Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in 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, having earned
both undergraduate and masters degrees and having contributed several poems to
the Harvard Advocate.
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.
It was in London that Eliot came under the influence of his contemporary
Ezra Pound, who recognized his poetic
genius at once, and assisted in the publication of his work in a number of
magazines, most notably "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in
Poetry in 1915. 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.
As a poet, he transmuted his affinity for the English metaphysical poets of
the 17th century (most notably John Donne) and the 19th 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
conventionsboth literary and socialof 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. His major later poems
include Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1943); his books
of literary and social criticism include The Sacred Wood (1920), The
Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), After Strange Gods
(1934), and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1940). Eliot was
also an important playwright, whose verse dramas include Murder in the
Cathedral, The Family Reunion, and The Cocktail Party.
He became a British citizen in 1927; long associated with the publishing
house of Faber & Faber, he published many younger poets, and eventually
became director of the firm. After a notoriously unhappy first marriage, Eliot
separated from his first wife in 1933, and was remarried, to Valerie Fletcher,
in 1956. T. S. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, and died
in London in 1965.