Édouard Roditi


Édouard Roditi (1910–92): American–Jewish poet, critic, biographer, translator and essayist. With a background that was partly Spanish–Portuguese and partly Greek, he attended schools in England, and went up (for a single year, 1927–8) to Balliol College, Oxford. Precocious as both poet and translator, by the age of twelve he had translated into Latin and Greek a good deal of the poetry of Byron; and at fourteen he put Gerard Manley Hopkins into French. His adult works included Prison Within Prison: Three Elegies on Jewish Themes (1941), the prose poems of New and Old Testaments (1983); collections of essays including The Disorderly Poet (1975) and a treatise, De L’Homosexualité (1962); as well as translations into English, German and French. The Times obituary remarked (18 May 1992): ‘In 1926 he was sent to a Swiss clinic, where he set himself the task of translating the French poet Saint-John Perse’s Anabase into English. A little later he discovered that T. S. Eliot was engaged in the same project, and so sent him his version, from which, he claimed, Eliot took up more than a few interpretations. But Eliot also made encouraging comments about some of the boy’s original verse.’

Roditi wrote to the Jewish Quarterly, no. 142 (38: 2, Summer 1991), 72:

I was barely eighteen when I first met Eliot in 1928 because I too had undertaken a translation of Saint-John Perse’s Anabase without knowing that its French author had already granted Eliot the right to translate and publish it in English.

Eliot then proved to be very cordial and almost paternal in his typically reserved manner. After discussing our different interpretations of some of the more cryptic passages in Anabase, Eliot invited me to submit to him some of my own poems. From some of these he was soon able to conclude that I was of Jewish origin and attempting somehow to discover my Jewish identity in a few of my poems. Very kindly, he suggested corrections to these somewhat immature poems and encouraged me to continue submitting my poetry to him for guidance. After a while, he even suggested publishing in The Criterion one of my most overtly Jewish poems – in fact one of the sections of my long elegy entitled ‘The Complaint of Jehuda Abravanel’; but this particular section of my poem had already been accepted for publication either in The Spectator or The Jewish Review. I then submitted a group of shorter poems and Eliot published three of these in The Criterion.

I continued to see Eliot fairly regularly in London between 1928 and 1937 and can testify to the fact that he expressed to me on several occasions after 1933 his horror of the anti-Semitic outrages which were already occurring in Nazi Germany. My personal impression is that, after writing The Waste Land, Eliot had become a much more devout Christian, before writing the so-called ‘Ariel Poems’ and Ash Wednesday. As a Christian he no longer felt or expressed the kind of somewhat immature and snobbish anti-Semitism that can be detected in the earlier poems and letters.

See also Roditi, ‘T. S. Eliot: Persönlichkeit und Werk’, Der Monat 3 (1948), 86–9; ‘Corresponding with Eliot’, London Magazine 28: 5/6 (Aug./Sept. 1988), 33–44.