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TS Eliot

T.S. Eliot was an American poet, playwright, and essayist who is one of the most influential figures of twentieth-century literature. His poetry endures as a prime example of Modernism, and his critical essays were pivotal in the progression of literary theory in the twentieth century.

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T.S. Eliot was an American poet, playwright, and essayist who is one of the most influential figures of twentieth-century literature. His poetry endures as a prime example of Modernism, and his critical essays were pivotal in the progression of literary theory in the twentieth century.

T.S. Eliot Biography

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) was a titan of English-language poetry in the twentieth century and is widely considered one of the most influential poets of his time. Born Thomas Stearns Eliot in Missouri, in 1888, Eliot grew up in St. Louis in an influential New England heritage family. Eliot attended preparatory schools in Missouri and Massachusetts, then enrolled in Harvard University upon graduation.

Eliot spent a year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and planned to spend a summer in Germany. The outbreak of World War I, however, altered his plans. Instead, he moved to Oxford, England, where he studied and met Ezra Pound, a fellow American poet, who would have a profound influence on his life and career.

Eliot remained in England, and worked for years as a schoolteacher and then a banker. He got a position as a publisher with the publishing house Faber & Faber, and he remained working there until his retirement. Eliot converted to Anglicanism, a branch of Christianity based in the Church of England, and he obtained British citizenship. Throughout his career, Eliot published poems in magazines and periodicals. He would later publish collections of his poetry.

T.S. Eliot, Old cloth bound books on a shelf, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Eliot's work as a publisher helped launch the careers of many other famous English and American poets, including W.H. Auden.

T.S. Eliot Facts

The first poem that launched Eliot’s career was "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917). The poem’s unusual imagery and unique style shocked and scandalized readers and critics. Years later, Eliot published "The Waste Land" (1922), one of the most often-referenced Modernist poems and widely considered to be the most influential poem of the twentieth century.

In addition to poetry, Eliot also published plays and wrote essays on literature. Eliot’s literary criticism provided the foundation for New Criticism, a literary movement that emphasized the impersonal, textual nature of poems and promoted close reading.

New Criticism was a theoretical literary movement of the mid-1900s that emphasized close reading of poetry and treating poems as self-contained pieces of literature. Much of New Criticism was based on the idea of "impersonal" poetry.

In 1948, T.S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his outstanding contribution to poetry.

T.S. Eliot’s Relationships

Eliot had important relationships, both platonic and romantic, throughout his lifetime. In France, while studying at the Sorbonne, Eliot fell in love with American Emily Hale. He and Hale never married, but their correspondence is immortalized in letters they both donated to Princeton and Harvard Universities. Hale was Eliot’s muse for many of his poems, most notably “Burnt Norton” (1935) which appeared in his collection Four Quartets (1935).

Despite Eliot’s confession of love to Hale, Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915. The marriage was an unhappy one for both; Vivienne struggled with health issues and the two separated in 1933. Vivienne was admitted to a mental hospital in 1938 where she died in 1947. In 1957, Eliot married his long-time secretary from Faber & Faber, Esmé Valerie Fletcher. The two remained married until Eliot’s death.

Ezra Pound, a fellow American poet, was one of the most influential figures in Eliot’s life. Pound’s influence in the world of poetry allowed him to promote Eliot’s early work. Pound also led Eliot around London and introduced him to many important figures in the literary world, and later helped edit his poems. Eliot credits Pound in the dedication of "The Waste Land" for his assistance in editing the lengthy poem.

T.S. Eliot’s Death

In January 1965, Eliot died of emphysema. He was at his home in Kensington where he had lived most of his adult life. Eliot had requested that his ashes be put to rest in Somerset, which was his ancestor’s home.

Works by T.S. Eliot

Despite his fame as a Modernist poet, Eliot published relatively few poems and collections in his lifetime. In later years, he focused on drama —writing plays— and his career as a literary critic through the publication of essays.

T.S. Eliot Poems

Though Eliot published fewer poems than many of his contemporaries, the impact of his poems endures. His first major published poem was "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." It was "The Waste Land," five years later, however, that launched Eliot into the poetic stratosphere. "The Waste Land" was a highly original, quintessentially Modernist poem that utilized symbolic imagery and formalistic techniques.

When he wrote "The Hollow Men," (1925), Eliot was still in his unhappy marriage and had a desolate outlook. Bleaker than "The Waste Land," "The Hollow Men" is the pinnacle of this dark time in his personal life. Following his conversion to Anglicanism, Eliot published "Ash-Wednesday" (1930). The poem is more concerned with spiritual matters and faith than his previous works. Between 1936 and 1942, Eliot published four poems that he would later gather in a collection called Four Quartets (1943) which he considered his finest work.

T.S. Eliot Books and Drama

Eliot published many collections of his poetry throughout the years, including the aforementioned Four Quartets. One of his most enduring works is Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). With this collection, Eliot penned humorous poems about the lives and politics of cats. The book would be adapted into the well-known musical Cats (1981) by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

During his later years, in addition to these poetry collections, Eliot focused on writing plays. Sweeney Agonistes (1934) is a collection of two partial plays, Fragment of a Prologue (1926) and Fragment of an Agon (1927) which were plays written in verse.

T.S. Eliot, Cat in a window, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Eliot's humorous poems about the plight of cats served as the basis for the subsequent 1981 musical and 2019 film

He also published more well-known plays such as Murder in the Cathedral (1935) about the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett and The Cocktail Party (1949) based on Greek playwright Euripide’s tragedy Alcestis (438 BCE).

T.S. Eliot Quotes

Eliot’s poems are filled with endlessly entertaining and enlightening quotes. Some of the best-known quotes from his poems include:

April is the cruellest month.

This is the opening line of the poem "The Waste Land." Oft-quoted, it immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem and subverts expectations by setting this spring month as the cruelest of them all. Eliot uses it to juxtapose the growth and new life of spring with a Europe that had just crumbled due to the First World War.

Though “April is the cruellest month” is one of the most commonly-quoted lines of Eliot’s poetry, that is not the full line! The full opening line reads: “April is the cruellest month, breeding.”

This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.

These are the final two lines of Eliot’s "The Hollow Men." The phrase "not with a bang but a whimper" is commonly used in the English language to refer to something that didn’t meet expectations for grandeur. Eliot posits that the end of the world, an event built up in our minds in significance and style, is actually anticlimactic.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," this quotation shows the speaker’s feelings that he wasted time in his life with repetitive tasks.

T.S. Eliot's Writing Style

Eliot is famous for revolutionizing the poetry of the twentieth century. His background had a profound impact on his poetry: Eliot constantly felt like an outsider and a foreigner. He grew up in a happy American household, but he claimed England as his home. In both places, he felt alien. He studied philosophy and Indic religion, both of which would influence his writing.

Eliot enjoyed metaphysical poetry such as that by John Donne (1572–1631) and French symbolist poetry with its innovative techniques. His own poetry is the quintessential example of Modernist poetry. He rejected Romantic poetry and instead created an innovative personal style that would grant him fame as a Modernist poet.

Modernism is a literary movement that emphasized new approaches to narrative and poetic forms. Commonly accepted to have foundations in the French symbolist movement, Modernist poetry took the poet’s opinions and personal circumstances and infused them into the poems. It was through the poet’s personal expression that Modernist poetry found a universal significance.

He often used stream of consciousness, allegory, juxtaposition, and unusual imagery throughout his poems. He utilized these allegorical references to mythology in order to represent the realities of modern life: "The Waste Land" is a mash-up of the Fisher King, the search for the Holy Grail, and modern British society. Juxtapositions came in Eliot’s references, from British realities to Sanskrit texts.

T.S. Eliot, World War I trenches, StudySmarterEliot's disillusionment after the devastation of the First World War proved foundational in 'The Waste Land' (1922).

Eliot’s often obscured the meaning of his poetry, embedding every line with layers of allusion, reference, and grandiose language. This was an intentional effort to force the English language to fit the chaotic inner monologues of his poetry, most notably seen in "The Waste Land."

While Eliot rejected interpretations of his work as trying to represent a generation’s disillusionment following World War I, his own personal opinions toward the state of the world and his melancholic disposition are on full display in his poetry.

T. S. Eliot - Key takeaways

  • T.S. Eliot was an American poet, playwright, and critical essayist considered one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century for his Modernist poetry and writings on literary theory.

  • Eliot grew up and attended university in the United States but moved to England where he remained for the majority of his adult life.

  • Eliot wrote poetry that defied the conventions of the time and that was based on his personal context and utilized references to both modern society and ancient mythology throughout.

  • “The Waste Land” (1922) is Eliot’s most famous poem and arguably the most influential poem of the twentieth century. Its message of desolation and disillusionment following the First World War is expertly expressed in its 400+ lines full of allegory, allusion, and symbolism.

Frequently Asked Questions about TS Eliot

T.S. Eliot is most famous for his poetry and his literary criticism. With his poem “The Waste Land” (1922), Eliot became one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century. The poem’s longevity is a testament to Eliot’s influence and innovation in the medium.

Eliot wrote many poems throughout his lifetime, though, when compared to his contemporaries, he has fewer published poems. His most famous poems include “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917), “The Waste Land” (1922), and “The Hollow Men” (1925). His collection, Four Quartets (1943) is a collection of four previously published poems and is regarded as some of Eliot’s finest work. 

Eliot’s poetry is of a Modernist style. It included the Modernist conventions of including the personal memories and context of the poet and utilizing innovative styles. Eliot often juxtaposed modern society with ancient fables or myth throughout his poems, as he did in “The Waste Land.”

T.S. Eliot was an American poet, playwright, and essayist. He is considered one of the most influential figures of twentieth-century literature. Eliot was born in America but lived the majority of his adult life in England. He penned poems such as “The Waste Land” that had a massive impact on the literary world. Additionally, his critical essays spurred new movements in literary criticism and are still referred to today as important sources in the field.

Eliot often wrote about the passing of time, like in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” He also wrote poems that emphasized his personal situation and opinions, like the disillusionment and desolation of “The Waste Land.” His later poetry was often considered with spiritual and metaphysical matters, such as “Ash Wednesday.” 

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

T.S. Eliot is considered what type of poet?

T.S. Eliot was born and raised in the United States and lived the majority of his adult life there.

“This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper” are the final two lines of which Eliot poem?

Next

Who is T.S. Eliot?

T.S. Eliot was an American poet, playwright and essayist. He is considered one of the most influential figures of 20th century literature. Eliot was born in America but lived the majority of his adult life in England. He penned poems such as “The Waste Land” that had a massive impact on the literary world. Additionally, his critical essays spurred new movements in literary criticism and are still referred to today as important sources within the field.

What is T.S. Eliot famous for?

T.S. Eliot is most famous for his poetry and his literary criticism. With hsi poem “The Waste Land” (1922), Elioti became one of the most influential poets of the 20th century and the poem’s longevity is a testament to Eliot’s influence and innovation in the medium.

What is 'The Waste Land' (1922)?

'The Waste Land' is a poem by T.S. Eliot, originally published in literary magazines. It was formally published in 1922 and is considered one of the most influential poems of the 20th-century for its innovative style and representation of general disillusionment following the First World War.

What poems did T.S. Eliot write?

Eliot wrote many poems throughout his lifetime, though, when compared to his contemporaries, he has fewer published poems. His most famous poems include 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (1917), 'The Waste Land' (1922), and 'The Hollow Men' (1925). His collection, Four Quartets (1943) is a collection of four previously published poems and is regarded as some of Eliot’s finest works.

T.S. Eliot is considered what type of poet?

Imagist

What themes are present in T.S. Eliot's writing?

Eliot often wrote about the passing of time, like in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.' He also wrote poems that emphasized his personal situation and opinions, like the disillusionment and desolation of 'The Waste Land.' His later poetry was often considered with spiritual and metaphysical matters, such as 'Ash Wednesday.'

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