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On November 4, 1948, T.S. Eliot wins the Nobel Prize in Literature, for his profound effect on the direction of modern poetry.
Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a long-established family. His grandfather had founded Washington University in St. Louis, his father was a businessman, and his mother was involved in local charities. Eliot took an undergraduate degree at Harvard, studied at the Sorbonne, returned to Harvard to learn Sanskrit, and then studied at Oxford. He became lifelong friends with fellow poet Ezra Pound and later moved permanently to England. In 1915, he married Vivian Haigh-Wood, but the marriage was unhappy, partly due to her mental instability. She died in an institution in 1947.
Eliot began working at Lloyd’s Bank in 1917, writing reviews and essays on the side. He founded a critical quarterly, Criterion, and quietly developed a new style of poetry. His first major work, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, was published in 1917 and hailed as the invention of a new kind of poetry. His long, fragmented images and use of blank verse influenced nearly all future poets, as did his masterpiece The Waste Land, published in Criterion and the American review Dial in 1922. While Eliot is best known for revolutionizing modern poetry, his literary criticism and plays were also successful.
Eliot lectured in the United States frequently in the 1930s and 40s, a time when his own worldview was undergoing rapid change as he converted to Christianity. In 1957, he married his assistant, Valerie Fletcher. He died in 1965.
TS Eliot on the Nobel prize: ‘I have never in my life sat at so long a table’
I got back from Stockholm on Monday evening, had three rather busy days, and have just taken a day and a half in bed, sleeping nearly all the time. So I feel a little refreshed, and will put down some notes of the visit while I still remember the course of events. Will you circulate this letter amongst the immediate family, and to Cousin Laura and Cousin Annie?
I was made aware of being a person in the public eye, at La Guardia Field, where a young woman called the Public Relations Officer took charge. My bags went through without any charge for overweight, but this may have been because the plane was only half filled. There were several reporters (it is an exceptional reporter who knows what questions to ask) and two photographers – I had to be taken waving farewell from the steps of the plane the Kauffers and Robert Giroux, who were seeing me off, were allowed as a great favour to come to the plane and look inside it and I was presented to the Captain. At Gander the stewardess (Miss Sullivan, of Chicago) engaged me in conversation during the halt: it seemed that she was very interested to know about Virginia Woolf. I had two seats to myself, so was able to lie down flat, though tightly curled up and in the middle of the night the captain invited me up to sit beside him in his cabin at the controls explained the various dials and levers the navigator and the radio operator showed me what they were doing, and I listened to conversations with weather ships. This helped to pass the time, and I was grateful for the distraction, as one gets very little sleep – I think I really slept, however, for a couple of hours. And at London Airport I was shot through the examinations ahead of everyone else (which is a little embarrassing to one who is not used to it) and sent home in a private car by myself. Thus, that part of the journey was less tiring than it might have been.
I had three days in London to pick up my ticket and pack my dress clothes. Here there was some question as to what to do about the Order of Merit. The ribbon is very long, so that it hung down to the waist: I was sure that was wrong, and it would swing out dangerously when one bowed. I had always seen it worn close to the collar. John rang up a firm which knows all about medals, and they said, cut it to the right length. I sent it round by my secretary to the jewellers who made it, and they said it was against the King’s wishes to cut it. Finally, I rang up the Master of Trinity, in Cambridge, who said, Put a safety pin in it. Then I had an inspiration and got our housekeeper to take a couple of tucks in it, and that worked beautifully.
The publicity on the air journey to Sweden was shared with the Harringay Rangers, a hockey team from London, composed almost entirely of Canadians, chewing very highly scented mint gum. Everything went well until we came down at Gothenburg airport, where I learned from a couple of reporters (who were accompanied of course by two photographers) that on account of fog in Stockholm we should have to go on by train. So I hung about the waiting room with these reporters (who were interviewing me most of the time, and every few minutes a photograph would be taken) until it was announced that we should be given dinner at a local hotel, and then sent to Stockholm by sleeping car (it is a full night’s journey). So I dined at a long table with the Rangers, while the photographers circled about, waiting for good poses and then I was called to the telephone to speak to the Consul General (whom I had met in Stockholm six years ago) who said he would come and take me home with him for a drink, and then deposit me in the train, which was to leave at 10.45. I accepted his invitation with joy, as it enabled me to get away from the Rangers and the reporters.
TS Eliot with Virginia Woolf and his first wife Vivienne in 1932. Photograph: CSU Archive/Everett /Rex
A rather sleepless night in a very tight and warm compartment, which I shared with a very agreeable Swede (I have no idea who he was, but I saw him next evening at the City Hall, covered with medals). The train arrived at 6.30 in the morning: I took a taxi to the Grand Hotel and went to bed. Had I arrived by plane the previous evening, as was expected, I should have been met by a delegation (all of whom were suffering from colds) but those who were going to get up to meet the train only arrived after I had gone to the hotel. I was given a large room with a bath and the best outlook: it was made further welcoming by a large bunch of flowers from my Stockholm publishers. I was just dropping off to sleep when the telephone rang, to announce that Mr. Bo Alander, a young man from the Swedish Foreign Office, was on his way to see me, so I got up again. Mr. Alander proved to be a very amiable and efficient official, who had been appointed to take care of me throughout the ceremonies. He produced a long memorandum or aidememoire of the procedure for the next two days. After he left, the telephone rang pretty often, so there was no more sleep. There was some telephoning with him over a press conference, which was finally fixed for two o’clock but it proved that this was too late for the evening papers, whom I had to see at eleven o’clock. The moment I came down stairs, and indeed almost every time one came down, there were more photographers in waiting. (The Swedes seem to have an insatiable appetite for three things: photographs, autographs, and speeches. One had only to hesitate for a moment at a street corner and some man, woman or child would rush up with a notebook and a fountain pen). I will pass over the press conferences, except to repeat that the reporter of any country is exceptional, when he can ask an intelligent question but they were extremely civil, and did not ask any awkward or political questions. I had to bring my afternoon conference (which took place round a long table in a private room) abruptly to an end at three o’clock to go to dress, as Mr. Alander was to call for me at four. I had just got ready, and my medals adjusted and my top hat moderately smooth, when he arrived.
The other “laureates” Professor Muller of Switzerland (a dull worthy man he seems, wife ditto), Professor Tiselius the Swede, a very charming young man with an agreeable wife) and Professor Blackett of Manchester (to whom I took a strong and definable dislike) were also waiting, and we moved off in separate cars, each with his appointed escort. We were taken into the usual anteroom we waited for the fanfare of trumpets to announce the arrival of Royalty and we then proceeded to take our places on a stage. Imagine a very large Sanders Theatre, with three tiers of galleries, and a powerful band occupying the topmost magnesium lamps of the photographers snapping away the whole time then the National anthem: and from one’s place on the platform one faced the Royal Family, the Court, the Cabinet, and several thousand citizens of Stockholm.
A first edition of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, inscribed to Eliot’s therapist. Photograph: Peter Harrington
The King, owing to age and increasing infirmity, was absent, for the first time since the Nobel Prizes were founded. I was told that he was fairly well, and the day before had been “hunting”: which meant that he sat in a chair in the park, and shot any rabbit that was driven near enough but he can no longer support all the standing that these ceremonies entail. He was replaced by the Crown Prince and the Crown Princess. There was a good deal of music from the band. A long discourse in Swedish, about the affairs of the Nobel Foundation, opened the ceremonies. Then each candidate was presented by his appropriate sponsor: a long speech about him in Swedish, followed by a shorter one in one’s own language. I was the fourth. One rose, advanced, descended some steps, and was handed the diploma and the medal by the Crown Prince, with a few words, and then remounted the platform.
We were then slowly reassembled in our motor cars, with our attendants, and taken from the Concert House to the City Hall. Here Mr. Alander handed me over to the Councillor of the British Embassy, who presented me to the Crown Prince and the members of the Royal Family. I was presented to Princess Ingeborg, whom I was to take in to dinner: with instructions (from Mr. Alander) that I was to keep close by her, so as to be ready for the march in. I was very fortunate in having her – she is about 70 or more, and very jolly – and when the procession was formed, we filed in, between rows of people in full dress and decorations, all bowing and curtsying as we went past. I had on my left the Crown Princess, who is English anyway, and was very agreeable. This took place in an immense hall of golden mosaics between six and seven hundred people dining. At the beginning of the repast Hellstrom, the President of the Swedish Academy, got up onto a kind of pulpit and made a long speech (read from a paper) about the laureates: we were told that at the end we should have to reply, and for this purpose I should come first. I was somewhat worried to know whether I should stand up in my place to speak, or whether I should walk round to the pulpit: I referred the problem to the Crown Princess, who referred it to the Lord Chamberlain on her left, who said that after a fanfare of trumpets my name would be announced, and I should walk round to the pulpit. So, when the coffee had been served, there came the fanfare of trumpets, and I heard my name from a loudspeaker. The distance to walk was considerable: I have never in my life sat at so long a table. I should think it took me three or four minutes to get to the pulpit, being delayed on the way by people wanting to shake hands with me, especially my old friends Bishop and Mrs. Aulen of Strangness. Fortunately, I not only had my speech written out, but had cut it to the right length – it will be published in the proceedings of the Nobel Foundation: it seemed to suit the occasion. After that I took the same course back, and listened peacefully to the other speakers – and to tell the truth, none of them seemed to me to do as well as I did, except for Tiselius, who spoke in Swedish, so that I could not judge.
TS Eliot and his second wife Valerie in London in 1964. Photograph: Romano Cagnoni/Getty
Then we rose from dinner, and deposited the Royal Family on a balcony overlooking the vast lower hall, and took our places on the steps. We were then regaled by a performance by a choir of students and one of the students then made a speech, in English, in our honour. To this speech I had been chosen, by the other laureates who had made the decision in my absence, to reply: so I descended to the microphone. After I had spoken, they sang a few more songs, and then marched out, with banners flying. After that the Royal Family retired, the guests scrambled up for supper, the young people danced and one had only to hang about, sign autograph books, and talk to numerous American students who all came up to me, until midnight. For the Nobel Family give a small party, of not more than a hundred or two guests, to the laureates, which begins at midnight. I was taken there by the Councillor: and there it was necessary to stand about for another couple of hours, in a great din occasioned by too many people in too small a flat, talking every language at once. A Mr. Nobel, a nephew of the founder, made a speech in our honour. Later, somebody hinted to me that our host would probably be pleased if I made a speech in his honour. But by that time I was too far gone I had made two speeches I thought that if any more speeches were to be made, somebody else should make them and I said I couldn’t. So nobody did. I was finally taken away, kindly, by the Naval Attaché of our Embassy and got to bed at three o’clock.
I had to get up the next morning in order to receive my cheque. This meant going to the Nobel Office then proceeding with the Secretary of the Foundation to the Enskilda Bank, where we were received by the Chairman and several Directors, and immediately put against the portrait of the founder of the bank and photographed: it seems that they have always done this to every prize recipient. Eventually, the business of the cheque (for £11,016:8:5d.) was transacted and I went off to a lunch party at the Councillor’s. I was able to rest a bit in the afternoon, before dressing for dinner at the Palace: a small dinner of about 100 persons – chiefly the Royal Family again, the Court, and the Government. It was less formal, but grander: dinner off superb plate, in a room surrounded by Gobelin tapestries: and very much better food! I sat between a Lady in Waiting (very charming old lady, but I never got her name) and some courtier – but it didn’t matter much, because the orchestra played so loud that conversation was fitful. After dinner, we moved about in the drawing room: I had some conversation with Prince Wilhelm (the poet of the family, whom I had met during my visit six years ago) and then with the Crown Prince, who questioned me about the political situation in Britain and America. The Royal Family withdrew at 10 o’clock precisely, which was the signal to everyone to depart: the laureates, and their wives went to the café of the Grand Hotel and drank beer till midnight – I explained to Professor Tiselius the importance of Edward Lear and promised to send him Lear’s Complete Poetical works. Between everything that is recorded, you may understand that there were photographers and people wanting autographs.
Sunday morning, I admit, I spent in sleep and lunched by myself in the hotel. I was fetched at 2.30 by Professor Ragnar Jacobsen, Director of the National Theatre, to attend a performance of The Family Reunion (or Släktmötet). Almost impossible to get up the steps of the theatre, because of people wanting their programmes signed. Jacobsen stood by complacently, while I was hoping that he would rescue me, but all he said was “the King has to do this all the time”. We finally got in. It was a good production, which somehow made the play seem very Swedish and gloomy and emotional the house was full, but whether because the play was successful or merely because people knew I was coming I don’t know and I had to take the curtain with my actresses, and then make a speech, and then be photographed, and then hurry away to dress for a small dinner party of not more than 20 people at the house of my publisher, Kaj Bonnier. This was pleasant and, after the previous two evenings, comparatively cosy. To bed at one, and up in the morning at 6.30 to dress, as my plane left the airport at 9. That was the 13th – St. Lucy’s Day, which is celebrated in Sweden with peculiar ceremonies. While I was shaving, at 6.45, I heard a chorus of young female voices piping a carol in the corridor it came closer my door burst open and six comely young chambermaids, clad in what appeared to be white nightdresses and white stocking feet, with cardboard crowns on their heads with lighted candles in them – looking like walking birthday cakes – marched in singing. I hastily wiped the suds from my face, put on my overcoat over my underclothes, and bowed to them. They continued to sing throughout, so there was nothing to be said but one of them held a tray with a cup of coffee and a few sweet biscuits which she held towards me, so I drank the coffee and ate the biscuit. And just at that moment there was a loud flash: a photographer had been concealed behind the door. Then they marched solemnly out again and I went on with my toilette.
And I caught the plane, thanks to Mr. Alander, who turned up for the last time and drove me to the airport. There was more photography there, of course: I had to be photographed with my arms round two small boys who had been given a prize of some kind which entitled them to a visit to England. But it was a relief to reach Northolt Airport and find that nobody there took the slightest notice of me. And I hope that nobody will for some time to come.
T.S. Eliot, Nobel Prize Winning Writer
As a philosopher, theologian, poet, playwright and essayist working in the early 20th century, T.S. Eliot saw and described the American and European landscape of both World War I and World War II. The writer of such unforgettable poems as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Waste Land” and “The Four Quartets,” Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.
T.S. Eliot’s Early Days
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Henry Ware Eliot, was president of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, and his mother, Charlotte Champe Stearns, was a former teacher, social worker and amateur poet.
Eliot was strongly encouraged to attend Harvard and during his studies of comparative literature there, Eliot fell in love with Arthur Symons’s “The Symbolist Movement in Literature” (1895), which inspired him to become a poet.
Eliot spent a postgraduate year in Paris, where he studied philosophy and wrote poetry. While in France, he decided to apply for a Philosophy Ph.D. from Harvard. Between 1911 and 1914, his studies included comparative methodology of science as well as Oriental religious philosophy. He returned to Europe in 1914 on scholarship to complete his thesis at Oxford.
Once in England, he split his time between attending university and visiting London, where he began to establish himself in various literary circles. A friendship with modernist poet Ezra Pound helped propel Eliot to literary success.
Sources in this Story
Eliot’s Notable Accomplishments
When Ezra Pound was presented with Eliot’s early poems, including “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” he immediately recognized the young writer’s potential and helped get Eliot published in several literary magazines.
Eliot’s poetry reflected themes of disillusionment, darkness and alienation, and was influenced both by 17th-century English metaphysical poets like John Donne, and 19th-century French symbolist poets like Charles Baudelaire.
Eliot wrote poetry, plays and critical essays. “Prufrock and Other Observations” was his first published collection. His famous poem, “The Waste Land,” details a soul’s search for redemption. “The Sacred Wood” is a collection of essays about poetry and criticism. These and other of Eliot’s works can be read on Bartleby.com.
Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. When the prize was presented to him, Anders Österling, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, described Eliot’s work: “[I]t can never be denied that in his period he has been an eminent poser of questions, with a masterly gift for finding the apt wording, both in the language of poetry and in the defense of ideas in essay form.”
T.S. Eliot and his Work
The Rest of the Story
Although Eliot spent the majority of his life with Vivienne Haigh-Wood, whom he married in 1915, he separated from her in 1933. Her persistent emotional and mental instability made the marriage impossible to sustain. In 1938, Vivienne was committed to a mental hospital north of London. Their marriage is the subject of the 1994 film, “Tom and Viv.”
Eliot married Valerie Fletcher in 1956 and experienced the peaceful home life that had eluded him during his first marriage. During the later years of his life, Eliot worked as the director of Faber & Faber, a London publishing house. He continued to write on his own, but ceased writing poetry, focusing instead on plays and literary essays. He died in London on January 4, 1965.
Eliot’s poems have an honored position in academia, but his lighter work grabbed a foothold in popular culture in 1981, when composer Andrew Lloyd Weber adapted Eliot’s collection “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” into the blockbuster musical “Cats.”
This article was originally written by Isabel Cowles it was updated September 26, 2017.
T. S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot, the 1948 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the giants of modern literature, highly distinguished as a poet, literary critic, dramatist, and editor and publisher. In 1910 and 1911, while still a college student, he wrote &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo and other poems that are landmarks in the history of literature. In these college poems, Eliot articulated distinctly modern themes in forms that were both a striking development of and a marked departure from those of 19th-century poetry. Within a few years he had composed another landmark poem, &ldquoGerontion&rdquo (1920), and within a decade, one of the most famous and influential poems of the century, The Waste Land (1922). While the origins of The Waste Land are in part personal, the voices projected are universal. Eliot later denied that he had large cultural problems in mind, but, nevertheless, in The Waste Land he diagnosed the malaise of his generation and indeed of Western civilization in the 20th century. In 1930 he published his next major poem, Ash-Wednesday, written after his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism. Conspicuously different in style and tone from his earlier work, this confessional sequence charts his continued search for order in his personal life and in history. The culmination of this search as well as of Eliot&rsquos poetic writing is his meditation on time and history, the works known collectively as Four Quartets (1943): Burnt Norton (1941), East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941), and Little Gidding (1942).
Eliot was almost as renowned a literary critic as he was a poet. From 1916 through 1921 he contributed approximately one hundred reviews and articles to various periodicals. This early criticism was produced at night under the pressure of supplementing his meager salary&mdashfirst as a teacher, then as a bank clerk&mdashand not, as is sometimes suggested, under the compulsion to rewrite literary history. A product of his critical intelligence and superb training in philosophy and literature, his essays, however hastily written and for whatever motive, had an immediate impact. His ideas quickly solidified into doctrine and became, with the early essays of I.A. Richards, the basis of the New Criticism, one of the most influential schools of literary study in the 20th century. Through half a century of critical writing, Eliot&rsquos concerns remained more or less constant his position regarding those concerns, however, was frequently refined, revised, or, occasionally, reversed. Beginning in the late 1920s, Eliot&rsquos literary criticism was supplemented by religious and social criticism. In these writings, such as The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), he can be seen as a deeply involved and thoughtful Christian poet in the process of making sense of the world between the two World Wars. These writings, sympathetically read, suggest the dilemma of the serious observer of Western culture in the 1930s, and rightly understood, they complement his poetry, plays, and literary journalism.
Eliot is also an important figure in 20th-century drama. He was inclined from the first toward the theater-his early poems are essentially dramatic, and many of his early essays and reviews are on drama or dramatists. By the mid 1920s he was writing a play, Sweeney Agonistes (published in 1932, performed in 1933) in the 1930s he wrote an ecclesiastical pageant, The Rock (performed and published in 1934), and two full-blown plays, Murder in the Cathedral (performed and published in 1935) and The Family Reunion (performed and published in 1939) and in the late 1940s and the 1950s he devoted himself almost exclusively to plays, of which The Cocktail Party (performed in 1949, published in 1950) has been the most popular. His goal, realized only in part, was the revitalization of poetic drama in terms that would be consistent with the modern age. He experimented with language that, though close to contemporary speech, is essentially poetic and thus capable of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual resonance. His work has influenced several important 20th-century playwrights, including W.H. Auden and Harold Pinter. Eliot also made significant contributions as an editor and publisher. From 1922 to 1939 he was the editor of a major intellectual journal, The Criterion, and from 1925 to 1965 he was an editor/director in the publishing house of Faber and Faber. In both capacities he worked behind the scenes to nurture the intellectual and spiritual life of his times.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri he was the second son and seventh child of Charlotte Champe Stearns and Henry Ware Eliot, members of a distinguished Massachusetts family recently transplanted to Missouri. Eliot&rsquos family tree includes settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, prominent clergymen and educators, a president of Harvard University (Charles William Eliot), and three presidents of the United States (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Rutherford B. Hayes). In 1834 the poet&rsquos grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, moved to St. Louis to establish a Unitarian mission. He quickly became a leader in civic development, founding the first Unitarian Church, Washington University (which he served as president), Smith Academy, and Mary Institute.
The Eliot family lived in downtown St. Louis, not far from the Mississippi River, and the poet spent his formative years in a large house (no longer standing) at 2635 Locust Street. His family summered in New England, and in 1897 Henry Ware Eliot built a house near the sea at Gloucester, Massachusetts. The summers in this spacious house on Cape Ann provided the poet with his happiest memories, which he tapped through the years for poems such as &ldquoMarina&rdquo (1930) and The Dry Salvages.
From these few facts, several points emerge as relevant to Eliot&rsquos mind and art. First, feeling that &ldquothe U.S.A. up to a hundred years ago was a family extension&rdquo (as he wrote in a 1928 letter to Herbert Read), Eliot became acutely conscious of history&mdashhis own, that of his family, his country, his civilization, his race&mdashand of the ways in which the past constantly impinges on the present and the present on the future. Second, despite the fact that Eliot was blessed with a happy childhood in a loving family, he was early possessed by a sense of homelessness. In 1928, just after he had changed his religion from Unitarian to Anglican and his citizenship from American to British, he summed up the result of these formative years in Missouri and Massachusetts, describing himself in a letter to Read as &ldquoan American who . was born in the South and went to school in New England as a small boy with a nigger drawl, but who wasn&rsquot a southerner in the South because his people were northerners in a border state . and who so was never anything anywhere.&rdquo As he had written to his brother, Henry, in 1919, a few years after settling in London, &ldquoone remains always a foreigner.&rdquo Third, Eliot had an urban imagination, the shape and content of which came from his childhood experience in St. Louis. In a 1930 letter quoted in an appendix to American Literature and the American Language (1953), he said that &ldquoSt. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has done.&rdquo Several of his signature images&mdashcity streets and city slums, city rivers and city skies&mdashwere etched on his mind in St. Louis. City scenes, even sordid ones, as he suggested in a 1914 letter to Conrad Aiken, helped him to feel alive, alert, and self-conscious.
Eliot was educated at Smith Academy in St. Louis (1898-1905), Milton Academy in Massachusetts (1905-1906), Harvard University (B.A., June 1909 M.A., February 1911 Ph.D. courses, October 1911-May 1914), University of Paris-Sorbonne (October 1910-June 1911), and Merton College, Oxford University (October 1914-May 1915). He devoted a further year (1915-1916) to a doctoral dissertation on the philosophy of F.H. Bradley, eventually published in 1964.
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Eliot emphasized language and literature&mdashLatin, Greek, German, and French. Perhaps the most far-reaching consequence of his undergraduate career was his accidental discovery in December 1908 of Arthur Symons&rsquos Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), a book that he claimed had changed the course of his life. First, Symons introduced him to the poetry of Jules Laforgue and Charles Baudelaire. From Laforgue, Eliot learned how to handle emotion in poetry, through irony and a quality of detachment that enabled him to see himself and his own emotions essentially as objects for analysis. From Baudelaire, he learned how to use the sordid images of the modern city, the material &ldquoat hand,&rdquo in poetry, and of even greater consequence, he learned something of the nature of good and evil in modern life. Second, Symons stimulated Eliot to take a course in French literary criticism from Irving Babbitt in 1910. Babbitt nurtured Eliot&rsquos budding Francophilia, his dislike of Romanticism, and his appreciation of tradition. These tastes are evident in most of Eliot&rsquos early literary criticism.
During the year he spent at the Sorbonne in Paris, Eliot came to know the work of the Roman Catholic philosopher Charles Maurras through the Kouvelle Revue Francaise and, perhaps of greater significance, attended the lectures of Henri Bergson, in the process deepening the reflections on time and consciousness that are explored in the early poetry and receive their most explicit treatment in Four Quartets. Paris was also important in the development of Eliot&rsquos urban imagination. He took advantage of the popular arts, of opera and ballet, and of museums, but most of all he absorbed the images of urban life seen on the back streets along the river Seine. Near the end of his year in Paris, Eliot visited London for the first time, and before returning home, he also visited northern Italy and Munich.
During his time at Harvard, he studied with some of the most distinguished philosophers of the century, including George Santayana, Josiah Royce, and Bertrand Russell. He focused on Indie religion and idealist philosophy (especially Immanuel Kant), with further work in ethics and psychology. The Indie studies (two years of Sanskrit and Indian philosophy) abetted his innate asceticism and provided a more comprehensive context for his understanding of culture. Inevitably, these Eastern materials entered his poetry. The Indian myth of the thunder god, for example, provides the context for section 5 (&ldquoWhat the Thunder Said&rdquo) of The Waste Land, and Buddha&rsquos fire sermon the context for section 3 (&ldquoThe Fire Sermon&rdquo). Eliot&rsquos most fruitful extracurricular activity at Harvard was his association with the college literary magazine, the Harvard Advocate. Several of his earliest poems were published first in this periodical, and at least one of his lifelong friendships, that with fellow poet Aiken, was formed in this nursery of writers and poets.
One of the special pleasures of Eliot&rsquos years in Boston was the close relationship that developed with his cousin Eleanor Hinkley, three years his junior. As a student at Radcliffe College, she had taken George Pierce Baker&rsquos famous &ldquo47 Workshop&rdquo in theater. In 1912, through amateur theatricals at her house, Eliot met Emily Hale, with whom he fell in love and at one time intended to marry. Eliot&rsquos letters to Hinkley are among his most high-spirited, preserving intact his youthful wit and urbanity. His letters to Hale will probably be among his most revealing, but until the year 2020, they remain under seal at Princeton University. Evidently, he never ceased loving her, and in the late 1920s he resumed contact. Their relationship, which seems to have been decorous in all senses of the word, continued for two decades or more, ending before his second marriage in 1957.
Arriving at Oxford in October 1914, Eliot found that most of the British students had left for the Western Front. He had hoped to meet Bradley, a member of Merton, but the old don was by this time a recluse, and they never met. At the end of the academic year, he moved to London and continued working on his dissertation, which he finished a year later. Eliot&rsquos immersion in contemporary philosophy, particularly in Bradley&rsquos idealism, had many effects, of which two proved especially important. Positively, these materials suggested methods of structure that he was able to put to immediate use in his postwar poems. Negatively, his work in philosophy convinced him that the most sophisticated answers to the cultural and spiritual crisis of his time were inadequate. This conclusion contributed to his decision to abandon the professorial career for which his excellent education had prepared him and instead to continue literary pursuits.
Eliot&rsquos career as a poet can be divided into three periods&mdashthe first coinciding with his studies in Boston and Paris and culminating in &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo in 1911 the second coinciding with World War I and with the financial and marital stress of his early years in London, and culminating in The Waste Land in 1922 and the third coinciding with his angst at the economic depression and the rise of Nazism and culminating in the wartime Four Quartets in 1943. The poems of the first period were preceded only by a few exercises, published in school magazines, but in 1910 and 1911 he wrote four poems: &ldquoPortrait of a Lady,&rdquo &ldquoPreludes,&rdquo &ldquoRhapsody on a Windy Night,&rdquo and &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo&mdashthat introduce themes to which, with variation and development, Eliot returned time and again. One of the most significant is the problem of isolation, with attention to its causes and consequences in the contemporary world. In &ldquoPortrait of a Lady&rdquo a man and woman meet, but the man is inarticulate, imprisoned in thought. In this ironic dramatization of a &ldquoconversation galante,&rdquo the woman speaks without thinking and the man thinks without speaking (a structure to be repeated in &ldquoA Game of Chess&rdquo in The Waste Land).
The profound isolation of the characters in &ldquoPortrait of a Lady&rdquo becomes in &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo an isolation that is absolute. The specific lady is succeeded by generalized women the supercilious youth by the middle-aged intellectual he will become, for whom women and indeed the entire universe exist as abstractions. The poignance of this poem derives in part from a tension between Prufrock&rsquos self-generated isolation and his obsession with language. Although he is afraid to speak, he can think only in the language of dialogue. This dialogue with himself, moreover, consistently turns on the infinite possibilities (or impossibilities) of dialogue with others. In &ldquoRhapsody on a Windy Night&rdquo the female Other, similarly isolated and isolating, is a young prostitute in a stained dress hesitating in a doorway, desired and despised at once, overshadowed by an old prostitute, the pockmarked moon, smiling feebly on the midnight walker.
In these early poems, the progression from a feeble attempt to communicate in &ldquoPortrait of a Lady&rdquo to a total failure in &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo is paralleled on other levels. The isolation is sexual, social, religious, and (because Eliot is a poet) vocational. In &ldquoPortrait of a Lady,&rdquo other people and perhaps God exist, but they are unreachable in &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo and &ldquoRhapsody on a Windy Night&rdquo they exist only as aspects of the thinker&rsquos mind in &ldquoPreludes,&rdquo the Other, whether human or divine, has been so thoroughly assimilated that he/she can no longer be defined. This situation is explicitly aesthetic. The drawing-room protagonist of &ldquoPortrait of a Lady&rdquo is paralleled by an artist in the concert room, and both the suitor and the pianist fail to reach their listeners. In both cases, the failure is described in ceremonial terms that superimpose the religious on the sexual and aesthetic. J. Alfred Prufrock&mdashas lover, prophet, poet&mdashalso fails to reach his audience. These failures are skillfully layered by the use of imagery that defines Prufrock&rsquos problem as sexual (how to relate to women), religious (how to raise himself from the dead, how to cope with his own flesh on a platter), and rhetorical (how to sing, how to say, how to revise). And as &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo shows most clearly, the horizontal and vertical gaps mirror a gap within, a gap between thought and feeling, a partition of the self.
Between the poems of 1910-1911 and The Waste Land, Eliot lived through several experiences that are crucial in understanding his development as a poet. His decision to put down roots, or to discover roots, in Europe stands, together with his first marriage and his conversion, as the most important of his entire life. Eliot had been preceded in London by his Harvard friend Aiken, who had met Ezra Pound and showed him a copy of &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.&rdquo Eliot called on Pound on September 22, 1914, and Pound immediately adopted him as a cause, promoting his poetry and introducing him to William Butler Yeats and other artists. In 1915, at a time when Eliot was close to giving up on poetry, Pound arranged for the publication of &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo in Poetry magazine, and in 1917 he facilitated the publication of Prufrock and Other Observations. Pound continued to play a central role in Eliot&rsquos life and work through the early 1920s. He influenced the form and content of Eliot&rsquos next group of poems, the quatrains in Poems (1919), and more famously, he changed the shape of The Waste Land by urging Eliot to cut several long passages.
The impact of Pound, however, pales beside that of Vivienne (or Vivien) Haigh-Wood, the pretty English governess Eliot married in 1915. In an April 24 letter to Hinkley describing his social life at Oxford, Eliot mentioned that he had met an English girl named Vivien. Pound, as part of his strategy for keeping Eliot in England, encouraged him to marry her, and on June 26, without notifying his parents, he did so at the Hampstead Registry Office. However lovingly begun, the marriage was in most respects a disaster. In the 1960s, in a private paper, Eliot admitted that it was doomed from the start: &ldquoI think that all I wanted of Vivienne was a flirtation or a mild affair: I was too shy and unpractised to achieve either . I came to persuade myself that I was in love with her simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England.&rdquo The odd nature of this misalliance was immediately evident to Eliot&rsquos friends, including Russell, Mary Hutchinson, and Virginia Woolf. Vivienne Eliot, who had suffered from &ldquonerves&rdquo for years, became irrecoverably ill after the marriage, and Eliot, himself in fragile health, felt partially responsible for her deterioration. This burden is the biographical shadow behind a motif recurrent in the poems and plays&mdashthe motif of &ldquodoing a girl in.&rdquo The struggle to cope emotionally and financially with his wife&rsquos escalating illness exhausted Eliot and led, in 1921, to his collapse. His failed attempt between 1915 and 1922 to build a bridge across the gulf that separated them, reflected most conspicuously in part 2 of The Waste Land, is a lived experience behind all of his subsequent work.
Eliot had arrived in England the month that World War I began. Like his European friends, he was deeply disturbed by unfolding events and desperately worried about acquaintances on the battlefield. In May 1915 his close friend Jean Verdenal was killed. On May 31, the first German bomb hit London, killing 28 people and wounding 60. Within a week or two of this watershed event, Eliot moved to the City (the financial district), where he remained throughout the war. In 1916 he wrote to his brother that &ldquoThe present year has been . the most awful nightmare of anxiety that the mind of man could conceive.&rdquo Eliot, who loved both France and England, tried to enlist, but his application was complicated by his failure to pass the medical exam. By the time the war ended in November 1918, an influenza epidemic was sweeping over the world, claiming nearly three times as many lives as had been lost in the war. By then both Eliots were gravely ill, and it took them years to recover completely.
The events of these years were formative in Eliot&rsquos life and art. First, the precipitous marriage complicated his attitude toward sexuality and human love. Some of the poems written during and immediately after the war (&ldquoSweeney Erect,&rdquo for example, and The Waste Land) connect sexuality with violence in troubling ways. Second, the marriage, the war, and the change of vocation generated estrangement from America in general and from his family in particular. His family disapproved of the marriage and the decision to drop philosophy as a career, and because the family lived in America, far from the bloodshed, they had a superficial idea of the suffering in Europe. Eliot continued to brood over the fact that his dying father believed that his son had made a mess of his life. Third, the events of these years led to severe financial distress. To support himself and his chronically ill wife, Eliot took a job as a teacher&mdashin the fall of 1915 at High Wycombe Grammar School, and throughout 1916 at Highgate Junior School. Finding the teaching of young boys draining work, he gave it up at the end of 1916, and in March 1917 he began work in the Colonial and Foreign Department of Lloyds Bank. Although he stayed with Lloyds for the next nine years, he discovered that banking, like teaching, did not produce nearly enough income to cover his expenses and Vivienne Eliot&rsquos medical bills. He was thus forced to supplement his duties as teacher, banker, and nurse to his wife with night work as lecturer, reviewer, and essayist. Working from 1916 to 1920 under great pressure (a 15-hour workday was common for him), he wrote essays, published in 1920 as The Sacred Wood, that reshaped literary history.
Eliot&rsquos early essays can be seen as a discursive variation on the subjects underlying the early poems his awareness, for example, of the problem of isolation, its causes and its consequences, is evident in the essays. In the poems, the emphasis is on isolation of individuals and classes from one another and on the human isolation from God. In the literary criticism, the emphasis is on the artist in isolation, cut off from his audience and from great artists and thinkers of both the present and the past. In &ldquoTradition and the Individual Talent&rdquo (1919), Eliot attempts to cope with the isolation of the artist resulting from the early 20th century&rsquos massive repudiation of the past, a repudiation that severed man&rsquos intellectual and spiritual roots. Eliot deals with the implications of this disaster by defining &ldquotradition&rdquo as an ideal structure in which the &ldquowhole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his [the artist&rsquos] own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.&rdquo To put it more simply, he defines tradition not as a canon but as an ongoing and fluid relationship of writers, living and dead, within the mind and bones of the contemporary poet. Eliot&rsquos reaction against Romanticism, similarly, is related to the fact that Romanticism celebrates the artist in isolation. Eliot&rsquos notion that modern poetry should be complex derives in part from his attempt to overcome his isolation from his readers by forcing them to become involved as collaborators in his poetry. He suggests that a text is a self-sufficient object and at the same time a construct collaboratively achieved by a reader. His account of the way a poet&rsquos mind works by unifying disparate phenomena is consistent with his dialectical imagination, as is his account of literary history.
In regard to his poetry, the period between 1911 and 1918 is for the most part a long dry stretch. He included in the Prufrock volume a few short pieces written in London and Oxford in 1914 and 1915, and he copied others not ready for publication into his notebook (published in 1996 as Inventions of the March Hare: Poems, 1909-1917). By 1916 he was afraid that &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock&rdquo had been his swan song. And by 1917 he had become, by his own testimony, quite desperate. To get going again, Eliot wrote a handful of poems in French, one of which, &ldquoDansk Restaurant,&rdquo in a truncated English version, ended up in The Waste Land. Eliot and Pound were at their closest during these years, and some of the impetus for Eliot&rsquos revival as a poet came from his flamboyant friend. Both felt that the freedom achieved in the previous decade of revolution in the arts had degenerated to license, and they decided to move back toward more precise forms. For Eliot, the result was the quatrain poems, so called because they were modeled, at Pound&rsquos suggestion, on the quatrains of Theophile Gautier&rsquos Emaux et Camees (1852). These Gautier-inspired poems, all highly polished satires, include &ldquoThe Hippopotamus,&rdquo &ldquoSweeney Erect,&rdquo &ldquoSweeney among the Nightingales,&rdquo &ldquoBurbank with a Baedeker,&rdquo &ldquoMr. Eliot&rsquos Sunday Morning Service,&rdquo &ldquoWhispers of Immortality,&rdquo and &ldquoA Cooking Egg.&rdquo The themes of the French poems and the quatrain poems overlap with those of the earlier poems-social and metaphysical loneliness, the absence of love, personal and cultural sterility, death&mdashbut the tone is even darker, with violence just beneath the surface. The focus-international, cultural, institutional&mdashis broader than in the earlier poems. Prufrock is primarily an individual Burbank and Sweeney are primarily types. Eliot&rsquos miserable marriage and the experience of World War I seem to be the two most important events behind this shift in his work.
Eliot&rsquos most significant single poem between 1911 and 1922 was &ldquoGerontion.&rdquo Important in itself, it also serves as a transition to The Waste Land, to which, for thematic reasons, Eliot considered it an appropriate prelude, and to which, until dissuaded by Pound, he considered prefixing it. Formally, &ldquoGerontion,&rdquo like &ldquoThe Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,&rdquo descends from the dramatic monologue, but it is bolder and more comprehensive. The earlier poem is a portrait of an individual mind, but &ldquoGerontion&rdquo is a portrait of the Mind of Europe, a container for fragments of history from the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The title character, as his name indicates, is old born in ancient Greece, he survives as a desiccated Socrates &ldquowaiting for rain&rdquo on the doorstep of modern Europe. Like Prufrock, Gerontion is an intellectual, and the poem consists of his thoughts. To order these thoughts, Eliot uses the structural metaphor of houses within houses.
One of the most significant houses in this Chinese box-like poem is war-ravaged Europe, a house of horrors with &ldquomany cunning passages, contrived corridors.&rdquo Eliot began writing the poem in 1917, with the war still raging, and finished it in early 1919, a few months after the Armistice. Europe&rsquos great dynastic and political houses lay in ruins, and nine million of her young had been slain for Western civilization. Different people analyzed the crisis in different ways for Eliot, the violence was inseparable from a collapse of common ground in culture, the loss of the mythic substructure that enables the individual to understand his relatedness to anyone or anything. The collapse of shared assumptions in many fields&mdashreligion, physics, philosophy, art&mdashproduced a crisis in epistemology, in knowing, and this crisis is basic to all of Eliot&rsquos work.
Eliot&rsquos early years as a literary man bore tangible fruit in 1920 with the publication of his recent poems (as Ara Vos Free in England, Poems in America) and the best of his literary criticism (The Sacred Wood). As he wrapped up the details surrounding these projects, he moved on to what became a watershed in the history of European poetry. In December 1919 Eliot wrote to his mother that his New Year&rsquos resolution was &ldquoto write a long poem I have had on my mind for a long time.&rdquo That long poem, The Waste Land, continues his exploration of what he saw as the decay of European civilization but whereas &ldquoGerontion&rdquo is his most impersonal poem, The Waste Land is to some extent quite personal, for it is strongly colored by a breakdown in his own life. In the years following his marriage, Eliot had suffered continuously from overwork and financial strain. The death of his father in 1919 also took a heavy toll, as did the loss of friends in the war. His most severe distress, however, was that associated with the breakdown of his marriage. It had become increasingly clear that he and Vivienne Eliot were not good for each other. His comments about her in the letters are kind (they reflect, mainly, concern for her health and respect for her resourcefulness), but as the poems &ldquoHysteria&rdquo (1915) and &ldquoOde&rdquo (1918) suggest, his feelings were more negative than he could ever have admitted to his family or friends, or even to himself. In the 1960s, in a private paper (quoted in The Letters of T S. Eliot, 1988), he finally acknowledged what had long been evident: &ldquoTo her the marriage brought no happiness . to me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land:&rsquo
These years of unmitigated anxiety culminated, finally, in serious illness. In 1921, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Eliot was forced to take a rest leave from the bank. In October he went for a month to Margate and then, leaving Vivienne Eliot in Paris, he went to a sanatorium in Switzerland. In this protected environment, he devoted himself to completing the &ldquolong poem&rdquo that had been on his mind for years, a work in which his illness is included as part of the material. In January 1922 Eliot returned to London, stopping briefly in Paris, where he left the typescript of the poem, then called &ldquoHe Do the Police in Different Voices,&rdquo with Ezra Pound. The latter immediately recognized it as a work of genius but thought it needed to be reduced in length. Eliot accepted most of Pound&rsquos suggestions and later testified that Pound was &ldquoa marvelous critic because he . tried to see what you were trying to do.&rdquo In October 1922 The Waste Land appeared in England in the first issue of the Criterion, the journal Eliot edited for most of the next two decades in November it appeared in America in the Dial, with Eliot receiving the Dial Award of $2,000.
The Waste Land was taken by some critics as a tasteless joke, by others as a masterpiece expressing the disillusionment of a generation. As far as Eliot was concerned, it was neither. He needed, he explained in a 1959 Paris Review interview, to get something off his chest, adding, &ldquoone doesn&rsquot know quite what it is that one needs to get off the chest until one&rsquos got it off.&rdquo In a lecture at Harvard, quoted in The Waste Land facsimile (published in 1971), he responded to those who considered the poem to be a cultural statement: &ldquoTo me it was only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life it is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling.&rdquo The grumbling is personal, of course, which is why he calls it insignificant, but its causes are inseparable from those that set a generation or more of intelligent Westerners to grumbling. Eliot&rsquos grouse against life is part of a larger and shared discontent about postwar civilization and the conditions of modern life. Another aspect of Eliot&rsquos grumbling that is more than personal is his anxiety about possibility in art. A major theme in his poetry and prose from the beginning had been the situation of the artist who is isolated from his audience by a collapse of common ground in culture. Deprived of a shared mythic or religious frame, the modern artist was forced to come up with other means of unity. He had to find, as Eliot put it in his review of James Joyce&rsquos Ulysses (1922), &ldquoa way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.&rdquo The &ldquonarrative method,&rdquo rooted in sequence, in an orderly flow of life (and of stories) from beginning to end, had been rendered obsolete by modern science and by conditions of history.
In The Waste Land, consequently, Eliot experimented with a method that he hoped would be &ldquoa step towards making the modern world possible for art.&rdquo He called it the &ldquomythical method&rdquo and defined it as the manipulation of a continuous parallel between an ordered world of myth (an abstraction) and a chaotic world of history, contemporary or otherwise. In keeping the chaos of his own time on the surface, the artist is being true to history in referring this chaos to a timeless order, he is being true to art. The mythical method enabled Eliot in The Waste Land to deal simultaneously with such issues as his illness and failed marriage and larger issues such as the upheavals in politics, philosophy, and science that surrounded World War I. The title and much of the symbolism were taken from Sir James Frazer&rsquos The Golden Bough (1890-1915) and Jessie Weston&rsquos Arthurian studies, collected in From Ritual to Romance (1920). Frazer argued that all myths descended from a single ancestor (a monomyth) that in his reconstruction describes a land in which a king and his people are so interrelated that impotence in the ruler leads to sterility in the people and devastation in the land. Weston, a disciple of Frazer&rsquos, argued that the Grail stories were part of this larger myth. The monomyth had special relevance to early-20th-century culture: God had been declared dead the earth had been devastated by war political leaders had proven impotent an entire generation of young men had been slaughtered in France and Belgium and survivors resembled ghosts on the streets of the city. The ancestor myth is not present in its entirety in The Waste Land but is generated in the reader&rsquos mind by juxtaposition of fragments of its many variants and, as in Ulysses, by a complex web of references. The poem features many voices from many times and places, and together they reveal shifting perspectives on situations in which failures of leadership, community, and love have produced a wasteland. The use of slivers of myth to generate structure and the use of shifting perspectives are hallmarks of the radical form of The Waste Land.
Another aspect of form in the poem is parataxis, that is, the juxtaposition without transition of fragments, some no more than a single word. Bits of myth, literature, religion, and philosophy from many times and cultures are combined with snatches of music and conversation so contemporary they could have come from yesterday&rsquos newspaper. Meaningless in themselves, the fragments in this literary collage become powerfully suggestive in their juxtaposition and in the way they echo and explain one another as they generate larger wholes.
The Waste Land consists of five parts in which Eliot&rsquos own verse is mixed with fragments of the verse of others. The primary subject of the first section, &ldquoBurial of the Dead,&rdquo is death: death as a problem in waste disposal, death as part of a natural cycle, death as part of life, death as an end, death as a beginning. Eliot&rsquos montage includes the death of the year, of individuals, of cities, of civilizations. All of these deaths go back in Frazer&rsquos genealogy to primitive rituals in which death is followed by a ritualistic &ldquoplanting&rdquo intended to insure a rich harvest. Eliot refers specifically to such rituals in the lines, &ldquoThat corpse you planted last year in your garden, / Has it begun to sprout?&rdquo The planting, in April, of a male corpse (or part of one, usually the genitals) in mother earth is at the center of many ancient fertility ceremonies. But Eliot&rsquos lines refer also to the contemporary world, where planting the corpse ensures harvest by acting as organic fertilizer, and where April is cruel because, in &ldquobreeding / Lilacs out of the dead land,&rdquo it promises what it does not deliver-new life.
The underlying subject of the second section, &ldquoA Game of Chess,&rdquo is sex, in myth part of an interest in life. In history, though, as Eliot shows, sex is often not associated with life at all. He juxtaposes two &ldquolove&rdquo scenes&mdashminidramas from opposite ends of the social scale, both displaying sterile and meaningless relationships. The relationship of an upper-middle-class couple is structured by a game of chess, and that of a Cockney couple by visits to the pub. Through allusion, other sterile sexual situations&mdashOphelia&rsquos, Cleopatra&rsquos, Philomela&rsquos&mdashare superimposed. The underlying subject of section three, &ldquoThe Fire Sermon,&rdquo is again the sexual wound behind the decay of civilization. As in &ldquoA Game of Chess,&rdquo there are two contemporary sexual situations&mdashone, a homosexual proposition the other, a mechanical sexual transaction between a typist and a clerk. Both situations issue from boredom both, obviously, are loveless and fruitless. The underlying subject in the short fourth section, &ldquoDeath by Water,&rdquo is again death. The drowning of a sailor, followed by dissolution, is juxtaposed, through allusion, to the &ldquodeath&rdquo by water of Christian baptism and of Frazer&rsquos vegetation myths, both of which are ritualistic preludes to rebirth. The ritualistic death by water involves purification the contemporary death by water is also, ironically, a purification, a literal cleansing of bones.
The underlying subject of the last section of The Waste Land, &ldquoWhat the Thunder Said,&rdquo is restoration, not as a fact, but as a remote possibility. The previous images of drought and sterility reappear, but now accompanied by images suggesting the possibility of revitalization. Thunder sounds in the distance Christ, the slain and resurrected hero whose death effects restoration, walks the land the mythic hero whose personal trials can secure communal blessing approaches the Chapel Perilous. The tide of this section refers to an Indian legend in which men, gods, and devils listen to the thunder and then construct from that sound the positive message that can restore the wasteland and make its inhabitants fruitful again. The poem ends, however, not with restoration but with an avalanche of fragments, the most concentrated in the entire poem. The last fragment (&ldquoShantih Shantih Shantih&rdquo), by chance a benediction, is the crudest in that, like April, and perhaps like thunder, it awakens expectations that it does not satisfy.
Restoration, then, is present only as a whisper it all hinges, finally, on one&rsquos willingness to take the given and to construct something that will enable the retrieval of structure and meaning. The last lines suggest a distinction that became crucial in Eliot&rsquos own life: while it may not be possible to reclaim Western civilization, it may be possible to restore order in one&rsquos personal life.
In 1926 Eliot was invited to give the Clark Lectures at Cambridge (published in 1993 as The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry), and in 1932, by this time a world-renowned poet and critic, he was invited to Harvard as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry. Three events of the intervening decade are important in following the shape of his life and art. First, his financial and in a sense his vocational situation was settled when, in 1925, he left Lloyds Bank for the publishing house of Faber and Gwyer (later Faber and Faber). Second, his marital situation continued to deteriorate, ending with his permanent separation from Vivienne Eliot in 1932 and third, in 1927, his spiritual odyssey culminated in baptism into the Anglican Church and naturalization as a British subject. The financial nightmare had begun to fade in 1922 when he launched The Criterion. When Eliot announced on the eve of World War II that he was bringing The Criterion to a close, he was able to look back with considerable pride on the quality and range of his accomplishments. By publishing the work of such distinguished writers as Paul Valery, Marcel Proust, Joyce, Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Auden, Jacques Maritain, Maurras, and Wilhelm Worringer, he had greatly enhanced intellectual fellowship in Europe. At Faber and Faber, Eliot found a congenial and enduring group of associates, and through the publishing house, he was able to be a mentor and friend to younger writers.
The community of intellectuals and artists of which Eliot became a part assuaged somewhat the sense of fragmentation that had always haunted him. The sexual and the religious aspects of his isolation, however, proved resistant to improvement. He and Vivienne Eliot were unable to forge any sort of unity, and as their relationship and her health continued to worsen, he suffered in ways that surfaced in his poetry. Inseparable from his realization that human love, and in particular, sexual love, had failed was his turn toward God and the church. The emptiness and desolation of this period are perfectly caught in &ldquoThe Hollow Men,&rdquo composed in fragments over a two- or three-year period and first appearing as a single poem in Poems 1909-1925 (1925).
Written in the style of what Eliot once said was the best part of The Waste Land&mdashthe water-dripping song in &ldquoWhat the Thunder Said&rdquo&mdash&ldquoThe Hollow Men&rdquo is based on four main allusions: Dante&rsquos Divine Comedy (circa 1310-1314), William Shakespeare&rsquos Julius Caesar (1599), Joseph Conrad&rsquos Heart of Darkness (1902), and an event in English history, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Dante, Shakespeare, and Conrad are arguably the most important writers in the background of Eliot&rsquos art, and Heart of Darkness is probably second only to The Divine Comedy as an intellectual/spiritual resource. Conrad&rsquos Mr. Kurtz, a cultivated European idealist and carrier of civilization to dark places, glimpses as he dies a vision that he expresses as &ldquoThe horror! The horror!&rdquo These words, included in Eliot&rsquos original epigraph for The Waste Land, describe the vision both Conrad and Eliot saw beneath the veneer of European civilization. And they describe what Conrad probably and Eliot certainly saw beneath the surface of modern idealism.
In &ldquoThe Hollow Men,&rdquo Eliot focuses on the idealism shared by such figures as Brutus, Guy Fawkes, and (as in The Waste Land) Kurtz, and in an epigraph that is also a conclusion, he quotes from Heart of Darkness the simple announcement by a jungle boy: &ldquoMistah Kurtz&mdashhe dead.&rdquo The death of Kurtz and all that he stands for is at the center of the meaning of this poem. The &ldquoOld Guy&rdquo of the epigraph is not only Guy Fawkes but also &ldquothe old man&rdquo whose death, according to Saint Paul, is the condition of new life. Many figures in Eliot&rsquos early poems, including all the gods and semigods from Frazer, have to die or be put to death as the condition for the continuation of life. Those who cannot die cannot really live. The most striking of these death-in-life figures is the Sibyl of Cumae who presides over The Waste Land. In &ldquoThe Hollow Men,&rdquo Eliot does not go beyond a presentation of emptiness, but in the act of presenting that, he seems to accept the death that is the essential step toward his own vita nuova. In &ldquoGerontion&rdquo and The Waste Land, Eliot had seen the death-in-life figures as primarily other than himself. But in &ldquoThe Hollow Men,&rdquo in trying to voice his own inarticulate emptiness, he numbers himself among the living dead. His idealism, like that of Brutus, Fawkes, and Kurtz, has led him to the cactus land.
The way out of the cactus land led Eliot to his baptism on June 29, 1927 into the Anglican Communion. In November, in what seemed to him part of the same ritual, he was naturalized as a British citizen. Many of Eliot&rsquos contemporaries, having adopted him as a sort of spokesman, felt that in embracing traditional Christianity he had abandoned them. He explained in &ldquoThoughts After Lambeth&rdquo (1931) that he had never intended to be the spokesman for a generation that he had been trying all along to work out his own salvation and that, for &ldquopowerful and concurrent reasons,&rdquo he had been drawn inexorably toward Christianity. In March 1932, in a brief article in the Listener, he explained, &ldquoIn my own case, I believe that one of the reasons was that the Christian scheme seemed to me the only one which would work . the only possible scheme which found a place for values which I must maintain or perish.&rdquo Like Blaise Pascal, Eliot had proceeded to the Christian position by a careful process of rejection and elimination. He had considered Buddhism and tried schemes from philosophy and anthropology, and he concluded that these options failed to account for the world as he saw it and were an inadequate basis for order in life and in art. In a striking revision of his early aesthetic of impersonality, Eliot used his own spiritual struggle as material in his next major poem, Ash-Wednesday.
Ash-Wednesday is composed of six lyrics, three of which had been published separately before the 1930 publication of all six under one tide. The tide refers to the first day of Lent, a day of repentance and fasting in which Christians acknowledge their mortality and begin the 40-day period of self-examination leading to the new life promised by Easter. The structure of this sequence comes from Eliot&rsquos new principle of order, the Christian scheme that for him had subsumed both Bradley and Frazer. In place of the monomyth as a reference point, Eliot now uses the Incarnation of Christ-not only in Ash-Wednesday but also in Four Quartets and the plays. The Incarnation represents an intersection of the human and the divine, of time and the timeless, of movement and stillness. Eliot&rsquos earlier schemes had been a means of making art possible in the chaos of contemporary history his new scheme, however, is a means of making life, of which art is only a part, possible. The integration of life and art can be seen in the fact that Ash-Wednesday is at once more personal, confessional even, and at the same time more formal and stylized than the earlier work.
For all its brightness, Ash-Wednesday remains a poem about twilight, about &ldquothe time of tension between dying and birth.&rdquo The tension is resolved in Marina (published as a Christmas pamphlet in 1930), frequently regarded as Eliot&rsquos most beautiful short poem. It consists of an interior monologue spoken by Pericles, Prince of Tyre, who in Shakespeare&rsquos play sails the seas in search of his beloved wife, lost after giving birth at sea to an infant daughter, also lost and presumably dead. Eliot&rsquos monologue, inspired by Shakespeare&rsquos recognition scene, conveys the wonder and awe the old prince experiences in realizing that the beautiful girl standing before him is Marina, a recognition that not only restores a daughter but also leads to the restoration of his wife.
The decade inaugurated with Ash-Wednesday was an eventful one for Eliot. In 1932 he published Selected Essays 1917-1932, a collection of his literary criticism through the 1920s. The same year, in September, he returned to America to deliver the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard. Vivienne Eliot remained in England. In this critical moment, Eliot decided that they could no longer live together. For several reasons, he did not want to divorce her, and so he asked his London solicitor to prepare a &ldquoDeed of Separation.&rdquo After he returned to England, they lived apart and rarely saw each other. Her health declined even more, and in 1939 she was institutionalized by her brother Maurice.
The most rewarding part of Eliot&rsquos year in America, his first visit home in 18 years, was that it enabled him to renew his relationship with surviving members of his family. In December he traveled to California, ostensibly to give a lecture at Scripps College, but actually to spend time with Hale, who was a professor there. Except for the distress caused by the situation with his wife, Eliot enjoyed his homecoming. His Harvard lectures, a survey of high points in English criticism from the Renaissance to the 1920s, were published in 1933 as The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism. In January 1933 he delivered the Turnbull Lectures at Johns Hopkins University, and in May the Page-Barbour Lectures at the University of Virginia. The Virginia lectures, published as After Strange Gods in 1934, constituted an attempt to fine-tune his old concept of tradition, rechristening it &ldquoorthodoxy.&rdquo Back in England, he lectured at Edinburgh and Cambridge, the Cambridge lectures later printed as The Idea of a Christian Society. Also in the 1930s, Eliot realized his longstanding ambition of becoming a dramatist, finishing both Murder in the Cathedral and The Family Reunion. He also published Old Possum&rsquos Book of Practical Cats (1939), light poems composed for his godchildren.
Eliot&rsquos major poetic achievement during the 1930s was Burnt Norton, composed in 1935, initially considered as an independent work&mdashand included as such in Collected Poems 1909-1935&mdashbut becoming during the war the first of four comparable works that together are known as Four Quartets. This sequence-Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding&mdashis widely regarded as Eliot&rsquos masterpiece. He himself thought Four Quartets his greatest achievement and Little Gidding his best poem.
Whereas his early poems had been centered on the isolated individual, Four Quartets is centered on the isolated moment, the fragment of time that takes its meaning from and gives its meaning to a pattern, a pattern at once in time, continuously changing until the supreme moment of death completes it, and also out of time. Since the individual lives and exists only in fragments, he can never quite know the whole pattern but in certain moments, he can experience the pattern in miniature. These timeless moments&mdash&ldquothe moment in the rose-garden, / The moment in the arbour where the rain beat, / The moment in the draughty church at smokefall&rdquo&mdashprovide for Eliot the means of conquering time. This moment of sudden illumination, in and out of time, Eliot associates with the Word-made-flesh, the Incarnation and also with the word-made-art, poetry. The part/pattern configuration, especially in these three dimensions, is both the main subject and the main principle of form in Four Quartets.
The fact that Four Quartets is a meditation on time and a celebration of pattern points to a secondary principle of form, albeit the one usually mentioned first by critics. From the collective title and from a lecture called The Music of Poetry (1942), delivered early in the year he finished Little Gidding, it is clear that Eliot was working with a musical analogy throughout Four Quartets, especially in regard to structure. The most conspicuous analogies to music include statement and counterstatement, theme and variation, tempo variation, and mood variation. By using the musical analogy, Eliot was able to avoid monotony, the plague of long and complex philosophical poems. The analogy with music is useful in clarifying the non-discursive nature of Four Quartets, but as Eliot warns in The Music of Poetry and in essays on the French symbolists, it should not be pushed too far.
The title of each meditation refers to a specific place important to the poet. Burnt Norton is the name of a country house in Gloucestershire that Eliot visited in the summer of 1934 in the company of Hale. The title of East Coker refers to the village in Somersetshire from which, in the 17th century, Eliot&rsquos family had immigrated to America, and to which, after his death, Eliot&rsquos own ashes were to be returned. The mystery of beginnings and ends&mdash&ldquoIn my beginning is my end,&rdquo &ldquoIn my end is my beginning&rdquo&mdashin and out of history is explored in this work. The third of the Four Quartets takes its title from a small but enormously treacherous group of rocks, the Dry Salvages, located off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where Eliot had passed his childhood summers. These rocks, the cold and seemingly limitless ocean in which they are anchored, and the great Mississippi River of his childhood are the major symbols in this meditation. The last of the Four Quartets takes its title from a tiny village in Huntingdonshire, Little Gidding, which in the 17th century had been a community of dedicated Christians under the leadership of Nicholas Ferrar.
The Four Quartets all have the same general form. The first part of each consists of a meditation on time and consciousness, arranged as a statement/counterstatement/recapitulation. The second consists of a highly structured poetical passage followed by a relatively prosaic passage, both on the general subject of being trapped in time. The third explores implications of the first two in terms of a journey metaphor, some concept of the movement of the self in and out of time. The fourth is a brief lyric treating of death and rebirth. The fifth begins with a colloquial passage and then ends with a lyric that secures closure by returning to the beginning and collecting major images. The fifth section in each work incorporates a meditation on the problem of the artist who must still move in stillness, keep time in time (both continuously move in step, and continuously be still).
Eliot&rsquos career as a poet virtually ended with Four Quartets. His long-standing despair over Western civilization, at the heart of &ldquoGerontion&rdquo and The Waste Land and still conspicuous in 1939 in his farewell editorial for The Criterion, was somewhat displaced by the onset of World War II. He realized anew that there were traditions and principles worth dying for, and he did what he could to help preserve them&mdashfor example, serving as a fire watcher on the roof of Faber and Faber during the bombing of London in 1940, an experience represented in the &ldquocompound ghost&rdquo section of Little Gidding. This period was marked by the loss of friends, including Yeats in 1939 and Joyce and Woolf in 1941. In January 1947, the most painful chapter in his personal history came to an end when, after years of illness, Vivienne Eliot died of a heart attack. Pound was by this time confined in a mental hospital, St. Elizabeth&rsquos in Washington, DC, charged with treason for radio speeches made during the war. With other concerned friends, Eliot did what he could to improve the situation of his old benefactor. Against these lengthening shadows, Eliot must have experienced some pleasure in his growing reputation as one of the greatest living poets and distinguished men of letters.
What remained of Eliot&rsquos creative energy was put into his comedies&mdashThe Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk (performed in 1953, published in 1954), and The Elder Statesman (performed in 1958, published in 1959). The first was a popular success, winning international prizes and, when it opened on Broadway, attracting an audience that included Ethel Barrymore and the duke and duchess of Windsor. In the late 1940s and 1950s Eliot returned to America for several appearances at universities, including Princeton, the University of Chicago, and Washington University. He continued with his work at Faber and Faber during the 1950s, and he accepted invitations to lecture in South Africa, Edinburgh, and other places.
Beginning in the late 1940s, Eliot received almost every accolade the West had to offer a poet. Several universities, including his alma mater, bestowed honorary doctorates. In 1948 he received England&rsquos most exclusive and prestigious civilian prize, the Order of Merit, and, in the same year, the Nobel Prize in Literature. He responded to the Nobel with a mixture of gratitude and humor. Biographer Peter Ackroyd records that when asked what he received the prize for, Eliot said that he assumed it was for &ldquothe entire corpus.&rdquo The reporter responded, &ldquoWhen did you write that?&rdquo In The New York Times (November 21, 1948) a reporter asked how it felt to win the Nobel Prize, and Eliot replied, &ldquoOne does not feel any different. It isn&rsquot that you get any bigger to fit the world, the world gets smaller to fit you.&rdquo The biggest difference made by the Nobel, perhaps, was that it increased Eliot&rsquos anxiety regarding his future work. Knowing his best work was in the past, he feared that the prize would create expectations he could no longer satisfy. In the decade that followed, nevertheless, he continued to receive international awards. The status of this most private and difficult poet is indicated by his coverage in popular magazines (in March 1950 he appeared on the cover of Time) and by the size of his audiences (he attracted a crowd of nearly 15,000 for a 1956 lecture in Minneapolis). Eliot accepted all of this attention with characteristic grace and good humor. As his obituary in the London Times (January 6, 1965) noted, &ldquoHe was, above all, a humble man firm, even stubborn at times, but with no self-importance quite unspoilt by fame free from spiritual or intellectual pride.&rdquo This quotation is substantiated by the testimony of those who knew him as a person rather than as a monument.
The most important event in Eliot&rsquos later life was his second marriage. At age 68, he married Esme Valerie Fletcher, his devoted secretary at Faber and Faber since 1950, and almost 40 years his junior. By all accounts, this happy marriage rejuvenated the poet. His obvious contentment may seem to contradict most of his earlier references to sexual love, but in fact his belated marital bliss reveals with special clarity a larger pattern in his life and art. That pattern involves a continuous quest for wholeness. His early obsession with brokenness and isolation can easily be seen in retrospect as the negative expression of a quest for wholeness and communion. The second marriage is important because it is the complement in his personal life of the religious unity he found through commitment to the Incarnation, and of the aesthetic unity he achieved in Four Quartets. The personal unity, the &ldquonew person / Who is you and me together,&rdquo is celebrated in his swan song, The Elder Statesman, most explicitly in its dedicatory poem, &ldquoA Dedication to My Wife.&rdquo
1923 photograph of T.S. Eliot by Lady Ottoline Morrell.
T.S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1888 to a wealthy family. He moved to Massachusetts in 1905 to attend Milton Academy for a year before entering Harvard University. After attaining both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature in four years, Eliot spent a year studying philosophy in France. He then returned to Harvard for postgraduate study in philosophy. In 1914, he left on a traveling fellowship to study in Europe. Due to the onset of war, he would never return to the United States to complete his doctorate.
In England, Eliot was introduced to Ezra Pound, an influential American-born poet and literary magazine editor. Pound recognized Eliot's genius immediately and helped publish his work. In 1915, the same year Poetry magazine published his first major poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and settled in London. The first collection of his poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations, published two years later with financial assistance from Pound, established Eliot as one of the leading poets of his day. Eliot also found steady employment in 1917 at Lloyds Bank, and the financial stability afforded him the freedom to work on both poetry and literary criticism. Meanwhile, Eliot's personal life proved more difficult to manage than his career. Vivienne's poor physical and mental health strained Eliot both financially and mentally, and he finally suffered a nervous breakdown in 1921. While on rest cure in Europe, Eliot completed a long poem which would become his most famous work, The Waste Land. The same year, Eliot became editor of a new literary journal Criterion, furthering his position as a dominant literary figure. Three years later, he left Lloyds Bank and joined the publishing house of Faber where he would stay for the rest of his career.
Portrait of T.S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse.
In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen and also joined the Church of England. As his domestic woes continued (Vivienne was eventually committed to a mental hospital), Eliot became more religious, orthodox, and conservative, increasingly disappointing fans of his earlier work. The second half of his career was spent mostly on plays and essays, and he wrote no major poems after World War II. His first full play Murder in the Cathedral, about Archbishop Thomas Becket, was a verse play written for the Canterbury Festival. He then turned to more conventional plays to mixed reception. The Cocktail Party, a modernized Euripides comedy, was his biggest success, and its Broadway production won a Tony Award for Best Play.
In 1948, Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry." He found happiness late in life with his second marriage to Valerie Fletcher. Eliot died in London in 1965, and two years later his memorial was unveiled by his widow in the Poets' Corner.
4 - T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot grew up knowing he was privileged and obligated. One of his biographers, Peter Ackroyd, remarks that “the Eliots were the aristocrats of nineteenth-century America (family motto: Tace et fac ), part of that rising mercantile class which offered moral leadership to those who came after them their self-imposed mission was to administer and to educate”: to educate by leading and administering most of all, to educate. The poet's grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, left the Harvard Divinity School in order to establish the Unitarian faith in the frontier town of St. Louis, Missouri, in 1834, where he founded a church and (as Ackroyd puts it) “three schools, a university, a poor fund, and a sanitary commission.” His father, Henry Ware Eliot, grew wealthy from the proceeds of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, of which he was president. His mother, Charlotte Stearns Eliot, was (one wants to say “of course”) a poet, some of whose verses were published in newspapers, most of which were pasted into her scrapbooks.
Social versus cultural responsibility, striking business prowess versus aesthetic sensibility: in America, these historically opposed domains were the heritage of the twentieth century's most famous and powerful taste-determining man of letters. Thomas Stearns, a chip off the old family block, became a poet, a literary critic, a stalwart at Lloyds Bank and Faber and Faber, a Nobel Prize winner, and, in the peak years of his fame, the author of a prose of heavy concern (the cultural equivalent of his grandfather's sanitary commission).
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T.S. Eliot was a famous poet, literary critic, and playwright. He was one of the pioneers of modernism, a movement in art and literature that was popular in America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Henry Ware Eliot, a businessman, and Charlotte Champe Stearns, a schoolteacher and amateur poet. Eliot’s grandfather was William Greenleaf Eliot, a famous Unitarian minister, educator, and philanthropist, who died before T.S. Eliot was born. Eliot was raised to follow his grandfather’s religious and moral teachings, like optimism about the future, the innate goodness and progress of mankind, avoiding selfishness, and making personal sacrifices for the good of the greater community.
Eliot was born with a double hernia, a condition where his intestines bulged out of his abdominal wall in two places, so he was not free to play in normal, rambunctious ways with other children. Instead, he developed an early passion for reading and writing. Some of the imagery in his writings was inspired by things he noticed in his surroundings, such as the Mississippi River, pollution, and urban decay near his St. Louis neighborhood, or the vast ocean, sailboats, and beaches near his summer home in Massachusetts.
After starting in a small private school, Eliot transferred in 1898 to Smith Academy, a school founded by his grandfather. While at Smith, Eliot created a homemade magazine and wrote a number of stories for the Smith Academic Record. Eliot later attended Harvard University, where his cousin, Charles William Eliot, was the president. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1909, and then pursued graduate degrees in English and Philosophy.
At Harvard Eliot became a poet and began to write in ways that challenged his family’s moral and religious beliefs. Starting in 1910, his poetry took on themes associated with the modernism movement in art and literature. Modernism focused on the negative aspects of humanity and rejected most themes that were popular in the 1800s, like optimism, progress, beauty, morality, personal strength, and freedom of choice.
The characters in many of Eliot’s poems were lonely, disconnected from other people, and overly concerned about their own unfulfilled wants and needs, as opposed to being selfless and focusing on the greater good of the community. Many poems were set in the present and paid little attention to past traditions. Instead of optimism and progress, many of his characters felt stuck in difficult situations they were powerless to escape. Eliot’s poems usually stressed the darker side of human nature. Nearly all of these themes can be detected in his breakthrough poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
Eliot eventually moved to London, England, where he met and married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915. In 1917 Eliot got a job at a bank, published his first book of poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations, and became assistant editor at The Egoist, a literary magazine. Vivienne suffered from severe mental and physical problems, which strained the couple’s marriage and finances until Eliot’s own physical and mental health suffered.
The stress mounted after Eliot’s second book, Poems, was published in 1919. A year later, Eliot had a nervous breakdown. Out of this atmosphere of mental and emotional stress came Eliot’s most famous poem, The Waste Land. The poem was published in 1922 in The Criterion, a new literary magazine created and edited by Eliot. The Waste Land’s themes were extremely dark and hinted at Eliot’s deep emotional distress. In 1925 Eliot became literary editor at the Faber & Gwyer publishing company. That same year, the themes from The Waste Land resurfaced in Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men, which ends with the line,
“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
In 1927 Eliot joined the Church of England and became an English citizen. His work after this tended to have lighter themes, like the whimsical Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in 1939, or religious themes, like Ash Wednesday in 1930, and his last work of poetry, Four Quartets, in 1943. Eliot wrote mainly plays and literary criticism after these publications.
Eliot separated from his wife in 1933. Vivienne was committed to a mental institution in 1938, and died in 1947. In 1957, at age 68, Eliot married his 30-year old secretary, Valerie Fletcher. He lived out the rest of his days happier than he had been since his childhood. A heavy smoker for most of his life, Eliot continually suffered from worsening respiratory problems, and died in London on January 4, 1965.
T. S. Eliot’s writings helped shape modern literature in the twentieth century. In 1948 he was awarded the British Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the only Missourian to date to win a Nobel Prize. Eliot’s play, The Cocktail Party, won the 1950 Tony Award for Best Play. In 1964 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was adapted in 1981 into the Tony award-winning play Cats.
William Golding (1911-1993)
Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983, at which time he was considered one of the foremost English writers of the 20th century. He came to prominence in the early 1950s with the publication of his debut novel Lord of the Flies, a harrowing allegorical tale of shipwrecked children that was, at the time, shocking in its bleak depiction of human bestiality. This novel introduced Golding’s stylistic and thematic obsessions: his tendency to use allegory and his relentless pessimism about the nature of civilisation, which would thread its way throughout his work. Lord of the Flies was not a success initially, but was eventually acclaimed as one of the finest works of the 20th century and a perspicacious insight into post war society. Golding would follow it with several acclaimed works including The Inheritors (1955), The Spire (1964) and Rites of Passage (1980), which won the Man Booker Prize. Golding remains one of the most popular English authors, particularly since Lord of the Flies has become a mainstay of secondary school curricula in the UK and US.
The T. S. Eliot Foundation and the Poetry Society of America are pleased to announce that John Murillo is the winner of the 2021 Four Quartets Prize for his poem “A Refusal to Mourn the Deaths, by Gunfire, of Three Men in Brooklyn” from his collection Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry (Four Way Books, 2020).
He was selected by judges Carolyn Forché, Donika Kelly, and Arthur Sze.
The judges also named Don Mee Choi for her book DMZ Colony and Srikanth Reddy for his book Underworld Lit, both published by Wave Books in 2020. Mr. Murillo will receive an award of $21,000 and each finalist will receive an award of $1,000.
The Judges’ Citation: John Murillo’s “A Refusal to Mourn the Deaths, by Gunfire, of Three Men in Brooklyn” lights a match and holds us in the flame. In this extraordinary fifteen-sonnet redoublé, the speaker meditates on the recent history of murderous racism in America that makes of Black men targets, and centers in the lyric space Black anger and Black pain. Murillo reminds us that his is a long lineage and each sonnet’s epigraph marks the genealogy of resistance Black poets continue to enact. Murillo’s anti-elegy demonstrates a lyrical virtuosity, passion, and command of language that makes this work urgent, essential, and enduring.
Biographies and videos of each finalist reading from their shortlisted works can be found on the Poetry Society of America’s website here.
Norwegian writer Knut Pedersen Hamsun (1859–1952), a pioneer of the psychological literature genre, received the 1920 Nobel Prize for Literature "for his monumental work, 'Growth of the Soil.'"
French writer Anatole France (a pseudonym for Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault, 1844–1924) is often thought of as the greatest French writer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921 "in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament."
T.S. Eliot wins Nobel Prize in Literature - HISTORY
2. Best known for writing “The Waste Land’ and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot, who won the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature, also penned the verse drama, most notably The Rock and The Cocktail Party.
3. Although his seminal poem, “The Waste Land,” is a serious work that reflects his sense of despair, Eliot also wrote lighter pieces. In 1939, he published a book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats the characters he created inspired, in 1980, the musical “Cats,” one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history.
4. He described himself as “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion.”
5. In the early 1910s, Eliot coined a word that is still used widely today—he wrote a poem called “The Triumph of Bulls**t.”
T. S. Eliot
6. Another famous phrase Eliot created, in the opening lines of “The Waste Land,” is “April is the cruelest month.”
7. In 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen.
8. Although usually depicted as a serious man in a three-piece suit, Eliot was actually quite a prankster. His practical jokes reportedly included putting whoopee cushions on seats of visiting authors and giving them exploding cigars.
9. When he died of emphysema, he was buried in East Coker, the same English village from where his family had migrated to America in the 17th century.
10. On September 26, 1986, on what would have been Eliot’s 98th birthday, the US Postal Service issued a 22-cent stamp in his honor.