04 March 2020, The Tablet

T.S. Eliot’s muse

T.S. Eliot’s muse

Emily Hale and T.S. Eliot in Vermont in 1946
Princeton University Library


Towards the end of his life, T.S. Eliot dismissed it as “the love of a ghost for a ghost”, but the release of his letters to Emily Hale reveals that his love for her was very real. She was for Eliot what Beatrice was for Dante: a glimpse through human love of divine love

When T.S. Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale were released at Princeton University Library, after a 50-year embargo had expired, they were accompanied by a statement written by Eliot in 1960, and revised in 1963, in which he sets out his relationship to Emily Hale as he saw it at the time, with what appears to be brutal honesty. What Eliot writes must be taken seriously, but it fails to do justice to the crucial role Emily played in both his religious life and in the resurgence of his poetry.

The letters – 1,131 of them, written between 1930 and 1956 – will be of absorbing interest to students of Eliot, although most of the facts about his relationship with Emily Hale are well documented in Lyndall Gordon’s fine biography of Eliot, published in 1999. Emily was a family friend with whom Eliot fell in love in 1912, when he was a 24-year-old graduate student at Harvard. A particularly poignant occasion occurred in 1913 at a party in his aunt’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at which Emily acted and sang songs such as “Ecstasy”.

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