8vo., pp. 40; heavy buff wrappers lettered in black on cover; very slight soiling to wrappers and tiny chips to head and tail of spine, otherwise a fine copy of a fragile item, with the original ‘Egoist Subscription Form’ laid in.
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First edition. One of 500 copies printed. In 1917 the Egoist Press offered – at the price of one shilling – what the advertisement described as ‘a small book of Poems’ by Mr. T. S. Eliot, with the intriguing (if obscure) title, Prufrock and Other Observations. ‘And there’, wrote critic Christopher Ricks, ‘at the head of the book, was the poem that heads modern, not just Modernist, poetry: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Eliot had leapt into possession of his means and of his ends.’
Eliot had conceived the poem in 1910, when he was twenty-one, and had drafted it in the summer of 1911. In 1914, Ezra Pound, who was only gradually becoming Eliot's friend and whose poetry Eliot did not – at this stage – think much of, was elated by Eliot’s verse. Pound wrote to Harriet Monroe, the editor of the magazine Poetry:
‘I was jolly well right about Eliot. He has sent in the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American. PRAY GOD IT BE NOT A SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS. He has taken it back to get it ready for the press and you shall have it in a few days. ‘He is the only American I know of who has made what I can call adequate preparation for writing. He has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.’
The following year, the poem appeared in Poetry. Two years after that, it launched Prufrock and Other Observations. ‘The rest’, concludes Ricks, ‘is history’.
Quotations taken from Atlantic Monthly, April 2001.