The reverence they give to him seems hard to understand yet the original dust jacket does provide a possible answer.

According to the photos of the original dust jacket I retrieved from New York Public Library Digital Resources, these responses correspond with the advertised value of this book. On the front side of the dust jacket, it presents the book title and a text box illustrating this poem as the 1922 Dial award. The left flap of the jacket contains an introduction of the poem, which praises it as a synthesis of all of Eliot’s early works, and gives a universal voice to addresses the despair and resignation arising from spiritual and economic consequences of the war. Published three years after WWI, the series number “894” can be identified as any individual in the society who tries to understand his life in the wasteland of the culture. And through this design, one sees in this book how a publisher attempts to preserve an author’s aura in the age of mechanical reproduction.

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