The poet’s modernist masterpiece gathered fragments of an arduous life, some of which can be traced to a seafront shelter in Margate
In 1921, having taken time off from his job at Lloyds Bank for what would now be called depression, TS Eliot spent three weeks convalescing in Margate. It was the hottest October in years. Every day, he got the tram from the Albemarle Hotel in Cliftonville to the sea front, and, sitting in Nayland Rock shelter, he wrote “some 50 lines” of his poem The Waste Land.
These days, the hotel is a block of flats, and while the shelter is still a shelter, it is at present fenced off. Yet Eliot’s time in Margate, a brief interlude before travelling to a Swiss sanatorium, is preserved in Part III of The Waste Land: “On Margate Sands,” he wrote, “I can connect / Nothing with Nothing. / The broken fingernails of dirty hands.” If this, among the fragmented voices of a poem designed to disorient, directly reflects the poet’s psychological state, it also reflects the enterprise: connecting “Nothing with Nothing”, and stitching together disparate parts of history and literature to make a polyphonic, modern masterpiece.