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Undeleted from a Wasteland’s Void

Margate is a seaside town in which T. S.

Eliot wrote Part Three of his great poem The Waste Land,

‘The Fire Sermon’, and what obviously is less

important, where I spent some summers playing on the sand,

enrolled in an extremely boring camp for children whom

the poet surely would have wished completely to avoid,

all from a race whose negatives in his dark room

poetically were printed in his wasteland’s adverse void.

Antisemitic odors of his verse give off a stench

less pleasant than the ones that he associated with females,

less pardonable than, undelectable, my French,

and less deletable than spam-directed emails.

In “‘An Age of Prudence,’” NYR10/20/22, Mark Ford, reviewing The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound by T.S. Eliot, writes:

When, on October 23, 1922, T.S. Eliot assembled and dispatched to the New York lawyer and bibliophile John Quinn a packet containing drafts of The Waste Land as well as a notebook of early poems tentatively entitled Inventions of the March Hare and a selection of loose-leaf manuscripts of individual poems, he included in the package (surely inadvertently) the receipts for the three weeks he’d spent in the Albemarle Hotel, Cliftonville, Margate, in October and November of the previous year. While there, he had composed sections of what became part 3 of The Waste Land, “The Fire Sermon,” in which an oblique reference is made to this seaside town: “On Margate Sands. /I can connect/Nothing with nothing.” Though a “First Class Family Hotel,” as the heading on its bills declares, the Albemarle charged extra for baths, which cost a shilling. Eliot scholars piecing together the creation of the most influential poem of the twentieth century in the reading room of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, which acquired this material in 1958, were therefore able to ascertain that Eliot took just two baths between October 22 and 28, four the following week, and seven the week after that, including two on November 5.

Like most of the symbols deployed in The Waste Land, water ends up accruing meanings that are quite different for its male and female characters: among the rituals that the husband in “A Game of Chess” thinks might soothe the “nerves” of his frantic wife is “The hot water at ten,” while the drafts for this section depict in Augustan couplets the socialite Fresca performing her morning toilette:

This ended, to the steaming bath she moves,

Her tresses fanned by little flutt’ring Loves;

Odours, confected by the cunning French,

Disguise the good old hearty female stench.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.
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