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love song

May 24, 2009

[Guardian] The love song of Thomas Stearns Eliot is one of 20th-century literature’s untold stories. Most of the players in this strange romance are dead now, but she who was at the heart of it lingers on in the twilight of old age, surrounded by the memorabilia of lost times. Valerie, the second Mrs Eliot, lives still in Kensington, west London, in the marital flat she shared with the poet before his death in 1965, a date faithfully recorded on the blue plaque outside.

Inside, in scrapbooks never before revealed, is a touching record of that marriage, a miscellany of billets-doux between an impressionable but tough-minded young woman and the poet who occasionally liked to refer to himself, in a playful reference to his Mississippi roots, as “Old Possum”. Both seem conscious of the timeless romantic appeal of their relationship, however discreet they were about it at the time.

Valerie, as much as her “Tom”, is alert to posterity’s gaze when she writes, on a playbill for Anouilh’s Antigone: “I sat next to TSE, my darling, and that makes any play endurable.” If their contemporaries in 1957 could have seen these notes – an enthralling insight into a late love affair – they may have been astonished. (read)

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