Thomas Stearns Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born to a very distinguished New England family on
September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Henry Ware, was a very
successful businessman and his mother, Charlotte Stearns Eliot, was a poetess.

His paternal grandfather established and presided over Washington University.

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While visiting Great Britain in 1915, World War I started and Eliot took up a
permanent residency there. In 1927, he became a British citizen. While living in
Britain, Eliot met and married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and at first everything was
wonderful between them. Then he found out that Vivienne was very ill, both
physically and mentally. In 1930, Vivienne had a mental breakdown and was
confined to a mental hospital until her death in 1947. Her death was very hard
on Eliot and he died on January 4, 1965. Most of Eliots works were produced
from the emotional difficulties from his marriage. Because of Eliots economic
status, he attended only the finest schools while growing up. He attended Smith
Academy in St. Louis and Milton Academy in Massachusetts. In 1906, he started
his freshman year at Harvard University studying philosophy and literature. He
received his bachelors degree in philosophy in only three years. Eliot went
on to study at the University of Oxford and also at the Sorbonne in Judice 2
Paris. At the Sorbonne, he found inspiration from writers such as Dante and
Shakespeare and also from ancient literature, modern philosophy and Eastern
mysticism. T. S. Eliots first poem was The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
written in 1915. It is widely recognized as one of Eliots most brilliant
poems. J. C. C. Mays claims that, “It is one of his most approachable poems
since it structurally takes fewer risks than some of his later poems. The tone
of effort and futility of effort is central in Eliots poems” (Mays 111).

Another poem, The Waste Land was written in 1922 and it contrasts modern society
with societies of the past. “The assumption of the mythical method is that
our culture and language once had a pervasive meaningfulness which has been lost
in our increasingly rational and discontinuous society, but by recovering the
lost myth from within our culture, poets can restore mythic unity to
literature” (Leavell 146). Eliot converted his religion to Anglo –
Catholicism and in 1927, his poetry took on new spiritual meaning. Ash Wednesday
was the first poem he wrote after his conversion. It was written in 1930. It is
said that it traces the pattern of Eliots spiritual progress. It strives to
make connections between the earthly and the eternal, the word of man and the
Word of God and the emphasis is on the struggle toward belief. “Eliot
develops independently and begins immediately in all of his works. Ash Wednesday
takes place in a world which is all meaningless, and yet is a plea directed
toward the infinite, toward a realm that is ultimately unknowable” (Leavell
152). Judice 3 In the poem, A Song for Simeon, a man sees the Incarnation after
his birth. After seeing this, the man wishes only for death because he feels now
that he is free from sin. In this poem, Eliot used images of Jesus life such
as: the crucifixion, Roman soldiers, and Judas betrayal of Jesus. I think
Eliot used these images because of how important Jesus life and death are to
everyone in the Christian faith. “A Song for Simeon is an essentially
interior monologue with the repetition of his prayer for peace, oblivion, and
death” (Brooker 101). Other poems Eliot has written are: Portrait of a Lady
(1915), Mr. Apollinax (1916), Sweeny Among the Nightingales (1918), and Four
Quartets (1943) which he believed to be his greatest achievement. Eliot also
wrote the play “Murder in the Cathedral” (1935). It was about the
murder of Thomas Becket and was later turned into a film in 1952. Other plays
written by Eliot are: “The Family Reunion” (1939), “The Cocktail
Party” (1949), “The Confidential Clerk” (1953), and “The
Elder Statesman” (1959). “Thomas Stearns Eliot has been considered by
many to be the leading American poet of this century. His poem The Waste Land is
a summation of the disillusion and fragmentation that was felt by so many people
following the first World War. It contained many poetic techniques that changed
the face of modern poetry” (Costa 96). Eliot is considered one of the
greatest poets and equally one of the greatest critics to ever live even though
many were put off by his personality. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948
and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

Brooker, Jewel Spears. Words in Time: New Essays on Eliots Four Quartets.

London: Athlone, 1993. Costa, Marco. The Norton Anthology of American
Literature. Fourth edition volume 2. Norton Company Inc. 1994. Leavell, Linda.

T.S. Eliot: Essays from the Southern Review. Oxford: Claredon, 1988. Mays, J. C.

C. “Early Poems: From Prufrock to Gerontion.” The
Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot. Ed. A. David Moody. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,
1994. 108 – 120. 1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Copyright 1996 Grolier
Interactive, Inc.


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