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The Text of T. S. Eliot's "Gerontion" William H. Marshall
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The Text of T. S. Eliot's "Gerontion"
William H. Marshall

IN March, 1947, Professor Willard Thorp of Princeton University delivered an address, "The Poetry of T. S. Eliot," at the University of Virginia before a McGregor Room Seminar. The sponsors proposed to reprint "Gerontion" in the program, and at first chose the poem as found in the 1936 Harcourt, Brace edition of the Collected Poems, 1909-1935. However, when they consulted a few earlier editions in order to assure themselves of the correctness of the text, they discovered that variants existed, and therefore they amused themselves by constructing an eclectic text for


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the program. On a subsequent occasion the late Peters Rushton showed this program-text to Mr. Eliot, pointing out to him some of the variants which had been noticed. Mr. Eliot was interested and marked a copy of the program, altering two of the readings and confirming others by checks.[1] The results are of some interest, demonstrating that no printed edition up to the present has conformed in every detail with Eliot's full intentions. The poem, therefore, offers a neat case history indicating that the need for critical editing according to principles of textual criticism is by no means confined to literature of earlier periods.

"Gerontion" has appeared to date in seven collected editions totalling sixteen impressions, as follows:

  • A. Ara Vos Prec, London, Ovid Press (1919)
  • B. Poems, New York, Knopf (1920)
  • C. Poems, 1909-1925, London, Faber and Gwyer (1925)
    • a) second impression, Faber and Gwyer (1926)
    • b) third impression, Faber and Gwyer (1928)
    • c) fourth impression, Faber and Faber (1930)
  • D. Poems, New York, Knopf (1927)
  • E. Poems, 1909-1925, London, Faber and Faber (1932)
    • a) second impression, New York and Chicago, Harcourt, Brace & Co. (1932)[2]
  • F. Collected Poems, 1909-1935, London, Faber and Faber (1936), a so-called "advance proof" impression for limited circulation[3]
    • a) second impression, Faber and Faber (1936), the earliest impression of this edition distributed to the trade: labelled "first edition" by the publisher.
    • b) third impression, Faber and Faber (1936)
  • G. Collected Poems, 1909-1935, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Co. (1936)
    • a) second impression, Harcourt, Brace (1936)
    • b) third impression, Harcourt, Brace (1945)
    • c) fourth impression, Harcourt, Brace (1948)

The following chart details the variants which have appeared in these seven edition-texts, some through author's corrections or revisions but some through printers' errors. The final column provides the readings in the McGregor program-text which Eliot either passed by without comment or which he checked or altered. A preceding asterisk indicates readings which


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he confirmed by checks; a double asterisk indicates Eliot's alteration of the text to the form given.

B.  C.  D. 
hd. were were   were   were  
1 month  month,  month,  month, 
7 house  house,  house,  house, 
8 window sill  window sill  window sill  window-sill 
9 of Antwerp  of . . .  of . . .  at . . . 
17 sign."  sign":  sign"!  sign": 
26 Hakagama  Hakagawa  Hakagawa  Hakagawa 
28 Fraülein  Fraulein  Fräulein  Fräulein 
35 issues;  issues,  issues,  issues, 
37 distracted,  distracted  distracted  distracted 
42 hands  hands,  hands,  hands, 
53 devils.  devils.  devils.  devils. 
57 want  need  need  need 
60 passion. . . it  . . . it  . . . it  . . . it 
62 profit  profit  profit,  profit, 
67 Mrs Cammell  Mrs. Cammel  Mrs. Cammel  Mrs. Cammel 
70 by the Horn  on . . .  on . . .  on . . . 
71 gulf claims  Gulf claims,  Gulf claims,  Gulf claims, 
72 man,  man  man  man 
72 on the Trades  by . . .  by . . .  by . . . 
73 a sleepy  a a sleepy  a sleepy  a . . . 
E.  F.  G.  Eliot-program 
were   were   were   were
month,  month,  month,  month 
house,  house,  house,  house, 
window sill  window sill  window sill  window sill 
of . . .  of . . .  of . . .  of . . . 
sign!'  sign!'  sign!"  sign!" 
Hakagawa  Hakagawa  Hakagawa  Hakagawa 
Fraülein  Fraülein  Fraülein  Fraülein[4]  
issues,  issues,  issues,  * issues; 
distracted  distracted  distracted  * distracted, 
hands,  hands,  hands,  hands, 
devils.  devils.  devils  devils. 
need  need  need  * need 
. . . it  . . . them  . . . them  ** . . . them[5]  
profit  profit  profit  profit 
Mrs. Cammel  Mrs. Cammel  Mrs. Cammel  Mrs. Cammel 
on . . .  on . . .  on . . .  * on . . . 
Gulf claims,  Gulf claims,  Gulf claims,  Gulf claims, 
man  man  man  ** man[6]  
by . . .  by . . .  by . . .  * by . . . 
a . . .  a . . .  a . . .  a . . . 

The textual history of these editions is made reasonably clear by this collation. It is obvious that (B) Knopf's first American edition was set from


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an author-revised copy of (A) on the evidence of lines 17, 26, 57, 67, 70, 71, and 72, all of which appear to contain authoritative changes. The omission of the comma in the heading and the umlaut in line 28, and the repetition in 73, are misprints.[7] The case is less certain for the variants in lines 1 and 42, since it is possible that Eliot inadvertently passed over these in the program, although his silence may have represented approval of the altered form.

An interesting change made in the third edition (C) concerns the exclamation point in line 17. The wrong position in which this is printed suggests an authoritative attempt at revision made in proof or in a copy of (B), in which the substitution of the exclamation for the colon was marked marginally but the necessary change in position was not made clear to the printer. The variant in lines 28 and 73 corrects a misprint, but that in line 62 is an error. The fourth edition (D), by Knopf in 1927, was obviously set from (B), Knopf's 1920 text, on the evidence of the colon in line 17. An Americanization creeps into line 8, and the variant "at" in line 9 is a misprint. This edition, therefore, has no authority. The fifth edition (E) by Faber in 1932 used Faber's (C) of 1926 as printer's copy. The substitution of single for double quotes and the correct placement of the exclamation point in line 17 might have been made in proof, and appear to be authoritative.[8] Otherwise there is no change, except for the misprint in line 28 and the correction of line 62. Faber's expanded collection of 1936 (F) was set from (E), with Eliot making the authoritative alteration, either in copy or in proof, of "it" to "them" in line 60. The misplaced umlaut in line 28 is a repeated printer's error. As we should expect, Harcourt's expanded edition (G) was set from (F) but with the umlaut corrected. The one puzzling point is the reversion to double quotes in line 17. The omission of the period in line 53 is a misprint.

If we make the assumption, as is very plausible, that the commas added in (B) in lines 1, 7, and 42 are authoritative (despite the fact that Eliot silently passed over the omitted comma in line 1 of the program), the only crux remaining is the correct position of the exclamation point in line 17. This is a quasi-substantive matter, for the meaning is affected by the use of the exclamation as referring to the quoted material itself or as Eliot's comment on the quotation. However, it would be rather perverse to argue that the position outside the quotes in (C), when the point first appears, is the authoritative one which was subsequently moved inside by printers' usage and overlooked in successive proofs. The opposing argument is very strong, that an actual error was caused in (C) by a proof or copy annotation indicating the substitution but neglecting to alter the position from that of the


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deleted colon. Finally, it is possible to conjecture that the punctuation changes in lines 35 and 37 of (B) were in fact authoritative but that, subsequently, Eliot came to prefer the original pointing as found only in (A).



This annotated copy is deposited in the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia.


In a letter of 10 November 1950, the firm of Harcourt, Brace kindly confirmed that their printings were made "from a similar, if not the same, set of plates," as the Faber and Faber edition, the London printing being the earlier.


Here, as elsewhere, I am indebted to Mr. Donald C. Gallup of the Yale University Library for special information.


A misprint in the program not noticed by Eliot.


The program read "it".


The program read "man,".


The omission of the umlaut doubtless arose through an attempt to correct its misplacement in (A).


The fact that Eliot silently passed over the double quotes in the program-text need not be taken too seriously, since it would seem that only the asterisked variants were specifically pointed out to him. See also line 28 in which a misprint was unnoticed.