Feeling the Elephant: T.S. Eliot's Bolovian Epic

By Loretta Johnson 

Journal of Modern Literature 

Vol. 37, No. 4, (Summer 2014), pp. 109-129 

This essay assembles the “Bolovian Epic” from the Columbo and Bolo verses and nonsense letters that T.S. Eliot wrote over a period of eighteen years (1910–1928). Such an aggregation is made possible by the publication of excised poems from the “Waste Land” Notebook and Volumes I–IV of The Letters of T.S. Eliot. Rather than seeing individual parts of the epic as simply obscene, I interpret the whole project and its contexts as grounded in his appreciation for the primitive and a critical disdain for the so-called civilized. Eliot invents a composite race of people, the Bolovians, whose influence on modern times includes racy behavior, religious affinities, and bowler hats. Understanding this bawdy, blue, or nonsense material contributes to an increasing revision of previous scholarship defaming Eliot's moral and cultural values.