Eliot List:

Happy Valentine's Day!

My Valentine's Day gift to the List is, attached to this email, a hard-to-get copy of Eliot himself reading "Fragment of an Agon" from "Sweeney Agonistes". The attachment is a 5MB "MP3" file which everyone on the list should be able to hear on their computers.

Before I go any further, per instructions from the copyright holder and from Harvard, I must call your attention to the "important notice" below:


Important Notice:

Attached to this post you are receiving, free of charge to you, an MP3 recording of T.S. Eliot reading "Fragment of an Agon" from "Sweeney Agonistes". Each member of the T. S. Eliot list is receiving this recording to listen to privately because a license fee has been negotiated and paid to Faber and Faber. It must be understood that you do NOT have any commercial rights to this recording and you do NOT have the rights to post it anywhere. If you wish to post this recording or any excerpt from this recording you must separately negotiate your own license fee with Faber and Faber ([log in to unmask]).

This recording of T. S. Eliot reading "Fragment of an Agon" is provided courtesy of Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University.


I think you may be interested in the history of this attachment.

While doing some reading on "Sweeney Agonistes", I came across a footnote in a book that mentioned Eliot made a recording of "Agon" that was released on cassette tape in 1978 by Harvard as part of a six-cassette package called "The Poet's Voice".  I tried to find a copy of the package and was able to locate only two copies, both of which claimed to be in good condition. However, when the tapes arrived they were unplayable until I did some "surgery" on the cassettes. The tapes and the cassette housings, over 30 years old, were quite fragile and it was only a matter of time before they became permanently unusable. It was clear that it would be a good idea to transfer them to a digital format. I used some equipment I have to make a digitized copy of "Agon" (which was over 36 MB), then ran it through some software to get an "MP3" version that was only 5MB (and sounds almost as good as the 36 MB version).

The original recording was made by Eliot in 1948 as part of the collection of poets' recordings made at the Woodberry Reading Room in Harvard.

In the 1920s, Professor George Woodberry at Harvard got the idea to record poets reading their own work. In those days recording equipment was extremely expensive, essentially requiring a recording studio to produce the recordings. Professor Woodberry was unable to get funding for his project. A year after he died the funding was obtained and Harvard named the room in his honor in 1931. There are now over 6,000 recordings by various artists at Woodberry. The room is open to the public, although you are not allowed to make copies of the recordings that you hear. From time to time Harvard has released some of the recordings for sale to the general public, originally on vinyl records and then on cassette tape. The six-cassette package called "The Poet's Voice" was one such release of material done in 1978.

As soon as I heard the tape and made the MP3 file, I immediately wanted to post it to the List, but I knew I needed legal permission. I wrote to the current curator of Woodberry (Ms. Christina Davis) who told me:

a) Harvard would grant me permission to post the recording.
b) I also needed permission from Faber and Faber.

I immediately wrote to Faber, and it has taken 3 months to obtain their permission. Some of their letters are included at the end of this email, as is a comment on "Agon" from the previous Woodberry curator, Don Share. I blanked out only a few items from the Faber letter, such as the amount of the license fee Faber requested, as my momma taught me it is bad manners to discuss the dollars (or pounds) involved when giving a gift!

By the way, Faber understands that the TSE listserver automatically archives all posts and attachments. This means that, under the current license, a future TSE list member will be able to access the archives and legally download a copy of the Eliot recording for their private listening. They will NOT have any commercial rights and will NOT have any reposting rights without negotiating a separate agreement with Faber. In other words, all current and future TSE list members can legally obtain a copy of the MP3 recording with the same listening rights.

I think everyone on the list will greatly enjoy this recording. In addition to hearing the jazz rhythm of the dialogue as Eliot envisioned it, you'll get to hear the tunes of "Under the Bamboo Tree", "My Little Island Girl", as well as the tune behind the chorus at the end ("cream of a nightmare dream . . .", which I didn't even know _had_ a tune). I found listening to this to be great fun.


-- Tom --

P.S. If you do not receive the MP3 attachment from the Eliot Listserver, send me an email and I will email your copy directly to you. To keep everything within the license terms, please state in your email that you are a member of the T. S. Eliot List.

My email address is:
[log in to unmask]


Christina Davis
[log in to unmask]

Tue, Nov 3, 2009 at 9:53 AM

In order to grant you permission to receive a copy of Eliot's "Fragment of an Agon" and put it online, you would need to contact Eliot's publishing company, Faber & Faber, in the UK. We would need to receive a copy of their written permission. Once that occurs, we are more than happy to provide you with the material.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions, and best of luck with your worthy undertaking.

Yours sincerely,
Christina Davis


Wed, 27 Jan 2010

Thank you for your email, and apologies for the delay in getting back to you. As Christina Davis says, this is a very worthy undertaking.

We do not usually allow any online uses of Eliot's works, in line with the wishes of his Estate. With any of our other poets, for whom we do allow online use, we would normally charge an annual fee for the inclusion of the work on the site. However, given that this would be restricted to list members only, I think we could relax our policy in this instance. I would suggest a one-off fee of "XXX", provided that, as you say, a notice was included that members would need to seek permission from Faber to use the extract in any commercial way (or to post it elsewhere).

I hope this is of some help to you, and once again, apologies for the delay in response.

With best wishes,
xxxxx xxxxx
Permissions Controller
Faber and Faber Ltd


Info on the Woodberry Reading Room at Harvard


In 2005, Don Share was Curator of the Poetry Room at Harvard University, where he teaches. This is an excerpt from an interview he did where he mentions "Agon":

Interviewer. You currently are Curator of Poetry for the Woodberry Poetry Room at the Lamont Library at Harvard University.  When did you take over as Curator.  What are some of the gems you discovered there?

Don> I became Curator of the Poetry Room in 2000.  There are countless gems in the collection-books, manuscripts, artwork by all the great modern poets-and so many talismans and touchstones for poets.  But the ones I adore most of all are the amazing sound recordings of poets in our archive.  My favorites are Eliot's almost rap performance of "Fragment of an Agon," Pound's hilarious recording in 1931 of "Cantico del Sole" ("The thought of what America would be like / If the Classics had a wide circulation / Troubles my sleep...), and Patrick Kavanagh's singing, possibly under the influence, "On Raglan Road" to the tune of the old air, "The Dawning of The Day."

Hotmail: Trusted email with Microsoft’s powerful SPAM protection.