Thomas Stearns Eliot
(September 26, 1888–January
4, 1965) was an American poet, playwright, and literary critic,
arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th
century. His first notable publication, The Love Song of J.
, begun in February 1910 and published in Chicago
in June 1915, is regarded as a masterpiece of the modernist
movement. It was followed by some of the
best-known poems in the English language, including Gerontion
(1920), The Waste Land
(1922), The Hollow Men
(1925), Ash Wednesday
(1930), Old Possum's Book of
(1939), and Four Quartets
(1945). He is also known
for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral
and The Cocktail Party
(1949). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature
Order of Merit
born in Saint Louis,
Missouri, and was educated at Harvard University. After graduating in 1909, he studied
philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris for a year, then won a scholarship to
Oxford in 1914, becoming a British citizen when he was
"[M]y poetry has obviously more in common with my
distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written
in my generation in England," he said of his nationality and its
role in his work. "It wouldn't be what it is, and I imagine it
wouldn't be so good ... if I'd been born in England, and it
wouldn't be what it is if I'd stayed in America. It's a combination
of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes
Early life and education
born into the Eliot family, originally
England, who had moved to St. Louis, Missouri.
His father, Henry Ware Eliot
(1843–1919), was a
successful businessman, president and treasurer of the
Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis. His mother, Charlotte Champe Stearns
(1843–1929), wrote poems and was a social worker. Eliot was the
last of six surviving children; his parents were both 44 years old
when he was born. His four sisters were between 11 and 19 years
older than him; his brother was eight years older. Known to family
and friends as Tom, he was the namesake of his maternal grandfather
to 1905, Eliot attended Smith Academy, where he studied Latin, Ancient Greek, French, and
He began to write poetry when he was 14 under the
influence of Edward Fitzgerald
Rubaiyat of Omar
, a translation of the poetry of Omar Khayyam
, though he said the results were
gloomy and despairing, and he destroyed them. The first poem that he
showed anyone was written as a school exercise when he was 15, and
was published in the Smith Academy Record, and later in
The Harvard Advocate,
University's student magazine.
graduation, he attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts for a preparatory year, where he met Scofield Thayer, who would later publish
The Waste Land.
He studied philosophy at Harvard
from 1906 to 1909, earning his bachelor's degree
after three years,
instead of the usual four. Frank
writes that the most important moment of Eliot's
undergraduate career was in 1908, when he discovered Arthur Symons
's The Symbolist Movement in
(1899). This introduced him to Jules Laforgue
, Arthur Rimbaud
, and Paul Verlaine
, and without Verlaine, Eliot
wrote, he might never have heard of Tristan Corbière
. He wrote that the
book affected the course of his life. The Harvard Advocate
published some of his poems, and he became lifelong friends with
, the American
as a philosophy assistant at Harvard from 1909–1910, then from
1910–1911, he lived in Paris, studying philosophy at the Sorbonne, where he attended lectures by Henri Bergson and read poetry with Alain-Fournier.
he was back at Harvard studying Indian philosophy and Sanskrit
. He was awarded a scholarship to Merton
College, Oxford in 1914. He visited Marburg in Germany
first, where he planned to take a summer program, but when the
First World War broke out, he went
to Oxford instead.
There were so many American students at
Merton at the time that the Junior
proposed a motion "that this society abhors the
Americanization of Oxford," defeated by two votes after Eliot
reminded the students how much they owed American culture. But he
didn't settle at Merton, and left after a year. He wrote to Conrad
Aiken on New Year's Eve 1914: "I hate university towns and
university people, who are the same everywhere, with pregnant
wives, sprawling children, many books and hideous pictures on the
walls ... Oxford is very pretty, but I don't like to be dead." By
1916, he had completed a PhD dissertion for Harvard on
Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F.H.
, about F.H. Bradley
but he failed to return for the
In a letter to Aiken late in December 1914, Eliot, aged 26, wrote,
"I am very dependent upon women (I mean female society)," and then
added a complaint that he was still a virgin. Less than four months
later, Thayer introduced Eliot to Vivienne Haigh-Wood
, a Cambridge
governess. They were married at Hampstead Register Office on June
short, unaccompanied visit to his family in the United States, he
returned to London and took several teaching jobs such as lecturing
College, University of
The philosopher Bertrand Russell
took an interest in
Eliot's wife while the newlyweds stayed in his flat. Some scholars
have suggested that she and Russell had an affair, but the
allegations were never confirmed. In a private paper written in his
sixties, Eliot confessed: "I came to persuade myself that I was in
love with Vivienne simply because I wanted to burn my boats and
commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself
(also under the influence of [Ezra] Pound) that she would save the
poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no
happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came
The Waste Land
." Their relationship was the subject of a
1984 play Tom and Viv
, which in
1994 was made into a film.
Teaching, Lloyds, Faber and Faber
leaving Merton, Eliot worked as a schoolteacher, most notably at
School, a private school in London, where he taught French
and Latin—his students included the young John Betjeman—and later at the Royal
Grammar School, High Wycombe a state school in Buckinghamshire.
extra money, he wrote book reviews and lectured at evening
extension courses. In 1917, he took a position at Lloyds Bank
in London, working on foreign
accounts. On a trip to Paris in August 1920, he met the writer
and artist Wyndham Lewis
. Eliot said he found Joyce
arrogant—Joyce doubted Eliot's ability as a poet at the time—but
the two soon became friends, with Eliot's visiting Joyce whenever
he was in Paris. In 1925, he left Lloyds to join the publishing
firm Faber and Gwyer
, later Faber and Faber
, where he remained for the
rest of his career, eventually becoming a director. Wyndham Lewis
and Eliot became close friends, a friendship leading to Lewis's
well-known painting of Eliot in 1938 (see lead image, above).
Conversion to Anglicanism and British citizenship
On June 29, 1927 Eliot converted to Anglicanism
, and in November that year took
became a warden
of his parish church,
Saint Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London, and a life member of the
Society of King
Charles the Martyr
Separation and remarriage
By 1932, Eliot had been contemplating a separation from his wife
for some time. When Harvard offered him the Charles Eliot Norton
the 1932-1933 academic year, he accepted and left Vivienne in
England. Upon his return, he arranged for a formal separation from
her, avoiding all but one meeting with her between his leaving for
America in 1932 and her death in 1947. Vivien was committed
to the Northumberland House mental hospital, Stoke
Newington, in 1938,
and remained there until she died.
Although Eliot was still
her husband, he never visited her.
From 1946 to 1957, Eliot shared a flat with his friend John Davy Hayward
, who gathered and
archived Eliot's papers, styling himself "Keeper of the Eliot
Archive". Hayward also collected Eliot's pre-Prufrock verse,
commercially published after Eliot's death as Poems Written in
. When Eliot and Hayward separated their
household in 1957, Hayward retained his collection of Eliot's
papers, which he bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge in 1965.
Eliot's second marriage was happy. On January 10, 1957, he married
Esmé Valerie Fletcher
years younger than him. In contrast to his first marriage, Eliot
knew Fletcher well, as she had been his secretary at Faber and Faber
since August 1949. They kept
their wedding secret; the ceremony was held in a church at 6.15
a.m. with virtually no one in attendance other than his wife's
parents. Since Eliot's death, Valerie has dedicated her time to
preserving his legacy; she has edited and annotated The Letters
of T. S. Eliot
and a facsimile of the draft
of The Waste Land
In the early 1960s, by then in failing health, he served as an
editorial consultant to the Wesleyan University Press
Connecticut, seeking out new poets in Europe for publication.
Eliot died of emphysema
in London on
January 4, 1965. For many years he had had health problems owing to
his heavy smoking, and had often been laid low with bronchitis
. His body was cremated at Golders
Green Crematorium. According to Eliot's wishes, the ashes were
taken to St Michael's Church in East Coker, the village from which his ancestors had emigrated
There, a simple wall plaque commemorates him
with a quotation from his poem "East Coker": "In my beginning is my
end. In my end is my beginning." On the second anniversary of his death,
he was commemorated by the installation of a large stone in the
floor of Poets'
Corner in London's Westminster Abbey.
The stone is inscribed with his dates, his
Order of Merit
, and a
quotation from his poem, "Little Gidding": "the communication / Of
the dead is tongued with fire beyond / the language of the
For a poet of his stature, Eliot produced a relatively small amount
of poetry. He was aware of this early in his career. He wrote to J.
H. Woods, one of his former Harvard professors, that, "My
reputation in London is built upon one small volume of verse, and
is kept up by printing two or three more poems in a year. The only
thing that matters is that these should be perfect in their kind,
so that each should be an event."
Typically, Eliot first published his poems individually in
periodicals or in small books or pamphlets, and then collected them
in books. His first collection was Prufrock and Other
(1917). In 1920, he published more poems in
Ara Vos Prec
(London) and Poems: 1920
These had the same poems (in a different order) except that "Ode"
in the British edition was replaced with "Hysteria" in the American
edition. In 1925, he collected The Waste Land
poems in Prufrock
into one volume and
added The Hollow Men
to form Poems: 1909–1925
From then on, he updated this work as Collected Poems
Exceptions are Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
a collection of light verse; Poems Written in Early Youth
posthumously published in 1967 and consisting mainly of poems
published 1907–1910 in The Harvard Advocate
Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917
Eliot never intended to have published, which appeared posthumously
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
In 1915 Ezra Pound
, overseas editor of
recommended to Harriet Monroe
magazine's founder, that she publish "The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock". Although the character Prufrock seems to be middle-aged,
Eliot wrote most of the poem when he was only 22. Its now-famous
opening lines, comparing the evening sky to "a patient etherised
upon a table," were considered shocking and offensive, especially
at a time when the poetry of the Georgians
was hailed for its derivations of the 19th century Romantic Poets
. The poem follows the conscious
experience of a man, Prufrock (relayed in the "stream of consciousness
form characteristic of the Modernists
lamenting his physical and intellectual inertia, the lost
opportunities in his life and lack of spiritual progress, with the
recurrent theme of carnal love unattained. Critical opinion is
divided as to whether the narrator leaves his residence during the
course of the narration. The locations described can be interpreted
either as actual physical experiences, mental recollections, or
even as symbolic images from the sub-conscious mind, as, for
example, in the refrain "In the room the women come and go." The
poem's structure was heavily influenced by Eliot's extensive
reading of Dante Alighieri
, in the
Italian, and refers to a number of literary works, including
and those of the French
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,And time yet for a hundred
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
Its reception in London can be gauged from an unsigned review in
The Times Literary
on June 21, 1917: "The fact that these things
occurred to the mind of Mr Eliot is surely of the very smallest
importance to anyone, even to himself. They certainly have no
relation to poetry
The Waste Land
In October 1922 Eliot published The Waste Land
. It was
composed during a period of personal difficulty for Eliot—his
marriage was failing, and both he and Vivien were suffering from
nervous disorders. The poem is often read as a representation of
the disillusionment of the post-war generation. That year Eliot lived
Switzerland to take a treatment and to convalesce from a
There he wrote the final section, "What the
Thunder Said," which contains frequent references to mountains.
Before the poem's publication as a book in December 1922, Eliot
distanced himself from its vision of despair. On November 15, 1922,
he wrote to Richard Aldington
saying, "As for The Waste Land
, that is a thing of the
past so far as I am concerned and I am now feeling toward a new
form and style." The poem is known for its obscure nature—its
slippage between satire and prophecy; its abrupt changes of
speaker, location, and time; its elegiac but intimidating summoning
up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures.
Despite this, it has become a touchstone of modern literature, a
poetic counterpart to a novel published in the same year, James Joyce
. Among its best-known phrases
are "April is the cruellest month", "I will show you fear in a
handful of dust"; and "Shantih
shantih," the Sanskrit word that ends the poem.
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The Hollow Men
The Hollow Men
appeared in 1925. For the critic Edmund Wilson
, it marked "the nadir of the
phase of despair and desolation given such effective expression in
The Waste Land
." It is Eliot's major poem of the late
twenties. Similar to other work, its themes are overlapping and
fragmentary: post-war Europe under the Treaty of Versailles
despised: compare Gerontion
); the difficulty of hope and
religious conversion; and Eliot's failed marriage.
perceived a shift in Eliot's
method, writing that, "The mythologies disappear altogether in
The Hollow Men
." This is a striking claim for a poem as
indebted to Dante
as anything else
in Eliot’s early work, to say little of the modern English
mythology—the ‘Old Guy [Fawkes]’ of the Gunpowder Plot
—or the colonial and
mythos of Joseph Conrad
and James George Frazer
, which, at least for
reasons of textual history, echo in The Waste Land
"continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity" that is
so characteristic of his mythical method remained in fine form.
The Hollow Men
contains some of Eliot's most famous lines,
most notably its conclusion:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
is the first long poem written by Eliot
after his 1927 conversion to Anglicanism
. Published in 1930
, it deals with the struggle that
ensues when one who has lacked faith acquires it. Sometimes
referred to as Eliot's "conversion poem," it is richly but
ambiguously allusive, and deals with the aspiration to move from
spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation, inspired by
. The style is
different from the poetry that predates his conversion. Ash
and the poems that followed had a more casual,
melodic, and contemplative method.
Many critics were particularly enthusiastic about it. Edwin Muir
maintained that it is one of the most
moving poems Eliot wrote, and perhaps the "most perfect," though it
was not well-received by everyone. The poem's groundwork of
orthodox Christianity discomfited many of the more secular
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
In 1930, he published a book of light
, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Possum" being Ezra Pound's nickname for him. This first edition had
an illustration of the author on the cover. In 1954, the composer
set six of the poems
for speaker and orchestra, in a work entitled Practical
. After Eliot's death, it became the basis of the musical,
, by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!
Eliot regarded Four Quartets
as his masterpiece, and it is
the work that led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature
consists of four long poems, each first published separately:
Burnt Norton (1936),
Coker (1940), Dry
Salvages (1941) and Little
Each has five sections. Although
they resist easy characterisation, each begins with a rumination on
the geographical location of its title, and each meditates on the
nature of time in some important respect—theological
, physical—and its relation to the
human condition. Each poem is associated with one of the four
: air, earth,
water, and fire.
asks what it
means to consider things that might have been. We see the shell of
an abandoned house, and Eliot toys with the idea that all these
merely possible realities are present together, invisible to us.
All the possible ways people might walk across a courtyard add up
to a vast dance we can't see; children who aren't there are hiding
in the bushes.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
East Coker continues the examination of time and meaning,
focusing in a famous passage on the nature of language and
Out of darkness, Eliot offers a solution: "I said to
my soul, be still, and wait without hope".
The Dry Salvages
the element of water, via images of river and sea. It strives to
contain opposites: "... the past and future/Are conquered, and
of fire) is the most anthologized of the Quartets. Eliot's
experiences as an air raid warden in The
power the poem, and he imagines meeting Dante
during the German bombing. The beginning of the
Quartets ("Houses .../Are removed, destroyed") had become a violent
everyday experience; this creates an animation, where for the first
time he talks of Love as the driving force behind all experience.
From this background, the Quartets end with an affirmation of
Julian of Norwich
: "all shall be
well and/All manner of thing shall be well".
The Four Quartets
cannot be understood without reference
thought, traditions, and
history. Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language
of such figures as Dante, and mystics St. John of the Cross
and Julian of Norwich
. The "deeper communion"
sought in East Coker
, the "hints and whispers of children,
the sickness that must grow worse in order to find healing," and
the exploration which inevitably leads us home all point to the
pilgrim's path along the road of sanctification
With the important exception of his magnum opus Four Quartets
directed much of his creative energies after Ash Wednesday
to writing plays in verse, mostly comedies or plays with redemptive
endings. He was long a critic and admirer of Elizabethan
verse drama; witness his allusions to Webster
and Thomas Kyd
. In a 1933 lecture he said: "Every poet would like,
I fancy, to be able to think that he had some direct social
utility. ... He would like to be something of a popular
entertainer, and be able to think his own thoughts behind a tragic
or a comic mask. He would like to convey the pleasures of poetry,
not only to a larger audience, but to larger groups of people
collectively; and the theatre is the best place in which to do
After The Waste Land
(1922), he wrote that he was "now
feeling toward a new form and style." One project he had in mind
was writing a play in verse with a jazz
featuring Sweeney, a character who had appeared in a number of his
poems. Eliot did not finish it. He did publish separately two
pieces of what he had written. The two, Fragment of a
(1926) and Fragment of an Agon
published together in 1932 as Sweeney Agonistes
Eliot noted that this was not intended to be a one-act play, it is
sometimes performed as one.
play by Eliot called The Rock was performed in 1934 for
the benefit for churches in the Diocese of London.
Much of it was a collaborative effort;
Eliot accepted credit only for the authorship of one scene and the
choruses. George Bell
Bishop of Chichester
, had been
instrumental in connecting Eliot with producer E. Martin
for the production of The Rock
, and later asked
Eliot to write another play for the Canterbury Festival
in 1935. This one,
Murder in the Cathedral
, concerning the death of the
martyr, Thomas Becket
, was more under
Eliot's control. After this, he worked on commercial plays for more
general audiences: The Family Reunion
(1949), The Confidential Clerk
and The Elder Statesman
(1958). The Broadway production in New York of The Cocktail Party received the 1950
Tony Award for Best Play.
Eliot also made significant contributions to the field of literary
criticism, strongly influencing the school of New Criticism
. While somewhat self-deprecating
and minimizing of his work—he once said his criticism was merely a
“by-product” of his “private poetry-workshop”—Eliot is considered
by some to be one of the greatest literary critics of the 20th
century. The critic William Empson
once said, "I do not know for certain how much of my own mind
[Eliot] invented, let alone how much of it is a reaction against
him or indeed a consequence of misreading him. He is a very
penetrating influence, perhaps not unlike the east wind."
In his critical essay “Tradition and the Individual
,” Eliot argues that art must be understood not in a
vacuum, but in the context of previous pieces of art: “In a
peculiar sense [an artist or poet] ... must inevitably be judged by
the standards of the past.” This essay was one of the most
important works of the school of New Criticism. Specifically, it
introduced the idea that the value of one work of art must be
viewed in the context of all previous work, a “simultaneous order”
or works. Also important to New Criticism was the idea—as
articulated in Eliot’s essay "Hamlet and His Problems
posits a connection among the words of the text and events, states
of mind, and experiences. This notion concedes that a poem means
what it says, but suggests that there can be a non-subjective
judgment based on different readers’ different—but perhaps
corollary—interpretations of a work.
More generally, New Critics took a cue from Eliot in regards to his
“‘classical’ ideals and his religious thought; his attention to the
poetry and drama of the early seventeenth century; his deprecation
of the Romantics, especially Shelley; his proposition that good
poems constitute ‘not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from
emotion'; and his insistence that ‘poets…at present must be
Eliot’s essays were a major factor in the revival of interest in
the metaphysical poets
particularly praised the metaphysical poets' ability to show
experience as both psychological and sensual, while at the same
time infusing this portrayal with—in Eliot's view—wit and
uniqueness. Eliot's essay "The Metaphysical Poets," along with
giving new significance and attention to metaphysical poetry,
introduced his now well-known definition of "unified sensibility,"
which is considered by some to mean the same thing as the term
His 1922 poem The Waste Land
—which at the time of its
publication, many critics believed to be a joke or hoax—also can be
better understood in light of his work as a critic. He had argued
that a poet must write “programmatic criticism"; that is, a poet
should write to advance his own interests rather than to advance
“historical scholarship". Viewed from Eliot's critical lens,
The Waste Land
likely shows his personal despair about
World War I
rather than an objective
historical understanding of it.
In 1958, the Archbishop of
appointed Eliot to a commission that produced
The Revised Psalter
(1963). A harsh critic of Eliot's,
, was also a member of the
commission, where their antagonism turned into a friendship.
Response to his poetry and literary criticism
Eliot's poetry was first criticized as not being poetry at all.
Many critics attacked his practice of widespread interweaving of
quotations from other authors into his work. "Notes on the Waste
Land," which follows the poem, gives the source of many of these,
but not all. Eliot defended this as a necessary salvaging of
tradition in an age of fragmentation, and completely integral to
the work, adding richness through unexpected juxtaposition. Other
critics have condemned the practice as showing a lack of
originality, and for plagiarism
prominent critic F. W. Bateson
published an essay called "T. S. Eliot: The Poetry of
Pseudo-Learning". Eliot wrote in The Sacred Wood
"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what
they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at
least something different."
academic Robert Ian Scott pointed out that the title of The
Waste Land and some of the images had previously appeared in
the work of a minor Kentucky poet, Madison Cawein
(1865–1914). Bevis Hillier
compared Cawein's lines "… come and go/Around its ancient portico"
with Eliot's "… come and go/talking of Michelangelo
". (This line actually appears in
Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and not in The
.) Cawein's "Waste Land" had appeared in the January
1913 issue of the Chicago magazine Poetry
(which contained an article by
Ezra Pound on London poets). But scholars are continually finding
new sources for Eliot's Waste Land
, often in odd
Many famous fellow writers and critics have paid tribute to Eliot.
According to poet Ted Hughes
, "Each year
Eliot's presence reasserts itself at a deeper level, to an audience
that is surprised to find itself more chastened, more astonished,
more humble." Hugh Kenner
has been the most gifted and influential literary critic
in English in the twentieth
century." However, other writers have not supported this view. In
one of his criticisms, Samuel Beckett
suggests that Eliot's work belongs in what the reverse of "T.
thought Eliot's literary criticism
"superficial and unscholarly". In a 1935 letter to a mutual friend
of theirs, Paul Elmer More
wrote that he considered the work of Eliot to be "a very great
evil." In a 1943 letter to Eliot, Lewis expressed both admiration
along with antagonism toward his views when he wrote: "I hope the
fact that I find myself often contradicting you in print gives no
offence; it is a kind of tribute to you—whenever I fall foul of
some widespread contemporary view about literature I always seem to
find that you have expressed it most clearly. One aims at the
officers first in meeting an attack!"
Charges of anti-Semitism
Eliot was charged with anti-Semitism
for his depictions of Jews
in his poems.
contains a depiction of a landlord referred to
only as the "jew [who] squats on the window sill." Another
much-quoted example is the poem, Burbank with a Baedeker:
Bleistein with a Cigar
, in which a character in the poem
implicitly blames the Jews for the decline of Venice: "The rats are
underneath the piles/ The Jew is underneath the lot." In A Cooking
Egg, Eliot writes, "The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From
Kentish Town and Golder's Green" (Golders Green is a largely Jewish suburb of London).
the other hand, commentators note that the publisher of
was John Rodker
, himself Jewish. Additionally, Eliot
mailed a draft of Gerontion
to his friend Sidney Schiff
, also a Jew, for pre-publication
editing and commentary. A third "anti-Semitic" poem, Sweeney
Among the Nightingales
, was published by Eliot's Jewish friend
. None of these men
considered the poems anti-Semitic.
Eliot wrote a letter to the Daily Mail
in January 1932,
congratulating the newspaper for a series of laudatory articles on
the rise of Benito Mussolini
in a series of lectures delivered at the University of Virginia in
1933, later published under the title After Strange Gods: A
Primer of Modern Heresy
(1934), he said, regarding a
homogeneity of culture, "What is still more important is unity of
religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to
make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable." He later
disavowed the book, and refused to allow any part of it to be
reprinted. In The Idea of a Christian Society
writes, "totalitarianism can retain the terms 'freedom' and
'democracy' and give them its own meaning: and its right to them is
not so easily disproved as minds inflamed by passion
the first protests against Eliot on the subject of anti-Semitism
came in the form of a poem from the Anglo-Jewish writer and poet
Emanuel Litvinoff, read out during
an inaugural poetry reading for the Institute of
Contemporary Arts in 1951, attended by Eliot.
Only a few years
after the Holocaust
, Eliot had republished
lines originally written in the 1920s about "money in furs" and the
"protozoic slime" of Bleistein's "lustreless, protrusive eye" in
his Selected Poems
of 1948, angering Litvinoff. Litvinoff
read out his poem, entitled "To T. S. Eliot," to a packed but
silent room, ending with the lines, "Let your words/tread lightly
on this earth of Europe/lest my people's bones protest".
There was an absolute shocked silence.
When I finished reading it Herbert Read said to me "if I had known that
you were going to read such a poem I would never have allowed it"
and I thought "eh and you're an anarchist?"
Then hell broke loose and I remember particularly
Stephen Spender getting up and
saying "as a poet as Jewish as Litvinoff, I'm outraged by this
unwanted, undeserved attack on my friend T.S.
Eliot" and so on and so forth ...
Apparently Eliot was heard to mutter, he had his head
down leaning on a chair, to his entourage "it's a good
, husband of Virginia Woolf
, who was himself Jewish and a
friend of Eliot's, judged that Eliot was probably "slightly
anti-Semitic in the sort of vague way which is not uncommon. He
would have denied it quite genuinely." In 2003, Professor
Ronald Schuchard of Emory University published details of a previously unknown cache of
letters from Eliot to Horace Kallen,
which reveal that in the early 1940s Eliot was actively helping
Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria to re-settle in Britain
and America. In letters written after the war, Eliot also
voiced support for the state of Israel.
- Order of Merit
(awarded by King George
VI (United Kingdom), 1948)
Prize for Literature "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution
to present-day poetry" (Stockholm, 1948)
- Officier de la Legion d'Honneur
Goethe Prize (Hamburg, 1955)
Medal (Florence, 1959)
- Commandeur de l'ordre
des Arts et des Lettres, (1960)
- Presidential Medal of
- 13 honorary doctorates (including
Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne, and Harvard)
- Tony Award in 1950 for Best Play: The Broadway production of
The Cocktail Party.
- Two posthumous Tony Awards (1983)
for his poems used in the musical Cats
College of the University of Kent, England, named after him
- Celebrated on commemorative
- Has a star on the St. Louis
Walk of Fame
- Christianity & Culture (1939, 1948)
- The Second-Order Mind (1920)
and the Individual Talent (1920)
- The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920)
- Homage to John Dryden (1924)
- Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca (1928)
- For Lancelot Andrewes (1928)
- Dante (1929)
Essays, 1917–1932 (1932)
- The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)
- After Strange Gods (1934)
- Elizabethan Essays (1934)
- Essays Ancient and Modern (1936)
- The Idea of a Christian Society (1940)
- A Choice of
Kipling's Verse (1941) made by Eliot, with an essay on
Rudyard Kipling, London, Faber and
- Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948)
- Poetry and Drama (1951)
- The Three Voices of Poetry (1954)
- The Frontiers of
- On Poetry and Poets (1957)
- To Criticize the Critic (1965)
- The Waste Land: Facsimile Edition (1974)
- Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917
- Collini, Stefan. I cannot go on, The Guardian, November
- Thomas Stearns Eliot, Encyclopaedia
Britannica, accessed November 7, 2009.
- Hall, Donald. The Art of Poetry No. 1, The Paris Review,
Issue 21, Spring-Summer 1959, p. 25, accessed November 7,
- Hall, Donald. The Art of Poetry No. 1, The Paris Review,
Issue 21, Spring-Summer 1959, accessed November 7, 2009.
- Kermode, Frank. Introduction to The Waste Land and Other
Poems, Penguin Classics, 2003.
- Perl, Jeffry M. and Andrew P. Tuck. "The Hidden Advantage of Tradition: On the Significance of
T. S. Eliot's Indic Studies", Philosophy East &
West V. 35 No. 2, April 1985, pp. 116–131.
- Seymour-Jones, Carole.
Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S.
Eliot, Knopf Publishing Group, p. 1.
- Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume 1,
1898-192. p. 75.
- Richardson, John,
Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters. Random House, 2001, p.
- Seymour-Jones, Carole. Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne
Eliot. Knopf Publishing Group, 2001, p. 17.
- Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume 1,
1898-192, p. xvii.
Richard. James Joyce. pp. 492–495
- plaque on interior wall of Saint Stephen's
- obituary notice in Church and King, Vol. XVII, No. 4,
February 28, 1965, p. 3.
- Seymour-Jones, Carole. Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne
Eliot. Constable 2001, p. 561.
Lyndall. T. S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life. Norton 1998,
- Gordon, Jane. The University of Verse, The New York
Times, October 16, 2005.
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Letters of T. S. Eliot, vol. I. Valerie Eliot, ed. New York:
Harcourt Brace, 1988, p. 285.
- Eliot, T.S. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,
Bartleby.com, accessed November 7, 2009.
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1916, citing the Times Literary Supplement June 21, 1917,
no. 805, 299; Wagner, Erica (2001) "An eruption of fury", The Guardian,
letters to the editor, September 4, 2001. Wagner omits the word
"very" from the quote.
- Wraight, John. The Swiss and the British. Michael
Russell Publishing, 1987.
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Edmund. "Review of Ash Wednesday," New Republic,
August 20, 1930.
- See, for instance, the biographically oriented work of one of
Eliot's editors and major critics, Ronald Schuchard.
- Grant, Michael (ed.). T. S. Eliot: the Critical
Heritage. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
- " 'Ulysses', Order, and Myth", Selected Essays T. S.
Eliot (orig 1923).
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Poetry. Hartcourt Brace, 1950, pp. 395-396.
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November 7, 2009.
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Criticism, Harvard University Press, 1933 (penultimate
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Extended Edition), Harcourt, Brace & World, New York,
- quoted in Roger Kimball, "A Craving for Reality," The New
Criterion Vol. 18, 1999
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Criticism." A Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry, Neil
Roberts, ed. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2001. p.
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Poetry", College English, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Nov., 1953), pp.
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in English, 1999. p. 13
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T. S. Eliot's work", lecture to the conference Order and
Liberty in the American Tradition, July 28–August 3, 2004,
Oxford University, accessed November 7, 2009.
- Knowlson, J., Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel
Beckett (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p 217
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Was T.S. Eliot a Scoundrel?,
Commentary magazine, November 1996; Anthony, Julius.
T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form. 1996.
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312, 324; Woolf, Leonard. Beginning Again: An
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Study of His Writings by Several Hands. p. 140.
Russell. "T. S. Eliot on Literary Morals: On T. S. Eliot's
After Strange Gods", Touchstone
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Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc., 1940.
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