1922: NOSFERATU & THE WASTE LAND

I was neither living nor dead.”

“One must be so careful these days.”

“That corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout?”

“Footsteps shuffled on the stair.”

“What is that noise?”

“Are you alive, or not?”

“bats with baby faces in the violet light”

……………………………………………………..T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)

The successful Broadway version of Dracula, which opened in 1927, starring Bela Lugosi in his first English-language role, was produced by Horace Liveright, the first book publisher of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”

Unfortunately, Liveright couldn’t pay royalties to Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence Balcombe, due to the poor performance of the publishing side of his business.

Modernist writers were not big sellers.

Liveright orignally made his fortune marrying into International Paper (a marriage that didn’t last due to his philandering and drinking) and he founded Modern Library in 1917, which published cheap imprints of European modernists.

Florence, who out-lived her husband Bram Stoker by 25 years, sued the German makers of  Nosferatu (1922) for stealing Bram Stoker’s story, won, and had nearly every copy of the film destroyed.

Liveright struck an unusual deal in publishing Eliot’s scary poem.  The negotiations were led by the pointy-bearded Ezra Pound and his influential, modern art collector, lawyer, John Quinn, British spy (and friend of  ‘The Beast,’ Aleister Crowley, who also worked for British intelligence against German and Irish interests — have a look at this).

Eliot didn’t like how much his friend Scofield Thayer, who ran The Dial, was going to pay him for “The Waste Land,” so here’s what Pound and Quinn came up with for the grim banker.

Before Pound had even begun editing the poem, The Dial agreed to award Eliot its annual, $2,000 Dial Prize for “The Waste Land.”

The Dial then also agreed to purchase 350 books at a discount from Liveright—who would then use the publicity generated by The Dial Prize to help publicize “The Waste Land” and market the books at full price.

Eliot also published the poem in his magazine, The Criterion, in October 1922. The Dial version came out in the same month, and Liveright’s book a little later in December.  Eliot’s earnings from “The Waste Land” in 1922 exceeded his salary at Lloyd’s. Friends Leonard and Virginia Woolf published the poem at their press in 1923.

Bram Stoker was rumored to belong to the Golden Dawn which also housed “the wickedest man in the world,” Aleister Crowley. Bram Stoker, a Protestant Irishman and monarchist,  believed Ireland should remain with the British Empire—the greatest vampire of all?

Was it the spirit of FOETRY which hovered over the birth of “The Waste Land…?”

Definitely creepy.

3 Comments

  1. Ovid Yeats said,

    February 4, 2010 at 6:07 am

    In the first year of learning, her true love
    sung to thee, from a fair branch
    on a far tree – the air of persuasive

    onomatopoeia, jangling logic behoven
    to Jah: who fused this bardic belief

    in mysteries veiled to all but angels:
    unseen between the living and deceased

    in realms beneath the planed lines’
    acoustic flavor signed in deniable

    blood, couched in official soot
    crouched in yellow dust,
    abroad from home.

    I sat alone,
    no part of it at all
    a single image of the sibling:
    Blake’s belief in a shadow realm

    that is really quite beautiful.

    ~

    Beyond all the moral-biographical data, I think it’s clear that this poem is a true luring of the Muse. We begin with dry rock and end with water … transiting through a string of scenes that flit across the page, high-thought written by an intellect fragmenting into potential gibberish .. salvaged by Pound, who the dedication by Eliot reads when translated from the Greek – ‘the better craftsmen’ —who rigged the splash to happen in the most important area of po-biz – behind the scenes .. with Dial magazine’s second annual $2000 prize for ‘outstanding service to letters’, worth around $40,000 today,

    ~

    By the time Eliot came to write “The Waste Land” in 1919 his short-lived marriage was a disaster zone, and his father had just died. The psychological drama going on within the mind of this deeply young, serious and scholarly man, can be likened to a digital television picture fragmenting into pixilated parts. When he regained his sanity, he was nursing deep scars from the sexual and emotional betrayal of his first wife, which crystallized into a monastic, high anglican sensibility that defined his mature phase.

    During his sixties, Eliot wrote: “I came to persuade myself that I was in love with Vivienne simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came ‘The Waste Land.'”

    ~

    Eliot had been awarded his bachelor’s degree, in philosophy, history, modern languages and literature, in 1909, and went straight into a year long M.A in English literature, studying under ‘Irving Babbitt, the selective humanist, and George Santayana, the Spanish anti-idealist philosopher and poet’.

    1910-11 was spent in Paris, enrolled in the Sorbonne, where he wrote juvenilia under the influence of Symbolism and the first of the free-verse poets, Jules Laforgue – whose suitably young death aged 28 in 1887, cast a spell over the young and aristocratically minded Edwardian fogies such as Eliot, equal to the shade of Jim Morrison lulling his magnetism across the brow of Bono when he was still a Finglas messer studiously committing his thoughts on Joy Division to a pre-grey Dave Fanning in the Donybrook RTE studios of late seventies Dublin.

    After Paris, Eliot signed on for a philosophy doctorate at Harvard, studying occidental and oriental schema between 1911 and 1914, when he was awarded a scholarship which sent him to Oxford for the remaining two years of his thesis on the British philosopher F. H. Bradley.

    It was there in Oxford, in the spring of 1915, our 26 and a half year old virgin met his future first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, marrying her with indecent haste at Hampstead Register Office on June 26 of that same year.

    There has been speculation that Eliot, desperate to lose his virginity and it occurring with Haigh-Wood, though he found the act itself an anti-climax, his Edwardian sense of doing the right thing, propelled him into dutifully proposing to her.

    Tom Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood seemed to be of equal social status, but she was considered ‘common’ and ‘vulgar’ by the aristocratic writer Aldous Huxley and the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who Eliot had studied under at Harvard and who it has been speculated – by scholar Carole Seymour-Jones, in her book Painted Shadow – was having sex with Vivienne. She and Tom had moved into his flat, living with him as newlyweds. An alleged relationship that lasted up to 1919, when Russell ditched Viv for the aristocratic actress, Colette O’Neill.

    If Eliot was in an environment where his new bride was being squired by a 43 year old philosopher, teacher and man 16 years his senior; on whom he relied for an entrée into the Bloomsbury editor scene and who’d betrayed his role as erastes to Eliot’s eromenos – there’s no definitive written proof of this by any of the three parties. There is however, plenty of incriminating literary gossip. Eliot stated the opinion on Bertrand, in relation to his wife’s mental health (in a letter to Russell’s former mistress) ‘He has done evil’, and the inveterate horder Russell, took the unusual step of destroying all letters between himself and Mrs Eliot, whilst Evelyn Waugh famously wrote:

    ‘… Mrs T. S. Eliot’s insanity sprang from her seduction and desertion by Bertrand Russell’.

    ~

    Though obsessed by sex when a virgin, after experiencing it, he seems to have found it too messy for his liking, and during the writing of The Wasteland, had a fixation with the female-as Harlot, I think. A summation for which there is both compelling biographical and textual evidence .. in the poem itself. In line 131, when the two voices are asking what’s inside each other’s heads:

    ‘What shall I do now? What shall I do?’
    ‘I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
    ‘With my hair down, so.’

    The coded reference to the prostitute who, in Eliot’s time, walked with their hair down in the street.

    And the Mockney (faux cockney) voices at line 148

    ‘He’s been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
    And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will,’
    I said.

    ~

    After hearing this poem read in full on Youtube by Alec Guinness (which has now been ‘removed due to terms of rights violation’), this 25 minute piece came alive, in an orally hypnotic way one may not grasp and find merely ‘perplexing when sight read for its meaning only’ .. as Heaney did prior to hearing the actor Robert Speaight read Eliot’s poetry aloud, when he was of the similar age to Eliot at the time of The Waste Land’s composition.

    As I listened to Guinness reading it, I benefited from the framed presentation of the poem with hyperlinked notes, definitions, translations, cross references, texts of works alluded to, commentary, and questions to the reader: created by Richard A. Parker, and one which I think you may find, should you visit, a scrupulous and thoroughly researched bit of slog that cuts out the bewilderment which comes with having to google the difficult bits ourselves.

    At one’s fingertips, the poem is laid bare and a most efficient aural encounter one may experience when seeking to purchase what philosophical musing and mind caused (and still does) such polarization of thought in the contemporary electronic-class of all us jabbering blog-poets spilling out and fessing up our thoughts on what sleight-of-hand we think is occurring.

    Desmond Swords.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    February 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Lord Russell was the vampire, then, and Viv, the victim.

    Wealthy aristocrats who came and went as they pleased, not having to work, obeying no morals, sleeping all day, playing all night, these were creatures who inspired the vampire story itself.

    Eliot, for poetic fame, gave his soul over to the undead, and “The Waste Land” is the mournful document of the inevitable humiliation and degradation.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    February 6, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    “I’m wary of poetry in the cinema, the same way I’m wary of poetry in general; I find it faintly embarrassing. I pretend to like it so no one will think me a Philistine, but in reality the only volume of poetry I ever read from cover to cover was Les Fleurs du Mal, and then only because it had vampires in it.”

    –Anne Billson, reviewing the film “Invictus” in the U.K. Guardian