No poet of the 20th century has generated as much critical exposition as T.S.Eliot, yet the mysterious power of his poetry remains elusive. Eliot himself once compared a poem’s meaning to the piece of meat that a burglar brings along to keep the watchdog quiet, allowing the words to get on with their work in some more secret recess of the mind.


Ever since the publication, almost a hundred years ago, of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, readers have struggled to define why exactly it is that an encounter with Eliot’s poetry, particularly his most celebrated masterpiece, The Waste Land, is so often a transformative experience.


This weekend will explore the relationship between the meanings of Eliot’s poetry, as developed by generation after generation of academics labouring in the Eliot industry, and the experience of reading – and hearing – the poems themselves. It will consider all phases of his career, from the satirical hell of the early poems, through the purgatory of The Waste Land, and the culmination, as he thought, of his work in the paradiso of Four Quartets.


Recommended reading:

Collected Poems 1909-62 (Faber & Faber)


The Telegraph/How To Academy seminars, in association with Waterstones and Penguin Classics, celebrate the art of reading and the craft of criticism. In this unique series, we ask authors to stand before a page rather than a podium, to share a private passion rather than give a public performance – and we ask readers to roll up their sleeves and participate. In the course of a day, or a weekend, you will be guided in small groups through the historical and biographical context of the work and shown how to unlock its meanings, release its power, and absorb the quality of its strangeness. These intimate events will take place in a private room in the congenial surroundings of Waterstone’s Piccadilly, in central London.