Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sex, lies and despair / Unseen letters reveal Larkin's tortured love



 Monica Jones in a photograph taken by Philip Larkin. Photograph: The estate of Philip Larkin

Sex, lies and despair: unseen letters reveal Larkin's tortured love

A cache of 2,400 letters between the poet and his long-time lover and muse, Monica Jones, charts an explosive and flawed romance

Dalya Alberge
Sunday 24 May 2020

“He lied to me, the bugger, but I loved him.” So Monica Jones described the revered poet Philip Larkin – a pithy but affectionate account of a lover who was serially unfaithful, but whose “utterly undistinguished little house” in Hull she turned into a shrine after his death.
Previously unpublished letters, however, reveal the full extent of her fury, fears and frustrations over a painful four-decade-long partnership with the man who wrote some of the most cherished verse in the English language.
“I don’t want to be and I won’t be an object of pity like a beggar’s sore,” she wrote to him in one letter. “I know you just think of me as a SITUATION, something to be fixed,” she lamented in another. She wrote repeatedly of feeling terribly alone and “so frightened”. Such was her despair that she referred to a bruised shoulder as “a kind of company”.
Her heart-wrenching thoughts are contained in 54 boxes filled with 2,400 letters to Larkin that she left to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, with the strict instruction that they were to remain closed until decades after her death. She died in 2001, aged 78.
Now Professor John Sutherland, a leading scholar and Jones’s close friend, has been given unrestricted access to the extraordinary collection.
He told the Observer that the letters were “explosive in their nature”, and represented “virtually everything that she wrote to Larkin over 37 years of separated love”.

Philip Larkin and Monica Jones at the memorial service for Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman at Westminster Abbey, London, in 1984.

Describing it as “the last great exchange of letters in literary history”, he said it was “like she’s ripping open her soul and her mind, letting it pour out. There’s a whole range of emotions. Sometimes she is furious when he doesn’t turn up for a meal she’s cooked. Other times, she’s just meditative.” She wrote of her emptiness: “Every smallest thing is too much for me.”

Larkin and Jones were both born in 1922 and studied at Oxford, although they first met at the then University College Leicester in 1946. He was a newly appointed deputy librarian and she was an English lecturer, a striking woman with peroxide hair. Larkin transferred to Queen’s University Belfast in 1950 and then five years later to the University of Hull. Jones lived for his visits. Their once-passionate relationship, blighted by their heavy drinking, lasted until his death in 1985.
Sutherland said: “Larkin had two women in Hull [one of whom was Maeve Brennan]. He would fit Monica in when he was visiting his mother up the road [in Loughborough] … Then he’d be back to Hull and the other women.”
Jones knew of those women, yet she repeatedly declared her love for Larkin in her letters: “I am so blessed to have you in my life.”
Sutherland said: “Her letters resemble a literary stream of consciousness – at times, more surging flood than stream. They have odd disjunctions. After a pages-long savage diatribe against Maeve, Monica suddenly reminds Philip to water the flowers.”
Larkin appreciated Jones as his intellectual equal, unlike his other women. He dedicated his breakthrough collection, The Less Deceived, to her – though it includes poems about his other partnerships. He bequeathed the bulk of his estate to her.
But the fact that he wrote so little poetry has been blamed on the stultifying effect of Jones, Sutherland said: “His poetry depends on four slim volumes … Around 100 poems.”

Monica Jones photographed by Larkin on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, 1971. Photograph: The estate of Philip Larkin
He noted that Kingsley Amis, Larkin’s closest friend from Oxford, was particularly vicious, dismissing her as a “grim old bag”.
“Margaret Peel in [Amis’s novel] Lucky Jim is a terrible caricature of Monica. Kingsley hadn’t met her at that point. Philip gave Kingsley all the details. He could be cruel in that way. She wrote an incredibly impassioned letter to Philip saying, ‘I am not so egotistical as to think everybody wants to put me in a book and I do not believe you would be so treacherous’.”
Jones has also been vilified for destroying 30 volumes of his diaries and private papers.
Sutherland, professor emeritus of modern English literature at University College London, was taught by Jones, and he attributes his career to her. He is now finishing a book on Jones, based on the letters, to be published next year by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. He expressed surprise that no one had written a biography of her before as she was the most important person in Larkin’s life.
He said no other biographer of Larkin had “enjoyed access to these letters”, which the Bodleian has catalogued in a “feat of librarianship at the highest level”. Poignantly, some of the envelopes still bear her lipstick marks.
The correspondence ends in the early 1970s when they got telephones. Sutherland said: “After that, he would telephone every night. When her health collapsed in the early 1980s, she moved in with him. They got drunk together. He died and she lived on drunkenly.
“She was a strange woman. You had to know her, to know the good things about her. He treated her badly, but always wrote fondly. It was an odd mixture … He did come near to trying to break up with her, but they needed each other. They were both very unhappy people.”
Sutherland hopes “to salvage Monica Jones from the versions of Monica Jones which circulated in her life and still circulate”. “From the unplumbed depths of the 54 boxes, one can exhume a Monica Jones to stand alongside Philip Larkin, not behind him as his dim correspondent shadow.”




Wednesday, May 13, 2020

3,000 corrections for the poet Miguel Hernández







Miguel Hernández leaving the International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture, held in Valencia in July 1937.
Miguel Hernández leaving the International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture, held in Valencia in July 1937. WALTER REUTER (FONDO ZÚÑIGA)


3,000 corrections for the poet Miguel Hernández

A new edition of the writer’s collected works contains 30 never before released poems

English version by Debora Almeida.
Jesús Ruiz Mantilla
23 October 2017

Josefina Manresa, Miguel Hernández’ widow, said her husband liked to imitate nightingales and tell dirty jokes. “The first thing she loved; the second, not so much,” recalls Lucía Izquierdo, the poet’s daughter-in-law who in charge of his legacy. Recently she accompanied professor Jesucristo Riquelme in the presentation of a new edition of the author’s Complete Works (1910–1942), published by Edaf.

It is an exhaustive compilation, with everything he left behind thoroughly edited. The collection includes about 3,000 corrections to his writings, 30 unpublished works of different genres and 50 texts, which are “conspicuously altered from what was previously known,” says Riquelme.





It has taken this professor of language and literature at the University Miguel Hernandez of Elche more than eight years to complete this project, with the help of the publisher Carlos R. Talamás. He has examined the poet’s legacy, retraced his footsteps, and analyzed everything from manuscripts to correspondence.

What remains is this volume of almost 2,000 pages, where his poetry shines along with his war stories, press articles, dramatic works, images and traces of a happy, desolate, and combative biography. “It is about the writer who has turned the poetic word into ethics,” says the person responsible for this exhaustive literary work.

Ambition and passion

From his style reminiscent of the Basque poet Luis de Góngora, to his breakout Perito en Lunas (Expert on moons), Miguel Hernandez’s brilliant journey to the heart of literature lasted a decade. His vitality, ambition, and passion took him to the top of the Generation of ’27, a group of influential Spanish poets.

He was encouraged and supported chiefly by the poet Vicente Aleixandre and received with reservations by the poet Federico García Lorca. He retreated to the mud of the trenches, roused the militiamen, never forgot his peasant origins and hours among herds as a shepherd, and he died sighing for his children in a prison corridor. His belongings at the time of death included: a jumpsuit, two T-shirts, a sweater, a dress shirt, a pair of underpants, two pillowcases, a belt, a towel, a napkin, two handkerchiefs, a pair of socks, a blanket, a pot and a jar.


That is all he had in his jail cell in Alicante, a city in southeastern Spain, when he died on March 28, 1942, 75 years ago. His pages were his more valuable possessions, with poems that offer a full portrait of the man. His life dazzled poet Pablo Neruda. “Few poets are as generous and brilliant as the boy from Orihuela,” said Neruda, about Hernández who came from Orihuela in Alicante province. “The awful, awful beauty of his ingrained heart,” said a captivated Juan Ramón Jiménez, a fellow Spanish poet.


His poetry shines alongside his war stories and dramatic works

But it was Aleixandre who took care of him, guided him and made him great after his death by helping his widow in the postwar years. Josefina Manresa was a constant muse for the poet. But one must not forget the passion he once had for the surrealist painter Maruja Mallo. “Together with her, he discovered a carnal love, an almost orgiastic experience, that marked him tremendously,” said Riquelme. This new edition brings new light to that relationship.

“In many of the poems, the change of a word completely disrupts its meaning. We have verified errors involving draft revisions,” adds Riquelme about his editing. He has had a great deal of time and access to the poet’s work but gaps remain, like a collection of letters. “It's still early. We constantly receive unpublished letters from different archives. While finishing up this project, we will have received about 100 new letters. The collected letters is underway, but it must be dealt with carefully.”

For now, this new collection replaces the other two editions of Hernández’ complete works. This new volume also includes an archive of images with photographs, documents and originals. “These are keys for reading the book, and they are important as many of the texts,” Riquelme concludes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Live / “¿Por qué me fui a enamorar de ti?” / Mon Laferte at the 32nd Hispanic Heritage Awards






LIVE! 
“¿Por qué me fui a enamorar de ti?” 
By Mon Laferte 
at the 32nd Hispanic Heritage Awards


Norma Monserrat Bustamante Laferte, known professionally as Mon Laferte, is a Chilean-born Mexican dual citizen singer-songwriter and actress who is currently the most listened to Chilean artist on Spotify worldwide. She is also the Chilean artist with the most nominations in a single edition of the Latin Grammy Awards (5 in 2017). She received a Latin Grammy in 2017 for Best Alternative Song for "Amárrame.” To date she has sold in Latin America 1,500,000 digital copies between albums and singles, making her the Chilean singer with the most sales in the digital era.




Thursday, April 30, 2020

New Irish Writing / April’s winning poems


Kevin Graham
Kevin Graham

New Irish Writing: April’s winning poems

How to Use This Poem, and Homage to Wendell Berry, both by Kevin Graham


Kevin Graham
April 30, 2020

How to use this poem

Walk out of your life by ducking under
hanging ivy on a summer’s day
and feel the earth culminate underfoot.
Finches and snipes will skitter
in the elms’ leaves, hawthorn seed
spilling into the air. Your broad-leaved
heart will check itself in the shade
of the banks of a river without a name.
Belts of stinging nettle will guide you
under the stone arch of amnesia,
past the grief of bluebells and honesty
of wood-sorrel. Running through time’s
passage will be all the stanzas of light
you meant to experience. Branches
will part like so many good intentions
and the sun will warm your collar bones.
Once near the sea, you’ll be able
to take this page and hold it level
with the horizon, examine it for mistakes.
The current you feel will be equal
to the square root of peace multiplied by sky.

Homage to Wendell Berry

You’d like it here, this picture postcard
where the scenery scans like a Van Gogh –
rolling fields, endless sky. The scent of anemone,
milkweed, blue-eyed grass, bluntleaf.
Cycle paths crisscross like a net of consciousness
reasoning nature’s lot. We know the world’s
in trouble, you called it fifty years ago
yet we live in a bubble of our own making
where temperatures soar and our hearts
are sold to global corporates. Here
the young sustain the earth, sweat gold,
brush away muck and count against death
the loaded basket. Keeping abreast
of life’s fruit takes its toll: an orchard
of plum trees, the green breeze carrying
a patch of wild strawberries. Vineyards
line up like soldiers and the fields are lit
with the yellow flames of courgette flowers.
We cycle knee-deep in an absence
of ignorance unable to see the path ahead,
counting breath, listening carefully.
Kevin Graham’s recent poems have appeared in The Stinging Fly, Causeway/Cabhsair and Crannóg. He lives and works in Dublin



Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Carol Ann Duffy leads British poets creating 'living record' of coronavirus



Photograph: Murdo MacLeod
Illustration: Triunfo Arciniegas

Carol Ann Duffy leads British poets creating 'living record' of coronavirus

Major names including Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and father-and-son poets Ian and Andrew McMillan to document outbreak in verse
Alison Flood
Monday 20 April 2020


Carol Ann Duffy has launched an international poetry project with major names including Imtiaz Dharker, Roger McGough and Ian McMillan, as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The former poet laureate hopes the project, entitled Write Where We Are Now, “will provide an opportunity for reflection and inspiration in these challenging times, as well as creating a living record of what is happening as seen through our poets’ eyes and ears, in their gardens or garrets”.
Hands, Duffy’s poem, was written on 26 March and sees the author reflecting on how every Thursday, “we clap at the darkness”, and on how she can see the hands of her absent daughter “when I put my head in my own”. Another contribution from the Scottish poet takes a fiercer tone: Since You Ask sees her “Scunnered, stymied, shafted, shaded, / shat on from a great height, spaffed, spooked.” It ends: “OK, OK, OK. Onwards.”



Hands by Carol Ann Duffy

We clap at the darkness.

I hearken for the sound

of my daughter’s small hands,
but she is miles away...
though I can see her hands
when I put my head in my own.  

In Andrew McMillan’s Garden, he writes of how at first the dead “were few / enough to name them / but soon they grew too many / the vast fields of them”.
Duffy is spearheading the project with the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. Contributors range from new and emerging poets to award-winners Raymond Antrobus and Andrew McMillan, and some of British poetry’s biggest names, such as Gillian Clarke and Jackie Kay.
“We need the voice of poetry in times of change and world-grief. A poem only seeks to add to the world and now seems the time to give,” said Duffy, who is creative director of the writing school.
In Cranes Lean In, Dharker writes of a phone call with her daughter while she looks over a London in lockdown: “Petals brush my face. / You say at last // the cherry blossom / has arrived // as if that is what / we were really waiting for.”
She wrote it, she said, “standing at a window looking out over the marooned city. London had stopped its eternal building and the streets and stations were becalmed.”
“That was the day it suddenly came home to many mothers what this meant, this strange waiting time without their children,” Dharker went on. “I could hear the phone calls all over the world, people separated and searching for words of hope and consolation to give each other. The words my daughter gave me were about kindnesses, and something we had both been waiting for: the cherry trees blossoming in the parks and streets of London.”



Cranes Lean In by Imtiaz Dharker

Cranes lean in, waiting for an all-clear

that will not come. 

Forehead pressed to glass,

phone at my ear, I learn

to sail on your voice

over a sadness of building sites, 

past King’s Cross, St Pancras,

to the place where you are.

You say nothing

is too far, mothers

will find their daughters,

strangers will be neighbours,

even saviours

will have names.

You are all flame

in a red dress.  

Petals brush my face.

You say at last

the cherry blossom

has arrived

as if that is what

we were really waiting for.


McMillan, winner of the 2015 Guardian first book award and a contributor alongside his father, Ian, said it was “really important to record as a continuing historical document the times we’re living through”.

“I’ve always believed a poet’s job is to be a witness, and this is just another example of that,” said McMillan, who said he had found it very hard to write his poem.
“There are some things which feel beyond language – huge numbers of deaths, untold suffering, unmanageable fear. We’re dealing with abstracts and the first instinct within that is to reach for abstracts ourselves, but abstracts don’t make for good poetry,” he said. “All I tried to do, and all I think any of us can do, is focus on something small and contained and concrete, and try to tell it that way.”

In Unbecoming Maramot, Romalyn Ante, an award-winning poet who works as an NHS nurse, writes after a shift: “She walks an unlit road on her own, yet not alone. / Look at her now – night after night, shift after shift.” TS Eliot-winning poet George Szirtes is writing a new poem every day for the project, while Moira Egan and David Tait are writing from lockdown in Italy and China respectively.
Prof Malcolm Press, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, called the initiative inspiring. “I am sure that these outstanding poems will voice the sentiments and feelings that many of us around the world will share,” he said. “At the same time, I am confident that these innovative and imaginative works will inspire creativity and hope.”



Sunday, April 19, 2020

Geoffrey Brock / Weighing light


Weighing light

Often the slightest gesture is most telling, 
as when he reaches tenderly in passing 
to pluck the yellow leaf from the dark fall
of her hair, or even the absence of all gesture:
the way she doesn’t need to turn to know
who, in this gathering of friends, has touched her.
It was as if he dreamed some private garden.
Perhaps he woke from it, mid-reach, to find
his hand too near her hair in this crowded yard,
and maybe even now she’s shuttering in
(she’s even better than you or I at that)
a storm of worry and recrimination—
did anyone notice? how could he do that here!—
by seamlessly continuing to tell you
about her trip to see her favorite Vermeer
this morning in the Delft show at the Met:
“So now they say she isn’t weighing pearls
or gold or anything—it’s just the light
gleaming off empty scales.” So much is hard
to know for sure. If I confronted her,
she’d say it was just a leaf—who could afford
to disagree? Could we? Now she’s explaining
how the girl faces a mirror we can’t see into
and how behind her hands a gloomy painting
of the Last Judgment: “Over her head God
floats in a cloud,” she says, “like a thought balloon.”
But you don’t hear. You’re watching me. I nod.


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Mon Laferte / Tormento



Mon Laferte 

Tormento (En Vivo)


Mi amor fue sincero
Te quise de verdad
A pesar de tu silencio
Te quise más.

Un beso en el metro
Fue todo tan violento
A veces tan frenético
Me desespero.

Yo presiento que tú volverás
Mi argumento, yo se que jamás...
Nadie más te amará
Como te pude amar
Nadie más te puede aguantar
Como yo, como yo.

No me grites por favor
De nuevo hueles a licor
De mi cuerpo yo quisiera
Borrar tus besos.

Fue todo en febrero
Un romance sin dinero
Tu sexo tan poético
Como tus celos.

Yo presiento que tú volverás
Mi argumento, yo se que jamás...
Nadie más te amará
Como te pude amar
Nadie más te puede aguantar
Como yo, como yo.

Mi vida es un tormento
Mi vida es un lamento.

Nadie más te amará
Como te pude amar

Nadie más te puede aguantar
Como yo, como yo.



A TORMENT
by Mon Laferte

VERSE 1:
My love was honest
I really loved you
Despite of your silence
I loved you more.

VERSE 2:
A kiss on the subway
Everything was oh so violent
Sometimes so frantic
I am desperate.

PRE-CHORUS:
I can feel that you will come back
My argument? I know that...

CHORUS:
No one else's gonna love you
Like I could've loved you
No one else's gonna deal with you
Like me,
Like me!

VERSE 3:
Don't yell at me, please!
You smell like alcohol again
From my body I wish
To erase your kisses

VERSE 4:
Everything happened in February
It was a penniless romance
Your sex, so poetic
Just as your jealousy

PRE-CHORUS:
I can feel that you'll be back
my argument? I know that...

CHORUS:
No one else's gonna love you
like I could've loved you
No one else's gonna deal with you
like me,
like me!

BRIDGE:
Oh, my life is a torment
Oh, my life is a pity.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ernesto Cardenal / Dawn



DAWN
by Ernesto Cardenal
Translated by Mark Zimmerman

Now the roosters are singing.
Natalia, your rooster's already sung, sister,
Justo, yours has already sung, brother.
Get up off your cots, your bed mats.
I seem to hear the congos awake on the other coast.
We can already blow on the kindling - throw out the pisspot.
Bring an oil lamp so we can see the faces.
A dog in a hut yelped
and a dog from another hut answered.
Juana, it's time to light the stove, sister.
The dark is even darker because day is coming.
Get up Chico, get up Pancho.
There's a horse to mount,
we have to paddle a canoe.
Our dreams had us separated, in folding
cots and bed mats (each of us dreaming our own dream)
but our awakening reunites us.
The night already draws away followed by its witches and ghouls.
We will see the water very blue; right now we don't see it. - And
this land with its fruit trees, which we also don't see.
Wake up Pancho Nicaragua, grab your machete
there's a lot of weeds to cut
grab your machete and your guitar.
There was a owl at midnight and a hoot owl at one.
The night left without moon or any morning star.
Tigers roared on this island and those on the coast called back.
Now the night bird's gone, the one that says: Sc-rewed, Sc-rewed.
Later the skylark will sing in the palm tree.
She'll sing: Compañero
Compañera.
Ahead of the light goes the shade flying like a vampire.
Wake up you, and you, and you.
(Now the roosters are singing.)
Good morning, God be with you!

Translation by Mark Zimmerman
from Flights of Victory/Vuelos de Victoria
edited and translated by Mark Zimmerman, Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY 1985.


Sunday, March 1, 2020

Ernesto Cardenal / Vision from the Blue Plane-Window


Ernesto Cardenal
By Guayasamin

Vision from the Blue Plane-Window 

by Ernesto Cardenal


In the round little window, everything is blue,
land bluish, blue-green, blue
    (and sky)
 everything is blue
blue lakes and lagoons
   blue volcanoes
while farther off the land looks bluer
 blue islands in a blue lake.
This is the face of the land liberated.
And where all the people fought, I think:
      for love!
To live without the hatred
    of exploitation.
To love one another in a beautiful land
so beautiful, not only in itself
   but because of the people in it,
above all because of the people in it.
That's why God gave us this beautiful land
for the society in it.
And in all those blue places they fought, suffered
   for a society of love
    here in this land.

One patch of blue looks more intense...
And I thought I was seeing the sites of all the battles there,
and of all the deaths,
behind that small, round windowpane
      blue
     all the shades of blue.


Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Letters of T S Eliot / Volume 8 by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden



The Letters of T S Eliot: Volume 8 by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden

The latest collection of T S Eliot’s letters is wonderfully insightful — but is it a little too exhaustive?

DAVID SEXTON
Thursday 17 January 2019 13:20


This immense edition of the correspondence of the greatest poet of his time is now entering its second decade. Covering just two years, this volume amounts to 1,100 pages, bringing the total so far published to a little over 7,600 pages, with 27 years of Eliot’s life still to go. Yet it is not even complete. The indefatigable, exemplary editor, John Haffenden, has posted the letters he chose not to include in each volume on a website, tseliot.com, and for these two years alone there are hundreds of them, perhaps even more than he has actually printed — eight, for example, from January 1, 1936 alone. 
Many of  the printed letters still seem at first of modest interest only: processing business for Faber & Faber, where he was an “ordinary director”; for the magazine he edited, The Criterion; and for his own career as a writer and, increasingly, a public man. 
He commissions books and articles, he assesses submissions. He responds to invitations and suggestions, always with courtesy, even when refusing. He supplies references and letters of introduction, he offers advice. He constantly apologises for delays in replying and he thanks people for their contributions, their comments, their hospitality, friendship and support.
All this can make repetitious reading now, essential though it may have been then to the literary culture he was seeking to nurture. Yet taken together these letters are little less than a lesson in conduct, a kind of tireless poise, a demonstration of grace under pressure. 
They are invariably, as Haffenden notes in his preface, “humane and engaging, constructive and inventive, and frequently jokey” — and sometimes they are more than that: revealing, touching and wise. They are also, like all good letters, wonderfully different in tone when writing to different friends and acquaintances. 
In these years, Eliot’s first stage play, Murder in the Cathedral, was being produced, and he was working on The Family Reunion. 
And it was during this time that his wife, Vivien Haigh-Wood Eliot, was finally committed to a psychiatric asylum, Northumberland House in Finsbury Park, close to Manor House Tube, after being found wandering in the streets in the early hours and taken to a police station. 
Haffenden includes enough of Vivien’s own letters, to her brother, to her bank, to Faber, and so forth, to make it clear quite how deranged she had become by this time, believing she was “OSTENTATIOUSLY FOLLOWED”, for example, and pretending to be other people acting on her behalf. 



Eliot’s own letters dealing with her committal and support are faultlessly correct and responsible. Only once or twice in these years does he reveal his agony. In July 1936 he briefly mentions to Dorothy Pound: “I am rather shaky at the moment because I ran into my late wife in Wigmore Street an hour ago, and had to take to my heels: only people who have been ‘wanted’ know the sort of life I lead.” 
Only to his brother Henry does he speak directly of the “horrors” of his private life. There’s a revealing  letter, though, in response to Geoffrey Faber’s misgivings about the sex in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, which the company was publishing. Faber had naively confessed: “My own private struggle all my life has been to prevent sex meaning too much.” Eliot not only sees no sense in this, his view is quite the opposite, that trying to “keep sex in its place” is itself a symptom of instability.
“Between any two people (and the more intimate their relations the more important this becomes) there is always an unresolvable element of hostility,” he says. “It is I think, a coming to terms between the elements of attraction and repulsion that constitutes permanent affection…” 
To Bonamy Dobrée he writes eloquently about his understanding of St John of the Cross’s doctrine that in order to arrive at the love of God one must divest oneself of the love of created beings. “I don’t think that ordinary human affections are capable of leading us to the love of God, but rather that the love of God is capable of informing, intensifying and elevating our human affections, which otherwise may have little to distinguish them from the ‘natural’ affections of animals,” he explains. 
These are themes deep in his work — but there are also letters here about pyjamas, sherry and opening a cheese restaurant. There’s a salad recipe and a mock Abdication diary; a take-off of Henry James and spoof readers’ reports on his own verses; a denunciation of the English Verse Speaking Association and an inspiring letter of advice to the young poet George Barker, insisting “it is only necessary poems that matter” and “nothing is worth doing twice”. 
Just too many letters, though? Eliot, who did not want a biography or any letters printed “of any intimacy to anybody”, might have thought so. To one contributor he writes: “I quite agree that there are too many books, and that most books are too long. The tendency for books to say what they have to say at much greater length than necessary no doubt has something to do with the deterioration of the reading public into mere ruminants, who can only nourish themselves by a great deal of grass and reject more concentrated food.” Ha! Now, Faber, just where is that readers’ edition of Eliot’s uncollected prose?  
The Letters of T S Eliot: Volume 8: 1936-1938 edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden (Faber, £50)