New Documentary Features Centenary Celebration of TS Eliot’s Epic


A century ago, 34-year-old TS Eliot – having already published his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and a variety of prose pieces – introduced his latest work with these lines:

April is the cruellest month, reproduction

Lilac out of the dead earth, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Appearing first in the British magazine The Criterion, then in the United States in The Dial, and finally in book form before the end of the year, “The Waste Land” would become one of the enduring works of modern poetry. . To honor the poem’s centennial and its St. Louis-born author, the State Historical Society of Missouri will host a multi-faceted program Thursday.

The evening will include a presentation by Carissa Staples, followed by a screening of the new documentary “TS Eliot: Into ‘The Waste Land'” from director Susanna White. White’s credits include BBC renditions of “Bleak House” and “Jane Eyre” as well as episodes of acclaimed TV shows such as “Boardwalk Empire” and “Masters of Sex.”

White’s film, also produced for the BBC, sifts through “Eliot’s unpublished archive of more than 1,000 secret letters to Emily Hale, an American drama teacher and poetic muse,” notes a description of the event.

“Artists and scholars explain the poem’s emotional origins and shed light on its obscurities, bringing this disturbing and defining poem to life for a new generation,” the description adds.

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“The Waste Land”, which reflects the external and internal concerns of citizens living during World War I, has a broad but specific scope, said Scottish author and scholar Robert Crawford in a recent and far-reaching reflection for Literary Hub.

“It’s as if this poem could give anything – a cry, a list of place names, a snippet of conversation, a Sanskrit word, a nursery rhyme, an echo – an almost infinite and carrying resonance that brings with it unforgettable intensity.” said Crawford.

Thursday’s event also includes an exhibition of multidisciplinary pieces by University of Missouri students created in conversation with Eliot’s signature work.

The celebration will take place at the Center for Missouri Studies, 605 Elm St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the Staples presentation at 6:45 p.m. and the documentary at 7 p.m.

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Aarik Danielsen is the Features and Culture Editor for Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen.

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