The over one thousand letters from T. S. Eliot to Emily Hale, opened to the public on January 2, 2020, reveal the poet’s emotional and creative dependence on Hale and illuminate the meanings of “Gerontion,” The Waste Land, Ash-Wednesday, “Landscapes,” Murder in the Cathedral, Four Quartets, The Family Reunion, and other works. This article surveys the contents of the long-awaited Eliot letters archived at Princeton University, focusing on Hale’s role in the poet’s personal and imaginative life. In addition to clarifying long-standing questions about their relationship, from their first encounters in Cambridge to their many clandestine meetings across decades, his letters explain personal references in his poems (Hale is the “Hyacinth girl”) and describe “moments” they shared together that he later worked into “Burnt Norton” and “The Dry Salvages.” The record of his letters shows that not marrying Hale fed Eliot’s imagination and inspired some of the most significant passages of his poetry. Eliot’s art reflected his life, but he also shaped his life to follow art, taking Dante’s Vita Nuova as the pattern for a renunciation of worldly love that he also imposed on Hale.

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