T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), American-British poet and literary critic, author of Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) won numerous awards and honours in his lifetime, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. His early and experimental poetical works depict a bleak and barren soullessness, often in spare yet finely crafted modern verse;
LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
--from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
Another of his famous and oft-quoted works, The Waste Land (1922) deals with dark and haunting themes of individual consciousness and spiritual desolation against the decline of civilisation. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness comes to mind as Eliot innovatively rejects traditional Romantic ideals through allusion and symbolism. From the first line "April is the cruellest month.." to the last "Shantih shantih shantih" we can intuit the dramatic scope and evolution of Eliot's own life in the Biblical, cultural, historical, and literary references that helped shape one of the 20th century's most profound figures in literature.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born 26 September 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Charlotte Stearns and Henry Ware Eliot. He attended Harvard University before studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, earning a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature. In 1914 he settled in England and worked as a schoolmaster and eventually met and became friends with many popular writers of the time including Ezra Pound. In 1915 he married Vivien Haigh Wood (they would separate in 1933). Around the time he was working with Lloyds Bank of London he also started editing the Egoist (1917–1919). Soon after he was publishing his own quarterly literary journal Criterion which would become one of the most acclaimed publications of the genre.
In 1925, busy working with the publishing house Faber and Faber he also continued to write many poems and essays. In 1927 he entered the Anglican church and became a British subject. He also wrote many plays including The Rock: A Pageant Play (1934); Murder in the Cathedral (1935); The Family Reunion (1939); The Cocktail Party (1950); The Confidential Clerk (1954); and The Elder Statesman (1959). In 1957 he married Valerie Fletcher. Collections of his plays include; Poems (1920); Poems 1909-1925 (1925); Ash Wednesday (1930); Four Quartets (1935–42); On Poetry and Poets (1957); Collected Poems 1909-1962 (1963).
Eliot's vast collection of critical works include; The Sacred Wood (1920); For Lancelot Andrewes (1928); Selected Essays, 1917–32 (1932); The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933); After Strange Gods (1934); Elizabethan Essays (1934); Essays Ancient and Modern (1936); and Notes towards a Definition of Culture (1948).
Thomas Stearns Eliot died on 4 January 1965, his ashes interred at the Parish Church of Saint Michael in East Coker, Somerset, England from whence his ancestors came. There is a memorial to Eliot in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, London, England, his epitaph reading; "The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living"
"In my beginning is my end. ..In my end is my beginning."--from Four Quartets, "East Coker"
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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