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In reading Eliot's "Letters, vol 3" I came across an interesting short letter from TSE to Professor E. R. Curtius. Curtius was preparing a translation of 'The Waste Land' into German and had sent a preliminary version of the translation to TSE for comments. TSE's letter is as follows:

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(Letters, vol 3, page 407)

4 February 1927 [London]

My dear Curtius,

  Very many thanks for your letter of the 21st January. I am very much pleased with your translation. There are only three small suggestions I have to make. One is about the printing of the line from Ariel's song in Shakespeare's Tempest - 'Those are pearls that were his eyes'. Another is that 'staves' (plural of staff) is, I suppose 'staben'. The last is that I note that you have translated 'with a little patience' by the imperative. Is this right? I meant that we were dying patiently but without any great struggle or revolt, and therefore not much patience was necessary. It is intended to convey a state of torpor or exhaustion after a great or overwhelming event; not as an exhortation. But I have nothing but compliments and appreciation to offer. It will be a very great pleasure to me to see your translation in print. I am glad to hear that you have arranged with the Neue Schweize Rundschau. I am also very grateful to you for insisting on publishing the thing as a whole, because I think that any selections from the poem would give a very poor impression of it.(3)

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Below is the footnote provided by the editors of 'Letters, vol 3':

 (3)-T. S. Eliot', Neite Schweizer Rundschau 32 (Apr. 1927), 348-61. Curtius's essay has been reprinted in English as the first part of T. S. Eliot', in his Essays on European Literature {Kritische Essays zur europaischen Literatur), trans. Michael Kowal (1973), 355-71.

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I found this interesting for a few reasons:

1) TSE is not happy with how Curtius translated the line 'with a little patience.' TSE goes on to tell Curtius what he meant by the line, namely, "I meant that we were dying patiently but without any great struggle or revolt, and therefore not much patience was necessary. It is intended to convey a state of torpor or exhaustion after a great or overwhelming event; not as an exhortation." As far as I know, this is the only time I have seen Old Possum actually state what he meant by a line of TWL rather than pretend he didn't even know what he meant when he was writing, or that the important meaning was what the reader got out of the poem, not what the poet intended to communicate. TSE was trying to communicate something specific to the reader, and it mattered to him that the translation 'get it right.'

2) The footnote to this letter supplied by the editors of Letters refers to an essay by Curtius about 'The Waste Land' and mentions that the essay was reprinted in English (translated by Michael Kowal). Clearly this letter refers to the Curtius _translation_ of TWL into German, _not_ the Curtius essay which I posted yesterday (i.e., the translated version by Kowal). So it's a slight boo-boo for the editors of Letters.

-- Tom --