“sieti raccomandato il mio ‘Tesoro,’
Nel quale vivo ancora; e più non cheggio.”
Poi si revolse
Inferno XV 118-120
So Eliot inscribed his book Ara Vos Prec with lines from the Inferno, when he sent it to Emily Hale in 1928. The damned writer Bruno Latini addresses Dante, whom he knew in better days, asking to be remembered by his book rather than his shade in Hell: “Let my 'Treasure,' in which I still live, be commended to thee; and more I ask not.” Eliot and Hale had been close friends in America before the poet’s unhappy marriage; how unhappy is suggested by this inscription.
Following the renewal of their friendship, Eliot and Hale visited each other and corresponded frequently for the next decade, with letters continuing into the 1950’s: ultimately, Eliot sent well over one thousand letters to her. These were her treasure, which she ultimately donated to Princeton Library in 1956, to remain sealed until 2020. On January 2, the public will have their chance to learn more about a part of the poet’s life that has been a matter of speculation until now.
Although Eliot was unhappy with Hale’s choice to deposit his letters at an archive, rather than in the fireplace, those personally concerned have now passed away. Reporters and scholars will soon be lining up at the door of Special Collections in the basement of Firestone Library to discover what secrets the poet may have revealed in his letters.
Mindful of the restrictions on quoting Eliot’s texts, I will be offering a folder-by-folder account of the archive on this site starting January 2, recording the gist of the letters and providing closer description of important moments.
This project is made possible by research support from the University of Missouri, where I teach, and by the sponsorship of the International T. S. Eliot Society. I take responsibility for my posts, however. If you are interested in contributing to this blog, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, the finding aid for the Hale letters contains some useful information about its genesis and contents.