poem index

About this poet

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, 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 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. His major later poetry collections 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 remarried Valerie Fletcher in 1956. T. S. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. He died in London on Janurary 4, 1965.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems (1962)
The Complete Poems and Plays (1952)
Four Quartets
(1943)

Burnt Norton (1941)
The Dry Salvages
(1941)
East Coker (1940)
Ash Wednesday (1930)
Poems, 1909–1925 (1925)
The Waste Land (1922)
Poems (1919)
Prufrock and Other Observations
(1917)

Prose

Religious Drama: Mediaeval and Modern (1954)
The Three Voices of Poetry (1954)
Poetry and Drama (1951)
Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1949)
The Classics and The Man of Letters (1942)
The Idea of a Christian Society (1940)
Essays Ancient and Modern (1936)
Elizabethan Essays (1934)
The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)
After Strange Gods (1933)
John Dryden (1932)
Thoughts After Lambeth (1931)
Tradition and Experimentation in Present-Day Literature (1929)
Dante (1929)
For Lancelot Andrews (1928)
Andrew Marvell (1922)
The Sacred Wood (1920)

Drama

The Elder Statesman (1958)
The Confidential Clerk (1953)
The Cocktail Party (1950)
The Family Reunion (1939)
Murder in the Cathedral (1935)
The Rock (1934)
Sweeney Agonistes (1932)
 


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Hysteria

T. S. Eliot, 1888 - 1965

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: "If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden..." I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

This poem is in the public domain.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

Born in Missouri on September 26, 1888, T. S. Eliot is the author of The Waste Land, which is now considered by many to be the most influential poetic work of the twentieth century.

by this poet

poem

              O quam te memorem virgo

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—	
Lean on a garden urn—	
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—	
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—	
Fling them to the ground and turn	     
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:	
But weave, weave
poem
Twelve o'clock.	
Along the reaches of the street	
Held in a lunar synthesis,	
Whispering lunar incantations	
Dissolve the floors of memory	        
And all its clear relations,	
Its divisions and precisions.	
Every street lamp that I pass	
Beats like a fatalistic drum,	
And through the spaces of the dark
poem

     S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo