The late, much-missed Josephine Hart is renowned for introducing a tradition of sell-out evenings of “great poetry read by great actors” to London’s West End in the late 1980s.

Part of her formula for these events was to provide an insight into the poetry by relating the lives of the poets to their work.

At the inaugural Mayfair Times Mayfair & St James’s Literary Festival in October 2018, the audience heard her thoughts on her “revolutionary” literary hero, TS Eliot.

The extraordinary breadth of Eliot’s life, work and influence is highlighted by Josephine Hart’s quote from the late, great, Ted Hughes, at a Poetry Hour reading a long time ago.

He said: “There was a direct line that could be traced from Virgil to Dante, from Dante to Milton and from Milton to Eliot, the greatest poet for over 300 years”.

Josephine Hart revered Eliot for the way he mined language and articulated brilliantly her own belief in the power of the auditory imagination.

“The feeling for syllable and rhythm penetrating far below the conscious level of thought and feeling, invigorating every word, synching to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to an origin and bringing something back, fusing the most ancient and most civilised mentalities,” she said.

The Poetry Hour goes beyond that to show us, in a most compelling way, the power of hearing those very words and rhythms read aloud by our actors in public.

Eliot wrote: “All significant truths are private truths”.

We shared some of his in The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock and A Dedication To My Wife, which ends touchingly: “These are private words addressed to you in public”.

As if to prove Eliot’s “Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future”, we heard Rhapsody On A Windy Night, a picture of a worn-out society.

And we ended with The Hollow Men, an iconic poem read by Marlon Brando in Martin Scorsese’s Apocalypse Now.

 

Join us at this year’s Mayfair & St James’s Literary Festival

 

The life of T. S. Eliot

 

Thomas Stearns Eliot, OM (September 26, 1888 to January 4, 1965), Nobel Laureate, Tony Award-winner, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and publisher.

TS Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri, USA, and educated at Harvard, the Sorbonne and Merton College, Oxford.

He settled in England in 1915. His first volume of poetry was published in 1917 and included his early masterpiece The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Eliot continued to write while he worked, first, as a teacher and then at Lloyds Bank where he became a manager until, in 1925, he joined Faber and Gwyer (now Faber & Faber and still his publisher), as co-director and editor.

Eliot left behind an iconic body of mould-breaking work including The Waste Land and The Four Quartets.

He won posthumous awards for worldwide hit musical CATS by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on his wonderful Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Eliot died at home in Kensington, on January 4, 1965, at the age of 76, with his wife Valerie by his side. He was honoured with a memorial service at Westminster Abbey and, later, with a plaque in Poet’s Corner there.

 

Main picture: George Douglas photograph of TS Eliot, 1951, copyright Getty Images