Landscapes of Longing

10 Feb 2020 4:40 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Eliot writes his last letter to Hale from America—dated June 17, 1933—after two valedictory acts: he has just given the Prize-Day address at Milton Academy and, in a more private farewell, has spoken to her on the telephone, an intimacy not possible in England. We now know that Hale, still in California, was not present for this address nor did she accompany Eliot to New Hampshire with his brother and sister in early June, as was previously supposed (Letters 6.xxxiii). Eliot tells Hale that, on coming back from Milton, he wrote two poems: “New Hampshire” and “Virginia,” which he encloses, dismissing them lightly as rubbish. He describes the style of the poems as a combination of Gertrude Stein and Hopkins, in an experiment with long syllables. Hale’s absence from the family vacation does not make “New Hampshire,” with its nostalgia for spring and children, any less autobiographical. In the same letter, Eliot mentions some pictures of Hale as a young woman that he has seen at the home of her aunt, Edith Perkins, and that he cannot bear to look at.

Eliot also takes a brief excursion to Kittery, Maine, in the last weekend of May, described in his letter to Hale of June 1, 1933, and in similar terms to Frank Morley on June 2 (6.594).  Stops include Kittery and Gerrish Island, which he visited with his parents when he was three or four years old; Portsmouth, New Hampshire, across the mouth of the Piscataqua River from Kittery; and Topsfield, Massachusetts, not far from his childhood summer home in Gloucester. Here he goes birding on the Ipswich River with Maxwell Foster and spots a long-billed marsh wren, a blue heron, three Baltimore orioles, and a chestnut-sided warbler. This outing seems to be reflected in “Cape Ann,” though with different birds. The same letter that describes his trip to Kittery also returns to the question of what future he and Hale can expect to enjoy. He wishes that a divorce or annulment were possible, and he expresses longing for all that they might give each other under different circumstances ("Sweet sweet sweet/But resign this land at the end, resign it"). 

As for “Virginia,” the genesis of this poem is contained in a letter of May 16, written a few days after giving the Page-Barbour lectures in Charlottesville. Eliot describes Virginia's colorful flora and fauna, especially birds (cardinals, tanagers, mockingbirds), as well as whitewashed log cabins and inhabitants, both white and black, doing little or nothing, just waiting (“Still hills/Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,/White trees, wait, wait,/Delay, decay.”). The country seems sad and without hope, disorderly, but with its own grandeur. Waiting is much on Eliot’s mind at this moment, as he tells Hale: he will feel better when he is back in London and relieved of the suspense of his impending separation from Vivien. There is also the waiting to which he has consigned himself and Hale as they grow older. 

In my previous post, I referred to Eliot’s later (1937) comment about himself in 1933, but I didn’t mean to suggest that I was jumping ahead in my chronology. My next post will pick up after his return to England at the end of June 1933.


  • 10 Feb 2020 10:05 PM | CR Mittal
    //and he expresses longing for all that they might give each other under different circumstances ("Sweet sweet sweet/But resign this land at the end, resign it").//

    How prophetic vis-a-vis Hale!
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  • 11 Feb 2020 8:37 PM | CR Mittal
    An objective correlative here too:

    “Still hills / Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees, / White trees, wait, wait, / Delay, decay.”
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  • 14 Feb 2020 10:00 AM | A I Frampton
    The sound of the words, and the rhythm of these lines seem to reflect the birdsong.
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