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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Arena: TS Eliot – Cows, unpublished poem, revealed

The god-daughter of TS Eliot has revealed for the first time an unpublished poem by the writer, regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

Susanna Smithson, daughter of Frank Morley, one of Eliot's fellow directors at Faber and Faber, uncovered the poem entitled Cows for the BBC Two's Arena: TS Eliot film, due to transmit today (Saturday 6 June) at 9.45pm as part of the BBC Poetry Season.

Susanna, who is also a dedicatee of the world famous Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats, told Arena about her special relationship with the poet and playwright who lived with her family during the Thirties.

"We had this family news magazine that we produced every year between the family members. We all had to contribute something, quite a lot of effort and blood and sweat and tears went into it, I can tell you. But in the family news for 1938 is a poem from Tom which he wrote, which, as far as I know, has never been published anywhere else."

"The amusing part to me is that he actually submitted it in 1937, the year before, and my brother, my older brother, Donald, who at the age of about 10, I think, was editor of the family news that year, he said, 'no, I've got too much material this year, it will have to wait!'"

"So Tom was turned down, probably for the only time in his life I should think, and it was published the following year."

In 1932 Eliot moved into a small cottage next to the Morley family to seek refuge from his then wife Vivienne, who was suffering with mental illness.

Susanna told Arena: "He didn't want to be with Vivienne and she was very anxious that he should be so it was a way of avoiding her I am afraid."

"He was at my christening because he was my godfather and he and [his first wife] Vivienne came to that, in, I think, August of 1932. And I think that was the last time that they were actually seen together as a couple."

"He was like a big brother to us... We were pretty well always outside in the garden and he would come and join in with whatever there was. He would play cricket with the boys."

"I was able to talk to him as my godfather and he would listen to what I had to say. I don't think our ideas coincided necessarily because, even at that point in my life, I was beginning to question the doctrines of the Church of England. Whereas he was very much entrenched in them, but he would listen to me and as a child in the 1940s, not very many grown-ups listened to you."

Notes to Editors

If any of the above information is used Arena: TS Eliot transmitting on BBC Two on Saturday 6 June 2009 at 9.45pm must be credited.


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