Anniversaries: “Time past and time future”

16 Jan 2020 3:58 PM | Katerina Stergiopoulou

The first month of fall, roughly between their birthdays, is an important one for Eliot and Hale’s relationship. In anticipation of her birthday (October 27), Eliot writes on October 13, 1931, that he was happier than in previous years on his most recent birthday (September 26), and wishes her the same. He has felt much more alive over the past year, entirely because of her. She is the most important person in the world for him, and he hopes it will please her to know this. (His birthday present to her will be the volume of the Shaw-Terry correspondence, sent around November 24). At the end of the month (October 31), he commemorates her response to his first letter a year before as well as his own writing of it. He does not regret anything that he has said to her since; his devotion has only increased.

The resumption and deepening of his relationship with Hale has led Eliot to revisit other memories (of St. Louis and Boston, of London in the twenties), and at the end of the year such reflections intensify. On December 29, 1931, he is deeply moved by St. Paul’s epistles, whose words, known passively since childhood, now acquire their full significance (as he will later put it in “The Dry Salvages,” he had “had the experience but missed the meaning”).  Two days later, Eliot meditates on the moments of insight that show a pattern in his life, both past and future and their meeting in a present “unattended / Moment” of illumination (“Dry Salvages” again). This letter seems to contain seeds of Four Quartets, especially “Burnt Norton” V and “Dry Salvages” II and V.


  • 16 Jan 2020 6:07 PM | Sara Fitzgerald
    Katerina, Reading ahead a bit (as we are all overwhelmed by the volume of the letters and dipping into different things) the proximity of their birthdays provides a key point of interaction throughout their correspondence. I was struck that at the start, they did not actually KNOW each other's birthdays, and over the years, it is interesting to see the gifts they exchanged, back in the days when people actually wrote thank you notes. One that caught my eye was when Eliot sent Hale money to buy a fur; later she apparently purchased a leopard coat. And after they picked out a dog together in 1938, he wanted her to send a photo of the two of them in their "furs." In 1938, Hale (significantly, I think) gave Eliot an expensive rosary.) I think formal gift exchanges fell off at some point when they got older, but in October 1956, even as Eliot was concerned about her donation of the letters to Princeton, he still wished her a happy birthday on October 14, and there was still good-natured bantering between long-time friends about the proper way to address someone who had been awarded the Order of Merit by the King of England, albeit a decade earlier.
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