Eliot's birthday

30 May 2020 8:20 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Over the weekend of 26-29 September 1935, Eliot celebrates his birthday in Chipping Campden with Hale and the Perkinses. He writes on Monday to his hostess, thanking her for a "perfect weekend" and "the happiest birthday party I have had since I was a boy" (L 7.781). Hale's aunt and uncle are leaving Stamford House, and he tells Mrs. Perkins that he had "come to feel 'at home' at Campden in a way in which I had not felt at home for some twenty-one years, anywhere." (See also the poem Eliot writes to her during this weekend, "A Valedictory/Forbidding Mourning: to the Lady of the House," praising her gardening skills and declaring, "since you came, /Nothing in Campden is the same" [L7.780]). 

On the same day, Eliot also writes an ecstatic letter to Hale, addressing her as his nightingale. He begins by describing a scene from the previous evening when they stood in the garden together in their raincoats, her hair touching his face. His evokes this moment in lines similar to Ash-Wednesday's “Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,/ Lilac and brown hair.”  His happiness was so great that he felt it as pain—suffering for her, for himself, and for them both together. His heart sang and is still singing, even as he is aware of her present situation. Emily must have traveled to Oxford on Monday, for he imagines her sitting in cold lodgings pumping her energy into her other aunt, Irene Hale, with a feeling of weariness towards the future. (Perhaps this letter attempts to warm her from a distance.)

Eliot recalls a moment on Thursday evening, his birthday, when she stroked his face. Afterwards, he was awake during the night with a vision of her beauty, which radiates from the inside out. In this vision he saw her face as a transparency revealing her spirit; unlike other women, her beauty is the embodiment of her spirit. What she calls his idealization of her is not detached from reality.  He describes how she appears to him: human and humorous, intelligent without being bookish, modest and humble (a virtue he struggles to achieve, being given to arrogance and disdain himself). Her good taste and sense of right and wrong are unerring; she is a perfect companion whose conversation moves smoothly from large questions to small ones and back again. She is a true patrician, so superior to the common people that she is not even aware of her superiority (again, he says, unlike himself).

On Sunday night he felt more united to Hale than ever before. He apologizes to her for any words of bitterness that might have come from him last year, which were unjustified. He wants her to know how his life and work have been shaped around her.  If she realizes what she has done for him, that may help her to realize what she is herself.  He recalls his emotions of the evening—his own, and another feeling of union with her.


  • 30 May 2020 9:18 PM | CR Mittal
    Reads like poetry of love.
    Link  •  Reply
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