T.S. Eliot Reads His Modernist Masterpieces “The Waste Land” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Did you know T.S. Eliot’s por­ten­tous and heav­i­ly allu­sive 1922 mas­ter­piece “The Waste Land” was orig­i­nal­ly titled “He Do the Police in Dif­fer­ent Voic­es,” a quote from Charles Dick­ens’ Our Mutu­al Friend? Filled with ref­er­ences to Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Dark­ness, and James Frazier’s The Gold­en Bough, this most famous of high mod­ernist poems—scourge of mil­lions of col­lege fresh­man each year—was a very dif­fer­ent ani­mal before noto­ri­ous mod­ernist impre­sario Ezra Pound got his hands on it. Pound’s heavy rework­ing is respon­si­ble for the poem you hear above, read by Eliot him­self. The first image in the video shows Pound’s mar­gin­al anno­ta­tions.

In the video above lis­ten to Eliot read his sec­ond-most famous work, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” with the text of the poem chore­o­graphed by Wor­dook­ie, an open-source ver­sion of Wor­dle.  “Prufrock,” first pub­lished in 1915, is as dense with lit­er­ary allu­sions as “The Waste Land” (and thus as painful for the aver­age under­grad­u­ate). And if Eliot’s reedy alto doesn’t deliv­er “Prufrock“ ‘s grav­i­tas for you, lis­ten to Antho­ny Hop­kins read it here.

You can find these poems cat­a­logued in our col­lec­tion of 700 Free Audio Books and 800 Free eBooks.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare 1959 Audio: Flan­nery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Rare Record­ing: Leo Tol­stoy Reads From His Last Major Work in Four Lan­guages, 1909

Nabokov Reads Loli­ta, Names the Great Books of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

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Comments (24)
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  • Shelley says:

    I nev­er knew Tol­stoy’s voice was record­ed!

    These small out­posts of cul­ture are a wel­come shel­ter from the cur­rent hor­rors of unreg­u­lat­ed semi-auto­mat­ic gun­fire.


  • Dave says:

    I remem­ber play­ing the Prufrock record­ing for my 12th grade class and it absolute­ly destroyed any momen­tum we had going in class. Such a great poem, such a drab read­ing. Alas

  • Any­one who is now encour­aged to dis­cov­er more about TS Eliot and his works is invit­ed to vis­it the web­site of The TS Eliot Soci­ety UK, which con­tains a wealth of links and resources for enthu­si­asts and schol­ars.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Excel­lent resource. Thanks for post­ing!

  • Bob Lane says:

    Brings back won­der­ful mem­o­ries. I was an engi­neer­ing stu­dent in Texas many years ago when, because we were study­ing Eliot in fresh­man com­po­si­tion and because Eliot was read­ing at SMU, I went to hear him. The read­ing was in a quon­set hut on cam­pus and as Eliot read “The Hol­low Men” it start­ed to rain. Eliot’s voice plus the rain on the steel roof com­bi­need to pro­duce an extra-ordi­nary expe­ri­ence.

    With­in a fort­night I had con­vert­ed from engi­neer­ing to math and lat­er to Eng­lish.
    As it turned out that was Eliot’s last trip to the USA.

  • Just a fur­ther com­ment — this record­ing is NOT the com­plete poem, but only the first sec­tion, enti­tled The Bur­ial of The Dead.

    The Waste Land is a much longer poem, in five sec­tions.

  • I like when he says
    I am no prophet and here is no great mat­ter
    I have seen the moment of my great­ness flick­er
    And I have seen the Eter­nal Foot­man hold my coat and snick­er

  • Tom says:

    Rare is the poet whose read­ings of their poet­ry are as good as the poems that came from their pens­es.

  • Tom says:

    @ Bob Lane, I envy your mem­o­ry.

  • The mas­ter reads his mas­ter­pieces …

  • Peggy Matteliano says:

    I think this is Ezra Pound read­ing Eliot’s waste Land, not Eliot read­ing.

  • Tim Shey says:

    I thought Eliot’s “Four Quar­tets” was his mas­ter­piece.

  • Renny Klein says:

    Dis­cov­ered you today. As I lis­ten to TSE I can almost cry with joy. How can I thank you? Your con­tri­bu­tion to home bound seniors is a gift that can­not be mea­sured. Bless­ings.
    Ren­ny Klein

  • Connie says:

    I did not even know record­ings of T.S. Eliot exist­ed. This is a trea­sure indeed.

  • Helene Orsanic says:

    The poet­ic beau­ty, the genre, the intel­li­gene and cre­ativ­i­ty is food for the soul. He cap­tures the essence of the human con­di­tion.

  • Chris Cook says:

    thank you so much for pro­vid­ing this,it is such a joy and plea­sure to lis­ten to these great trea­sures.

  • Bernard Wenker says:

    Can any­one iden­ti­fy all the read­ers of the poem?

  • Helen Valine says:

    Tru­ly a plea­sure to lis­ten to this poem! Can’t help recall­ing Tol­stoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illich.” ” Was it worth it.…”?
    Many thanks for includ­ing this poem.

  • Babar says:

    I trea­sure this expe­ri­ence. Thank you from Bangladesh.

  • MiCanuck says:

    Ye Gods, this is a pon­der­ous read­ing; beyond drea­ry. There’s no human voice to wake me. It’s like Prufrock is attend­ing his own funer­al. But, when I’ve read the poem, the words leap off the page. Prufrock isn’t sup­posed to be DEAD YET! He’s trapped in silent tur­moil. Eliot just sounds like he took too many val­i­um. All dirge, all the time, with a nau­se­at­ing monot­o­ne.

  • Simon Peters says:

    Peg­gy, I think you are wrong about that. It is Eliot.

  • Mike says:

    Is the sec­ond male voice Ted Hugh­es read­ing?

  • Joy says:

    Won­der­ful food for the brain dur­ing Coro­n­avirus lock­down. Thank you

  • C Van says:

    Every year I stum­ble by this video and lis­ten to the por­tion of Waste Land offered here. Amaz­ing expe­ri­ence dur­ing this covid-19 2nd wave in Ontario, Cana­da

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