The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem

Norton. Dec. 2022. 544p. ISBN 9780393240252. $40. LIT
Written in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the publication of what is generally considered the most significant English-language poem of the 20th century, this painstakingly researched and documented account is rich in detail about not only the creation of The Waste Land, but also the literary landscape of the time when it was written. Poet, editor, and author Hollis (Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas) begins with an account of the unrest in Europe after World War I, when the poem was composed, and juxtaposes Eliot’s life and literary efforts against that backdrop. Eliot’s unhappy first marriage figures prominently; it was a major influence on his health and work. His wife’s instability and resulting marital stress led to the mental health crisis during which he worked extensively on The Waste Land. A key figure in this account is Ezra Pound, who worked closely with Eliot in refining the lengthy poem and advanced the careers of other authors such as James Joyce while working on his own magnum opus, The Cantos.
VERDICT Highly recommended for readers interested in the details behind the creation of this literary landmark and the times in which it was composed.
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