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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

 

Portrait of a Lady

T. S. Eliot, 1888 - 1965
Thou hast committed—
Fornication: but that was in another country,
And besides, the wench is dead.

                    The Jew of Malta.
I

Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon You have the scene arrange itself—as it will seem to do— With "I have saved this afternoon for you"; And four wax candles in the darkened room, Four rings of light upon the ceiling overhead, An atmosphere of Juliet's tomb Prepared for all the things to be said, or left unsaid. We have been, let us say, to hear the latest Pole Transmit the Preludes, through his hair and fingertips. "So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul Should be resurrected only among friends Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room." —And so the conversation slips Among velleities and carefully caught regrets Through attenuated tones of violins Mingled with remote cornets And begins. "You do not know how much they mean to me, my friends, And how, how rare and strange it is, to find In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends, [For indeed I do not love it...you knew? you are not blind! How keen you are!] To find a friend who has these qualities, Who has, and gives Those qualities upon which friendship lives. How much it means that I say this to you— Without these friendships—life, what cauchemar!" Among the windings of the violins And the ariettes Of cracked cornets Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own, Capricious monotone That is at least one definite "false note." —Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance, Admire the monuments, Discuss the late events, Correct our watches by the public clocks. Then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks. II Now that lilacs are in bloom She has a bowl of lilacs in her room And twists one in his fingers while she talks. "Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know What life is, you who hold it in your hands"; (Slowly twisting the lilac stalks) "You let it flow from you, you let it flow, And youth is cruel, and has no remorse And smiles at situations which it cannot see." I smile, of course, And go on drinking tea. "Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall My buried life, and Paris in the Spring, I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world To be wonderful and youthful, after all." The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune Of a broken violin on an August afternoon: "I am always sure that you understand My feelings, always sure that you feel, Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand. You are invulnerable, you have no Achilles' heel. You will go on, and when you have prevailed You can say: at this point many a one has failed. But what have I, but what have I, my friend, To give you, what can you receive from me? Only the friendship and the sympathy Of one about to reach her journey's end. I shall sit here, serving tea to friends..." I take my hat: how can I make a cowardly amends For what she has said to me? You will see me any morning in the park Reading the comics and the sporting page. Particularly I remark An English countess goes upon the stage. A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance, Another bank defaulter has confessed. I keep my countenance, I remain self-possessed Except when a street piano, mechanical and tired Reiterates some worn-out common song With the smell of hyacinths across the garden Recalling things that other people have desired. Are these ideas right or wrong? III The October night comes down; returning as before Except for a slight sensation of being ill at ease I mount the stairs and turn the handle of the door And feel as if I had mounted on my hands and knees. "And so you are going abroad; and when do you return? But that's a useless question. You hardly know when you are coming back, You will find so much to learn." My smile falls heavily among the bric-à-brac. "Perhaps you can write to me." My self-possession flares up for a second; This is as I had reckoned. "I have been wondering frequently of late (But our beginnings never know our ends!) Why we have not developed into friends." I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark Suddenly, his expression in a glass. My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark. "For everybody said so, all our friends, They all were sure our feelings would relate So closely! I myself can hardly understand. We must leave it now to fate. You will write, at any rate. Perhaps it is not too late. I shall sit here, serving tea to friends." And I must borrow every changing shape To find expression...dance, dance Like a dancing bear, Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape. Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance— Well! and what if she should die some afternoon, Afternoon grey and smoky, evening yellow and rose; Should die and leave me sitting pen in hand With the smoke coming down above the housetops; Doubtful, for a while Not knowing what to feel or if I understand Or whether wise or foolish, tardy or too soon... Would she not have the advantage, after all? This music is successful with a "dying fall" Now that we talk of dying— And should I have the right to smile?

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
Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees	
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,	
The zebra stripes along his jaw	
Swelling to maculate giraffe.	
 
The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,	
Death and the Raven drift above	
And Sweeney guards the horned gate.	
 
Gloomy Orion and the Dog	
Are
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
Webster was much possessed by death	
And saw the skull beneath the skin;	
And breastless creatures under ground	
Leaned backward with a lipless grin.	
 
Daffodil bulbs instead of balls
Stared from the sockets of the eyes!	
He knew that thought clings round dead limbs	
Tightening its lusts and luxuries.	
 
Donne