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TS Eliot

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ts eliot

TS Eliot Biography

TS Eliot. Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, of an old New England family. He was educated at Harvard and did graduate work in philosophy at the Sorbonne, Harvard, and Merton College, Oxford. He settled in England, where he was for a time a schoolmaster and a bank clerk, and eventually literary editor for the publishing house Faber & Faber, of which he later became a director. He founded and, during the seventeen years of its publication (1922-1939), edited the exclusive and influential literary journal Criterion. In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen and about the same time entered the Anglican Church.

TS Eliot Poems

Though TS Eliot published fewer poems than many of his contemporaries, the impact of his poems endures. His first major published poem was “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It was “The Waste Land,” five years later, however, that launched Eliot into the poetic stratosphere. “The Waste Land” was a highly original, quintessentially Modernist poem that utilized symbolic imagery and formalistic techniques.

When he wrote “The Hollow Men,” (1925), Eliot was still in his unhappy marriage and had a desolate outlook. Bleaker than “The Waste Land,” “The Hollow Men” is the pinnacle of this dark time in his personal life. Following his conversion to Anglicanism, Eliot published “Ash-Wednesday” (1930). The poem is more concerned with spiritual matters and faith than his previous works. Between 1936 and 1942, Eliot published four poems that he would later gather in a collection called Four Quartets (1943) which he considered his finest work.

T.S. Eliot Books and Drama

Eliot published many collections of his poetry throughout the years, including the aforementioned Four Quartets. One of his most enduring works is Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). With this collection, Eliot penned humorous poems about the lives and politics of cats. The book would be adapted into the well-known musical Cats (1981) by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

During his later years, in addition to these poetry collections, Eliot focused on writing plays. Sweeney Agonistes (1934) is a collection of two partial plays, Fragment of a Prologue (1926) and Fragment of an Agon (1927) which were plays written in verse.

He also published more well-known plays such as Murder in the Cathedral (1935) about the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett and The Cocktail Party (1949) based on Greek playwright Euripide’s tragedy Alcestis (438 BCE).

T.S. Eliot Quotes

Eliot’s poems are filled with endlessly entertaining and enlightening quotes. Some of the best-known quotes from his poems include:

April is the cruellest month.

This is the opening line of the poem “The Waste Land.” Oft-quoted, it immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem and subverts expectations by setting this spring month as the cruelest of them all. Eliot uses it to juxtapose the growth and new life of spring with a Europe that had just crumbled due to the First World War.

Though “April is the cruellest month” is one of the most commonly-quoted lines of Eliot’s poetry, that is not the full line! The full opening line reads: “April is the cruellest month, breeding.”

This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.

These are the final two lines of Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” The phrase “not with a bang but a whimper” is commonly used in the English language to refer to something that didn’t meet expectations for grandeur. Eliot posits that the end of the world, an event built up in our minds in significance and style, is actually anticlimactic.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” this quotation shows the speaker’s feelings that he wasted time in his life with repetitive tasks.

T.S. Eliot’s Writing Style

Eliot is famous for revolutionizing the poetry of the twentieth century. His background had a profound impact on his poetry: Eliot constantly felt like an outsider and a foreigner. He grew up in a happy American household, but he claimed England as his home. In both places, he felt alien. He studied philosophy and Indic religion, both of which would influence his writing.

Eliot enjoyed metaphysical poetry such as that by John Donne (1572–1631) and French symbolist poetry with its innovative techniques. His own poetry is the quintessential example of Modernist poetry. He rejected Romantic poetry and instead created an innovative personal style that would grant him fame as a Modernist poet.

Modernism is a literary movement that emphasized new approaches to narrative and poetic forms. Commonly accepted to have foundations in the French symbolist movement, Modernist poetry took the poet’s opinions and personal circumstances and infused them into the poems. It was through the poet’s personal expression that Modernist poetry found a universal significance.

He often used stream of consciousness, allegory, juxtaposition, and unusual imagery throughout his poems. He utilized these allegorical references to mythology in order to represent the realities of modern life: “The Waste Land” is a mash-up of the Fisher King, the search for the Holy Grail, and modern British society. Juxtapositions came in Eliot’s references, from British realities to Sanskrit texts.

Eliot’s often obscured the meaning of his poetry, embedding every line with layers of allusion, reference, and grandiose language. This was an intentional effort to force the English language to fit the chaotic inner monologues of his poetry, most notably seen in “The Waste Land.”

While Eliot rejected interpretations of his work as trying to represent a generation’s disillusionment following World War I, his own personal opinions toward the state of the world and his melancholic disposition are on full display in his poetry.

Other American AUthors

  5.    MARK TWAIN

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