Friday, January 4, 2013

A Poet For His Times - T.S. Eliot

He was considered one of the most compelling poets of his time, if not one of the most important poets of the Twentieth Century.

T.S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888 in St. Louis to Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte Champe Stearns Eliot.  He was a sickly child and spent much of his time reading. He began writing poetry when he was fourteen. His first poem, A Fable For Feasters, was published in the Smith Academy Record in February 1905.  That same year, his poem Song was published, along with three short stories.

Harvard Writeup
Ezra Pound
Eliot attended Harvard from 1906 to 1909, graduated, and worked for a year as a philosophy assistant.  He then spent a year in Paris, returning to Harvard in 1911 to study Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. In 1914, he left on a traveling scholarship to Europe, just as WW I began.  He began attending Oxford that autumn.  Eliot loved London and met several influential people there, including Ezra Pound who promoted Eliot at literary events and gatherings.  Pound called Eliot a poet “worth watching.”

Vivienne Haigh-Wood
Vivienne Eliot
In June 1915, Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a dancer, in London.  The marriage was unhappy, partially due to Vivienne’s health issues and the fact she spent most of her time away, trying to recuperate.  In 1933, Eliot arranged a legal separation from Vivienne.  In 1938, she was committed to the Northumberland House Mental Hospital where she died in 1947. 

Eliot later said that one of his most famous poems, The Waste Land, published in 1922, was the result of his negative state of mind while married to Vivienne. The poem sought to juxtapose beauty and ugliness with monotony and horror.

The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock was the poem that made him famous.  Written in 1910, it was published in 1915 by Poetry magazine.  Composed in the style of the Modernist movement, the poem is written in a stream of consciousness style, allowing the reader into the mind of J. Arthur Prufrock as he searches for love.  The Times Literary Supplement reviewed it in 1917 but did not give it high marks.

Plaque Outside of Firm
Eliot & Farber Staff
In 1925, Eliot joined the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, which later became Faber and Faber.  In later years he became a director of the firm.  He worked there until his death.

Eliot loved living in London, and at the age of 39, became a British citizen. That same year, 1927, he also converted from the Unitarianism religion and entered the Anglican Church of England.  His writing took on a religious bent from this time on.

Eliot was also known for his poems, Gerontion, The Hollow Men, and Ash Wednesday, along with seven plays.  In 1948, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for what he viewed as his masterpiece, Four Quartets, written in 1943.

In 1949, King George VI bestowed upon him the Order of Merit, one of England’s highest awards.

Eliot received many other awards including a Tony Award in 1950 for Best Play, The Cocktail Party, the Legion d’Honneur in 1951, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, and two posthumous Tony Awards, in 1983, for his poems used in the musical Cats.

Eliot and wife Valerie
In January 1957, Eliot married Valerie Fletcher, his private secretary, and finished out his life in a more tranquil, domestic relationship.

Plaque in Church
T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot died on January 4, 1965 of emphysema.  He was 76.  Eliot was cremated and his ashes interred in the church at St Michael’s in East Coker, England. East Coker was the village that his ancestors had left to go to America. A plaque hangs on the church wall with a quote from the Four Quartets: “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning."

~ Joy


  1. You may be intereste in the fact that he is to be joined in East Coker by the remains of his wife, Valerie, who died only last month. Also that Eliot is commemorated in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey.

    Anyone who is now encouraged to discover more about TS Eliot and his works is invited to visit our website at The TS Eliot Society UK, where there is a wealth of links and resources for enthusiasts and scholars.

  2. Congratulations Joy! I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. For the rules and my 11 questions for you, please visit my blog post at: