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Rare Booklets Of T.S. Eliot Poems Have Unusual Publishing History And A Virginia Connection

Feb. 1, 1999 -- The University of Virginia Library has acquired two rare and privately printed booklets of poetry written by T.S. Eliot, including a minor poem, "Virginia," that has a U.Va. connection in its origins.

The two chapbooks, "Words for Music" and "Two Poems," are significant additions to the University's renowned American literature collections because of their rarity and publishing history, library officials said.

The finely printed books were published by Frederic Prokosch, an American novelist and poet, in 1935, when Eliot was at the height of his career and already one of the most celebrated and influential poets of the 20th century. Only about 20 copies of each chapbook were published and only a handful may be found today in libraries, said Kendon L. Stubbs, deputy University Librarian.

"Virginia" and "New Hampshire," the two companion poems constituting the "Words for Music" pamphlet, originally appeared in the April 1934 issue of the University's Virginia Quarterly Review. In January, the review had also published one of the Page-Barbour lectures given by Eliot at U.Va. the previous year.

It is likely that the American-born Eliot, who lived in London and had become a British citizen, wrote the short poem "Virginia" after his 1933 visit here, Stubbs said. And it is probable that to print the "Words for Music" booklet Prokosch drew the text of the two Eliot poems straight from the U.Va. quarterly, where he had come across them.

Themes of time and place -- a slow river, children's voices in an orchard -- found in "Words for Music" appear later in Eliot's masterpiece "Four Quartets," Stubbs noted.

Prokosch, whose own fiction at the time was the subject of international acclaim, had also published poetry in the VQR, which was founded in 1925 and growing in prestige. On the side, he had begun to print small limited-edition chapbooks of poems by well-known writers.

Pleased with the "Words for Music" publication when he received it as a surprise gift from

Prokosch, Eliot the following year sent the younger writer the text of "Two Poems" and paid him to publish it so Eliot could use it to give to friends as a fine-press Christmas card. The two writers maintained a cordial relationship in the years to come.

Eliot, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, later published all four minor poems in his "Collected Poems." The "Two Poems" pamphlet contains "Cape Ann" and "Usk".

In the 1960s Prokosch, his writing career in decline, became involved in a publishing deception that, when discovered, shocked the rare-book community, according to George Riser of the Library's Special Collections staff. Prokosch again printed some fine chapbooks by well

known poets but this time pre-dated the publication to the 1930s to make them appear rare. "Words for Music" and "Two Poems" are not among the forgeries.

When they recently became available at a rare book auction at Sotheby's, library officials were able to purchase them with private funds. Eliot's typescripts of "Virginia" and "New Hampshire" for the VQR are also held in the University Archives.

The quarterly, one of the few national journals that publishes a wide range of fiction, poetry and general-interest essays, will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.

For additional information Kendon Stubbs may be reached at (804) 924 0501 and George Riser at (804) 924-7556. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.

VIRGINIA

Red river, red river,

Slow flow heat is silence

No will is still as a river

Still. Will heat move

Only through the mocking-bird

Heard once? Still hills

Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,

White trees, wait, wait,

Delay, decay. Living, living,

Never moving. Ever moving

Iron thoughts came with me

And go with me:

Red river, river, river.

-- T.S. Eliot

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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