Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's

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T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Biographical Information

Main Works

Featured Works: The Waste Land


Selected Quotations


Biographical Information

  • Thomas 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 Freedom.

  • Influenced 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.

  • Studied literature, Western and Eastern philosophies, Sanskrit.

  • Eliot's 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.

  • Friendship 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).

  • Joined the Anglican Church in 1927 and thereafter wrote works with Anglo-Catholic Christian ideas.

  • Born 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.

  • 1906-1909 attended Harvard University.

  • 1910-1911, visit to France; studied in Paris at the Sorbonne.

  • 1911-1914, attended Harvard again; worked toward a PhD which he never completed because of the outbreak of World War I.

  • 1914, met Ezra Pound; began work on The Waste Land.

  • 1915, 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.

  • 1917, published Prufrock and other Observations; also published the essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (theory of the impersonality of artistic creation).

  • 1917-1919, assistant editor of The Egoist.

  • 1917-1925, clerk at Lloyds Bank in London.

  • 1920, published volume of essays, The Sacred Wood, which includes "Hamlet and his Problems" (theory of the objective correlative).

  • 1922, publication of The Waste Land.

  • 1922-1939, founder and editor of The Criterion.

  • 1927, joined the Anglican Church and began writing works with Christian overtones; also became a British citizen.

  • 1930, published Ash Wednesday (1930).

  • 1932, taught one term as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard.

  • 1935, published Murder in the Cathedral (1935).

  • 1938, Eliot's wife, Vivien, committed to an insane asylum until her death in 1947.

  • 1939, 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.

  • 1943, published what some critics consider his most accomplished work, Four Quartets.

  • 1948, awarded the English Order of Merit and also the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • 1957, married Valerie Fletcher.

  • 1964, Awarded U.S. Medal of Freedom.

  • 1965, 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.

Main Works

The 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.

Portrait 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.

The 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.

Ash 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.

Murder 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.

Four 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.


  • Victorian 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.

  • World 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.

  • Irving Babbitt (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.

  • George 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."

  • F. 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.

  • Ezra 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.

Selected Quotations

  • to come


  • to come


Dr. Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Matthew Peckham in the creation of this page


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