Lovers Whose Bodies Smell of Each Other

November 14, 2012 at 7:13 am (literature, love, Rosie B)

Valerie Eliot died on 9th November.  She was T S Eliot’s second wife.  His first marriage to the unhappy and disturbed Vivienne Haigh-Wood was wretched.
“To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land.”

  "My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
 "Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
   "What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
 "I never know what you are thinking. Think."

   I think we are in rats' alley
 Where the dead men lost their bones.

   "What is that noise?"
               The wind under the door.
   "What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?"
               Nothing again nothing.
 "You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember

He married Valerie, his secretary, when he was sixty-eight and she was thirty.  He dedicated his only tender love poem to her.

A Dedication to My Wife
To whom I owe the leaping delight
 That quickens my senses in our wakingtime
 And the rhythm that governs the repose of our sleepingtime,
        The breathing in unison

Of lovers whose bodies smell of each other
Who think the same thoughts without need of speech
And babble the same speech without need of meaning.

No peevish winter wind shall chill
No sullen tropic sun shall wither
The roses in the rose-garden which is ours and ours only

But this dedication is for others to read:
These are private words addressed to you in public.

I googled for a copy to paste and found it on a site of readings for weddings.  The arcane modernist wrote a poem that anyone who has been in love can understand.

(A piece about the disappearing breed of literary widows here.)


  1. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    While I know great swathes of the poetry off by heart and the Collected Poems would be one of the volumes I’d risk my life to save if the last library on earth was burning down, the man was a monster and exhibit #1 for my theory that there is generally an inverse relationship between literary genius and both political acceptability and basic human decency:

    a) He had his first wife who was in the parlance of the day no more than ‘highly strung’ forcibly committed to an insane asylum.

    b) He was a fervent admirer of Charles Maurras and Action Francaise in youth, declared during WW2 that the hardest thing about it all was the sympathy he felt for the enemy and became an active member of the Tory Party in his old age.

    c) His anti-semitism was so profound and so central to his work that Anthony Julius has written an entire book about it.

    d) He turned down Animal Farm as a director of Faber and Faber.

    e) Like any ageing member of the bourgeoisie he fucked and married his secretary.

    Oh and he was a banker….

    • Rosie said,

      Can’t say much about the sanity of his first wife, the one that Virginia Woolf described as “a bag of ferrets” but Eliot did do some shitty things to those close to him. Nor about Eliot’s politics. Re the anti-semitism – it’s certainly appears here and there and very nasty it is but Anthony Julius makes the claim that anti-semitism was “Eliot”s muse” – which is nonsense. Also, Julius has a cloth ear for poetry.

      Turning down Animal Farm was crappy especially as he didn’t even have the excuse of being on the left.

      “Fucked and married”? Didn’t he marry first and fuck second, as you’d expect of an elderly church-warden who was very shy of women? I’m rather pleased he found a late happy marriage. As for Valerie Eliot, she was a kind of groupie – wanted to be his secretary from the age of fourteen, it seems. So that’s like eg Gary Numan, who married a member of his fan club. And Valerie E did spend the money made from Cats on poetry prizes.

      “While I know great swathes of the poetry off by heart and the Collected Poems would be one of the volumes I’d risk my life to save if the last library on earth was burning down” – well, that’s all that matters. After all, there are plenty of nice, kind blokes in the world who don’t write great poetry.

  2. dave said,

    I could never really square Eliots poetry with his politics. It seems far too self depricating and human to be Fascistic. Too in love with that side of grubby cosmopolitan London to be a true reactionary.

    Terry Eagleton had it about right:
    “Why do critics feel a need to defend the authors they write on, like doting parents deaf to all criticism of their obnoxious children? Eliot’s well-earned reputation [as a poet] is established beyond all doubt, and making him out to be as unflawed as the Archangel Gabriel does him no favours.”

  3. Harsanyi_Janos said,

    Strangely one-sided: “His first marriage to the unhappy and disturbed Vivienne Haigh-Wood was wretched.”

    Eliot was, of course, a virgin who would later take a vow of chastity. I daresay that he played his role in the wretchedness of the marriage.

  4. Anna said,

    Most women who marry old men do so in the hope that their spouse is never going to desire sex with them – little did poor Valerie realise that very soon she’d be drenched in Eau de Vieillard. It’s that, or the poem is just toilet door graffiti boasts, being ‘for others to read’. If I didn’t know the context I could love it.

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