T. S. Eliot Comes Home to Boston

The Editorial Institute is pleased to announce that Professor Christopher Ricks has been invited to prepare a full critical edition of the poems of T. S. Eliot. The undertaking will complement publication of Eliot’s very extensive critical writings and of his letters.

Although Eliot was perhaps the foremost English language poet of the twentieth century and died more than forty years ago, his writings have never been collected before, and many manuscripts have been in restricted archives. The Complete Poems, to be published by Faber & Faber in Britain, will contain not only Eliot’s masterpieces such as The Waste Land and Four Quartets but also his Practical Cats, his translation of St. John Perse’s Anabase, and a number of unpublished or neglected verses.

T. S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1888. He was educated at Harvard, and as a young man moved to Europe, where he studied in Paris and Oxford. His first volume of poems, the tantalizingly titled Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917 in London, and he soon made his name as an influential reviewer and critic. The Waste Land was a publishing sensation in 1922-3 (the British edition was published by Virginia Woolf), and Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948. Christopher Ricks‘s transatlantic career began on the other side: he taught at both Oxford and Cambridge before coming to Boston University in 1986. He is a leading Eliot scholar and critic and the former Oxford Professor of Poetry. In 1963 he reviewed the last edition of the poems published in Eliot’s lifetime, in 1988 he published a critical study of T. S. Eliot and Prejudice, and in 2002 he gave the Panizzi Lectures in Bibliography at the British Library on revisions in Eliot’s critical prose. Ten years ago, his edition of the early poems, Inventions of the March Hare, led Helen Vendler to write: “I wish Ricks would annotate the Complete Poems so that we could know them as well as we now know the unpublished verse.” In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane recognized that the edition was itself a work of criticism, calling it “the best book ever written on Eliot,” and now Ricks jokes that it is exciting to be working on “the best book ever written by Eliot.”

The enterprise is the latest of a number of important literary editions to be undertaken at the Editorial Institute, including the recently published Letters of A. E. Housman, edited by Professor Archie Burnett, and an edition in eleven volumes of the writings of the Victorian lawyer and controversialist James Fitzjames Stephen, of which Christopher Ricks is a general editor.