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Lose yourself in one of the 20th century's finest voices
on 7 February 2004
The poems of TS Eliot are a spiritual journey from the cynical through the barren to an expected rebirth and the rise of a rich, mature and positive voice. The highlights of the journey are The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, Ash Wednesday, Journey of the Magi and Four Quartets. But the scenery by the way-side such as Portrait of a Lady, the Hollow Men, is worth a long visit. Even the minor and unfinished poems have their moments.
As a bonus, this volume contains all of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Eliot is here in off duty mode, having fun and allowing his genius for rhythm and language to seep into our minds without demanding our attention.
The plays get better as they go on. Many people only know Eliot's plays for the perennial school classic Murder in the Cathedral. This is a pity because it is the least typical. The Coctail Party is probably the best. To understand what Eliot was doing, though, you really need to read some of his critical writing on drama and on religion.
This book lacks some very necessary apparatus. Translations of the cryptic Greek and Italian quotations would be helpful. Of course, enormous volumes have been written detailing all the references in the Waste Land, and we are better off not having them in this master copy.
Ultimately, this is the most economical and useful way of acquiring Eliot's published creative works - but remember that Eliot the critic was as great as Eliot the poet, and probably greater than Eliot the playwright. To understand him, read first his critical writings before you go on to what others have written about Eliot.