I’ve been reading one of the biographies of T. S. Eliot, Eliot’s New Life. It feels sneaky to read solid words about and not by the a person who could spin words into the dimensions of life that words don't often reach. My mom introduced me to his play Murder in the Cathedral when I was in high school, I loved how it was spare of description but full of tumult, itching my head with the holy and the sinister. Reading The Four Quartets, so singsongy and dirgey, made me feel like I was exploring a lurky and willowy other-world, where the sights and sounds were nostalgic and also new to me. Eliot said “Genuine poetry can communicate before it can be understood.” And that's how I felt, unable to describe exactly how his words affected me, but sure Eltio had a grasp on what is out of reach, of a Heavenplace, of Hellplace, of the divine.

In reading this non-willowy Eliot's New Life, I learned that Eliot had some baffling bonds with two women, worth mentioning because each significantly served as Eliot’s muses. Eliot loved a Bostonian named Emily Hale, then suddenly married British Vivienne Haigh-Wood. The marriage to Haigh-Wood was immediately disastrous, she possibly had mental illnesses, and “Furies” of torment she rained on Eliot inspired the turmoil in The Wasteland and The Family Reunion deep into his life. Haigh-Wood was admitted to an insane asylum for good, and refused Eliot a divorce. Eliot turned to Emily Hale for a 30 years of faithful letter writing. The pureness of love he felt for her and the places she introduced him to is said to have inspired the glimmers of freedom and reconciliation of much of his later writing, in The Four Quartets. When Haigh-Wood died in 1947, everyone but especially Hale assumed this meant his freedom to finally marry this beloved friend who had waited for and written to Eliot so patiently and purely. Instead, he cut off the relationship and a few years later married his former secretary. Emily Hale then went to live out the rest of her life in an asylum.

One of Eliot’s friends said he was uneasy about Eliot’s “assumption that the divine is to be found through withdrawal from human ties.” But that seems incorrect. Withdrawing from human ties is one thing. Was Eliot clinging to his detachments? I have so loved Eliot’s grasp of the ungraspable and out of reach, the wispy hints of the divine in the earthly murk. And now that reverence is upset, because I wonder if he assembled a ghostly relationship on earth, distanced and ultimately ungraspable, to embody an absence and be his muse of unfulfilled longing with the divine. All in his life, it's said that Hale visited Eliot's memory as a "lost dream of love untarnished.” That sounds transcendent and otherworldly, but Emily Hale was a real human life, not a dream. Could Eliot have possibly given us the ungraspable without causing strife on earth?