Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

‘The Ghost of Emily Hale Replies to T. S. Eliot’: a poem by Nicola Healey

The Ghost of Emily Hale Replies to T. S. Eliot

‘I see myself as a blood-sucker’
– T. S. Eliot, in a letter to Emily Hale (2 August 1934)

Our posthumous letters to the world hang on
curious computers everywhere, like Twitter statements.
I was requested to write mine by Princeton
when I gave them all your letters. It was only fair
my voice was heard, since all my letters to you,
you had burned.

It is hard to hear you say I was not in love with Emily Hale.
Can one sword of a line do battle with over
1,000 ardent letters? Bright scholars will, I suspect,
make up their own minds.

For seventeen years
I was the confidante by letters of all which was pent up
in your gifted, emotional, groping personality.

You led me to believe we would marry.

Emily Hale would have killed the poet in me, you insist,
but we both know I light your masterpiece,
though I am not there. Remember
when we walked to Burnt Norton?
‘Burnt Norton’, as you always said,
was your ‘love poem’ for me.

You needed me most, it transpires,
at a distance – to keep you, and the poet, alive.

Your odd, cold statement is killing
your keenest fans, not just for how you
diminish me, but in doing so, you’ve dimmed the poetry.
It feels like you are revising history.

You say you had begun to observe
I was not a lover of poetry, that I was not much interested
in your poetry. Was it necessary to add
you perceived insensitiveness and bad taste in me?
It is ironic, as your missive is insensitive and in bad taste.
People are saying mine is a model of grace.
You offer too much ugly detail, too many
defensive excuses. It lacks the poet’s restraint.

I understand your letter had the eyes
of your second wife in mind. But does the present
dissolve the past, as if it were a mirage?
What about your words:
time past is perhaps present in time future,
and all time is unredeemable.

It is best I never saw your letter in life;
it may have altered mine. I wanted
for biographers of the future to see the truth,
not ‘through a glass darkly’, but ‘face to fac

You used me as a vampire would, my prime.

You say your love for me was the love of a ghost for a ghost,
and your letters those of a hallucinated man.

The memory of the years when we were most together
and so happy are mine always.

Note: Aside from the ‘Burnt Norton’ quotation (Four Quartets), the italicised lines paraphrase or quote directly from Emily Hale’s statement reviewing their relationship, held at Princeton University Library, and T. S. Eliot’s, held at Houghton Library, Harvard University, both of which were made public in 2020, when Hale’s letters from Eliot, sealed for 50 years after her death, were opened.