London - More than 1 000 letters from TS Eliot to his secret "muse" are set to shed light on the poet’s life.
Locked away in a library for more than 60 years, the correspondence will be unveiled for the first time in the US on Friday in what Eliot aficionados have called "the literary event of the decade".
Drama teacher Emily Hale is said by scholars to be the silent figure behind some of Eliot’s greatest poems including 'Burnt Norton', from 'The Four Quartets', and 'Ash Wednesday'.
She donated the 1 131 letters to Princeton University in 1956, where they have remained in a sealed container under strict orders that they must not be opened until 50 years after her death or Eliot’s, whoever survived the other. Eliot died in 1965 and Hale in 1969.
Eliot, who once inscribed an early transcript of Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats 'for Miss Emily Hale’, had ordered her letters to him to be burned. Excited scholars hope the trove will offer important new insights into his life and complex relationship with Hale.
She had hopes of marrying him after his first wife Vivienne died but once told a friend: "He loves me... but apparently not in the way usual to men less gifted, ie with complete love thro’ a married relationship."
US-born Eliot and Hale first met when they both took part in an amateur dramatics evening in America in 1912, when he was a 24-year-old philosophy student at Harvard and she was 21.
He moved to study at Oxford in 1914, but they rekindled their relationship in 1927. By then, his disastrous marriage to Vivienne had begun and he had found fame with The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land.
Hale and Eliot exchanged letters for about 25 years, beginning in 1930. Experts were finally able to open the 14 boxes containing his letters following the 50th anniversary of her death last October.
The letters, along with accompanying photos, clippings and other ephemera, were then catalogued but their contents have not been publicly revealed previously.
They will not be made available online but scholars from around the world are expected to travel to Princeton to study them.
Anthony Cuda, an Eliot scholar and director of the TS Eliot International Summer School, said: "I think it’s perhaps the literary event of the decade. I don’t know of anything more awaited or significant."
He said Eliot and Hale’s relationship "must have been incredibly important and their correspondence must have been remarkably intimate for him to be so concerned about the publication".
Daniel Linke, from Princeton’s Firestone Library, said: "It will be the special collections equivalent of a stampede at a rock concert."