T.S. Eliot has left a mixed legacy; he penned some of history’s most deeply admired poems, but was a bit of a fascist sympathizer. He massively influenced a century’s worth of literature, but on the other hand he inspired Cats, the worst Broadway musical of all time.
He also was, apparently, a boob man, as some freshly unearthed verses seem to indicate.
This novel bit of information about the poet comes from an expanded edition of his poetry, which now includes some private poems intended for “personal circulation”— poems that, upon the death of his second wife Valerie, are no longer private. After her death three years ago editors Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue had access to the poems and decided to include them in their updated anthology.
The Guardian says that this new discovery “reveals the more assured side of the modernist master.”
“I love a tall girl. When she sits on my knee/ She with nothing on, and I with nothing on/ I can just take her nipple in my lips/ And stroke it with my tongue,” he writes, in a poem titled “How the Tall Girl and I Play Together.”
Another poem, “How the Tall Girl’s Breasts Are,” includes the lines:
“Her breasts are like ripe pears that dangle
Above my mouth
Which reaches up to take them”
I’m not going to get overly Freudian about what all this breastfeeding imagery says about T.S. Eliot’s predilections, I swear. Critics, after all, have trodden quite thoroughly over the topic of his sexuality.
Was he gay? Impotent? Did he think women, much like his other bête noire, the Jews, were ruining genteel civilization? These questions are raised by his own personal history. As Louis Menand wrote in a long and excellent essay on the subject in The New Yorker, back in 2002: “T.S. Eliot’s sex life. Do we really want to go there? It is a sad and desolate place,” including a frigid first marriage, two fraught platonic relationships, lots of breakups and rejections that sent various women to mental institutions, and a final marriage to his secretary over three decades his junior, the “tall” subject of his erotic verse.
So, do these new poems answer any of the questions definitively? Probably not. Yet at the very least, readers of the new edition of his collected poems will certainly get a rounder, fuller and juicier look at Eliot’s output.