Biography:Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888. He lived in St. Louis during the first eighteen years of his life and attended Harvard University. In 1910, he left the United States for the Sorbonne in France. After a year in Paris, he returned to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, but returned to Europe and settled in England in 1914. The following year, he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and began working in London, first as a teacher, and later for Lloyd’s Bank. (Poets)

It was in London that Eliot came under the influence of his contemporary Ezra Pound(where his nickname 'Old Possum' comes from), who recognized his poetic genius at once, and assisted him. He published his first poetic masterpiece, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," in 1915 in Poetry. His first book of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917, and immediately established him as a leading poet of the avant-garde. With the publication of The Waste Land in 1922, now considered by many to be the single most influential poetic work of the twentieth century, Eliot’s reputation began to grow to nearly mythic proportions; by 1930, and for the next thirty years, he was the most dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world. (Poets)

Sad Fact

He became a British citizen in 1927. After a notoriously unhappy first marriage, Eliot separated from his first wife in 1933, and remarried Valerie Fletcher in 1956. T. S. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. He died of emphysema in London on Janurary 4, 1965. (Poets)

Important Ideas:In 1945 Eliot wrote: "A poet must take as his material his own language as it is actually spoken around him." Correlatively, the duty of the poet, as Eliot emphasized in a 1943 lecture, "is only indirectly to the people: his direct duty is to his language, first to preserve, and second to extend and improve." Thus he dismisses the so-called "social function" of poetry. The only "method," Eliot once wrote, is "to be very intelligent." As a result, his poetry "has all the advantages of a highly critical habit of mind," writes A. Alvarez; "there is a coolness in the midst of involvement; he uses texts exactly for his own purpose; he is not carried away. Hence the completeness and inviolability of the poems. What he does in them can be taken no further.... [One gets] the impression that anything he turned his attention to he would perform with equal distinction." Alvarez believes that "the strength of Eliot's intelligence lies in its training; it is the product of a perfectly orthodox academic education." (Poetryfoundation)

In 1922, his status was confirmed by the publication of The Waste Land. Appearing as it did in the same year as James Joyce’s Ulysses, the 434-line poem helped mark 1922 as a magical year in high modernism. Allusive, musical, and formally and linguistically complex, The Waste Land both diagnosed the chaos of modernity and provided an example of how art could order this experience; it expressed a widespread feeling of exhaustion and cultural crisis in the aftermath of the First World War. Like Ulysses, it mimicked and mined the different voices of urban life to create a bewildering and complex polyphony, and like Joyce’s novel it used recursive patterning and mythic parallels to provide some semblance of organic harmony.

How He Spread his Ideas: Eliot spread his ideas through writing. With the publication of the volume Prufrock and Other Observations by The Egoist Press in 1917, Eliot was heralded as the most important of modern poets. He also became the most influential critical voice of the movement, arguing for example that, in modern civilization, "the poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language to his meaning."

  • Comments by his contemporaries and peers:
  • When T. S. Eliot died, wrote Robert Giroux, "the world became a lesser place."
  • Eliot was revered by Igor Stravinsky "not only as a great sorcerer of words but as the very key keeper of the language."
  • For Alfred Kazin he was "the mana known as 'T. S. Eliot,' the model poet of our time, the most cited poet and incarnation of literary correctness in the English-speaking world."
  • "In effect," writes Herbert Howarth, "Eliot demonstrated that a poet's business is not just reporting feeling, but extending feeling, and creating a shape to convey it."
  • Eliot's poetry is a process of "living by thought," says Rajan, "of seeking to find peace 'through a satisfaction of the whole being.' It is singular in its realization of passion through intelligence. It is driven by a scepticism which resolutely asks the question but refuses to stop short at it, by a sensibility sharply aware of 'the disorder, the futility, the meaninglessness, the mystery of life and suffering.' If it attains a world of belief or a conviction of order, that conviction is won against the attacking strength of doubt and remains always subject to its corrosive power. Not all of us share Eliot's faith. But all of us can accept the poetry because nearly every line of it was written while looking into the eyes of the demon."
  • Northrop Frye simply states: "A thorough knowledge of Eliot is compulsory for anyone interested in contemporary literature. Whether he is liked or disliked is of no importance, but he must be read." (Poetry foundation)

Why Are His Ideas Important : As a poet, he transmuted his affinity for the English metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century (most notably John Donne) and the nineteenth century French symbolist poets (including Baudelaire and Laforgue) into radical innovations in poetic technique and subject matter. His poems in many respects articulated the disillusionment of a younger post–World War I generation with the values and conventions—both literary and social—of the Victorian era. As a critic also, he had an enormous impact on contemporary literary taste, propounding views that, after his conversion to orthodox Christianity in the late thirties, were increasingly based in social and religious conservatism. (Poets)

Everything about his poetry bespeaks high modernism: its use of myth to undergird and order atomized modern experience; its collage-like juxtaposition of different voices, traditions, and discourses; and its focus on form as the carrier of meaning. His critical prose set the aesthetic standards for the New Criticism, and his journal Criterion was one of the primary arbiters of taste throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. (modernism)

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1948 was awarded to T.S. Eliot "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry".

Fun Fact-He was the first person to use the word ‘bullshit’. This was on or around 1910, in a poem titled ‘The Triumph of Bullshit’.

  1. The Bibliography:
  2. "Five Fascinating Facts about T. S. Eliot." Interesting Literature. N.p., 21 June 2016. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
  3. "T. S. Eliot." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
  4. "T. S. Eliot." Academy of American Poets, 02 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
  5. "T.S. Eliot." T.S. Eliot - Modernism Lab Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

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