Works: The Waste Land
Stearns Eliot (1888-1965), American-born writer and thinker
(became a British citizen in 1927); poet, literary critic, editor,
dramatist; prominent figure in the modernist
movement; regarded as one of the most influential poets of the
20th century; received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948;
also awarded the English Order of Merit and the U.S. Medal of
by a variety of thinkers and writers like George Santayana,
Irving Babbitt, F. H. Bradley, the French Symbolist poets (Charles
Baudelaire, Jules Laforgue, Stephane Mallarmé), Dante
Alighieri, and John Donne.
literature, Western and Eastern philosophies, Sanskrit.
s works are often critiques of modern life and the modern condition
as lacking in both vitality and spirituality; concerned with
the growing violence, commercialism, and philistinism of that
life; Eliot's essays were very influential on literary criticism.
and collaboration with the American poet Ezra Pound since 1914;
also associated with the writers and thinkers of the Bloomsbury
Group (Virginia and Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, and others).
the Anglican Church in 1927 and thereafter wrote works with
Anglo-Catholic Christian ideas.
September 26, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri into a highly educated,
literary family of New England origin; Eliot's grandfather,
the Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot (a Unitarian minister), moved
from New England to St. Louis in 1834, was an opponent of slavery,
and became founder of Washington University; Eliot's father
was a businessman and his mother a poet and dramatist.
attended Harvard University.
visit to France; studied in Paris at the Sorbonne.
attended Harvard again; worked toward a PhD which he never completed
because of the outbreak of World War I.
met Ezra Pound; began work on The Waste Land.
published The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (in Chicago
magazine, Poetry), considered the first masterpiece of
Modernism; married Vivien
Haigh-Wood, left the United States and moved permanently to
England; worked for a while teaching French and Latin at the
Highgate School in London.
published Prufrock and other Observations; also published
the essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (theory
of the impersonality of artistic creation).
assistant editor of The Egoist.
clerk at Lloyds Bank in London.
published volume of essays, The Sacred Wood, which includes
"Hamlet and his Problems" (theory of the objective
publication of The Waste Land.
founder and editor of The Criterion.
joined the Anglican Church and began writing works with Christian
overtones; also became a British citizen.
published Ash Wednesday (1930).
taught one term as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry
published Murder in the Cathedral (1935).
Eliot's wife, Vivien, committed to an insane asylum until her
death in 1947.
published book-long essay, The Idea of a Christian Society,
dealing with literature, theology, and philosophy; also published
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats; Andrew Lloyd Webber's
1981 musical, Cats, is loosely based on Eliot's work.
published what some critics consider his most accomplished work,
awarded the English Order of Merit and also the Nobel Prize
married Valerie Fletcher.
Awarded U.S. Medal of Freedom.
died on January 4; ashes sent to East Coker in Somerset, England,
the home of his last British ancestor Andrew Eliot, who moved
to America in 1670.
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
(1915), Dramatic monologue
written during Eliot's undergraduate days at Harvard; exploration,
through the eyes of the poem's narrator, a middle-aged man named J.
Alfred Prufrock, of the morbidity and spiritual decay of society;
Prufrock is more sharply self-aware of the world than those around
him, but is also paralyzed by a sense of nihilism and futility.
of a Lady (1917), poem about the inability of a man and woman
to communicate, due to the stifling conventions of what is seen as
a dying society; both are aware of their isolation, but unable to
escape; the lady, in her loneliness, wants to reach out to the man,
but believes she has nothing left to offer him; the man escapes her
demands by hiding in habits and social conventions.
Waste Land (1922), long poem, in five parts, about the search
for meaning in the midst of the fragmentation, futility, and desolation
of modern life; breaks away from conventional poetic techniques; its
publication was a landmark in the development of modern English poetry.
Wednesday (1930), poem, one of the first by Eliot which celebrates
the peace he apparently discovered in orthodox Christianity; poetic
liturgy and meditation on the mystical relationship with God.
in the Cathedral (1935), drama in verse; subject matter is the
assassination of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket
(1162-1170) who opposed King Henry II's attempt to limit the privileges
of the clergy; in Eliot's play, Thomas is tempted by material reward
but rejects it to honor God, for which he is martyred.
Quartets (1943), lengthy poem considered by many critics to be
Eliot's most important poetic work; extensive exploration of ideas
of time, eternity, mortality, and faith; divided into four sections
or "quartets" named for four different locations; intended
by Eliot to echo, in its construction and exploration of a theme in
each section, a sequence of musical compositions.
Era (1837-1901), historical and cultural period corresponding
to the reign of Queen Victoria of England; marked by growth
of British imperialism and highly repressive, moralistic attitudes.
War I (1914-1918), European war between Central Powers (Germany,
Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria) and the Allies (Great
Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the U.S.); fought over nationalistic
rivalries, chauvinistic patriotisms, as well as the commercial
and industrial interests of growing capitalist powers; killed
millions of people, civilians and soldiers alike, and impoverished
much of the world; also undermined popular faith in social progress
and scientific optimism.
(1865-1933), French and comparative literature teacher at Harvard,
opponent of Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism; very influential
on T. S. Eliot during Eliot's formative years. Eliot was later
critical of Babbit's views.
Santayana (1863-1952), humanist, naturalist, and materialist
philosopher and poet; also important contributor to thinking
in aesthetics and literary criticism; his views influenced Eliot,
in particular his understanding of history as a cyclical and
often tragic and destructive process; Santayana is famous for
the phrase, "Those who are ignorant of history are condemned
to repeat it."
H. Bradley (1846-1924), English idealist philosopher; a
follower of Hegel's notion of the priority of mind over matter;
attacked Utilitarianism and empiricism and maintained that reality
is spiritual; T. S. Eliot wrote his doctoral dissertation on
Bradley; much of Eliot's poetry reflects the impersonality and
intellectuality of Bradley's philosophy.
Pound (1885-1972), American poet, critic, translator, and
editor; very influential and controversial figure in modern
literature; responsible for poetic movement known as Imagism
which stressed clarity, precision, and attention to economy
of language; very strong advocate of Eliot's work, and also
of Yeats, Joyce, Hemingway, Frost, and D. H. Lawrence.
Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Matthew Peckham
in the creation of this page
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