Thomas Stearns Eliot, often referred to as T. S. Eliot, was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. He was born into a prominent Boston Brahmin family, known for their dedication to education, community service, and religion. His father, Henry Ware Eliot, was a prosperous businessman and the president of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis, while his mother, Charlotte Champe Stearns, was a poet and social worker. Sadly, his father passed away in 1919, followed by his mother in 1929.
Coming from a privileged background, T. S. Eliot had access to excellent education opportunities. He began his education at private institutions, including Milton Academy in Massachusetts and Smith Academy in St. Louis. His early education covered subjects such as French, German, Latin, and Ancient Greek. At the age of fourteen, he wrote his first poem, influenced by the book "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" in 1905. This marked the beginning of his journey as a poet, with his first published poem appearing in the Smith Academy Record in the same year.
He later attended Harvard College, where he studied Comparative Literature and completed his undergraduate degree in three years, graduating in 1909. He also earned a master's degree in philosophy in the same year. During his time at Harvard, he was greatly inspired by the philosopher and poet George Santayana. In 1914, he received a scholarship from Harvard, which allowed him to study in Germany. However, the outbreak of World War I led him to flee to Merton College, Oxford. It was at Oxford that he formed a lifelong friendship with the renowned American poet Ezra Pound.
Marriage and Tragedy
While studying at Oxford, T. S. Eliot met Vivienne Haigh Wood, whom he married in 1915. However, their marriage was marred by incompatibility, as Eliot had chosen an English bride partly as a pretext to live in England. Vivienne faced significant health issues and had insecurities about her social status, making their marriage a troubled one. The marriage eventually ended in divorce in 1933, and Vivienne passed away in a hospice due to cardiac arrest. Eliot later married his secretary, Esme Valerie Fletcher. His tumultuous first marriage and the bitter experiences associated with it greatly influenced his masterpiece, "The Waste Land."
T. S. Eliot, a renowned poet and critic, passed away on January 4, 1965, due to emphysema in his London residence. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were interred in St. Michael and All Angels' Church in East Coker, the village of his ancestors.
Some Important Facts of His Life
- His contributions to literature earned him various awards in the fields of drama, music, academia, and literature.
- In recognition of his profound influence on poetry, drama, and criticism, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
- He excelled as a poet, critic, and skilled editor.
T. S. Eliot successfully pursued four careers during his lifetime: poetry, teaching, criticism, and editing. He published his first poem at the age of fourteen and continued to write, with his first significant work, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," published in 1905. In 1916, he began teaching at Highgate Junior School and the Royal Grammar School in London while working as a clerk at Lloyd's Bank. He also contributed economic reviews to the bank's monthly magazine. Eliot had a unique literary taste and exceptional poetic skills, and his interactions with prominent literary figures and life experiences contributed to the development of his mature thoughts.
In 1919, he published "Poems," which employed techniques such as interior monologues in blank verse. In 1920, he released "Ara Vos Prec," continuing to gain recognition. However, it was the publication of "The Waste Land" in 1922 that catapulted him to fame. In this work, he skillfully depicted disillusionment, disenchantment, and the post-World War I era.
T. S. Eliot added depth and variety to the world of literature with his mature and intellectual ideas, despite facing life's challenges. His works received international acclaim and were characterized by rich imagery, complex thought, contradictory allusions, and free verse. He departed from the paradigms set by Victorian and Romantic poets and employed stream-of-consciousness techniques to depict the disintegration of life and the mental instability of those who endured the aftermath of the devastating war. Common themes in his poems include loss, death, the interconnectedness of humanity, separation, and modernism.
T.S. Eliot’s Works
T. S. Eliot was a remarkable poet, and some of his best-known works include:
- "The Waste Land"
- "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
- "Before Morning"
- "On a Portrait"
Beyond poetry, he also wrote prose, plays, and non-fiction pieces, including "The Rock," "Murder in the Cathedral," "The Birds of Prey," "The Tale of Whale," "Tradition and the Individual Talent," and "The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism."
T.S. Eliot’s Impact on Future Literature
T. S. Eliot is widely recognized as a prominent modernist writer and critic who achieved fame during his lifetime. His intellectually stimulating works were highly regarded by contemporary poets and audiences. His literary qualities and unique style of expression helped shape the understanding of how society grappled with fragmentation and alienation in the wake of World War I. He effectively portrayed the trauma and horrors of war, its aftermath, and the psychological state of the masses in the modern world. His distinctive writing style and expressive approach have influenced many post-modernist and fellow poets. Even today, writers look to imitate his unique style, considering him a guiding light for writing both prose and poetry.
T.S Eliot’s Famous Quotes
“I journeyed to London, to the time kept City,
Where the River flows, with foreign flotation.
There I was told: we have too many churches,
And too few chop-houses.” (The Rock)
Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return
Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,
The sad intangible who grieve and yearn.” (To Walter de la Mare)
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where St Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stock of nine.” (The Waste Land)