Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was an American-born British poet, playwright, and literary critic. He was a dominant force in the English and American literary scene during the middle third of the twentieth century, and presented a powerful conservative voice. His poems include "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), "The Waste Land" (1922), and "The Journey of the Magi" (1927); his plays include "Murder in the Cathedral" (1935). His light verse book "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" (1939), was later made into the hit musical "Cats" (1981). He studied at Oxford, Paris, and Harvard. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, for his contributions to modern-day poetry.
T. S. Eliot was born and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and came from a prominent intellectual family of Yankee origins. In 1914 he moved to England.
In 1927 Eliot was baptized into the Church of England, became a subject of the king, began publishing essays by conservative thinkers, and proclaimed himself a "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion." He became deeply involved in Church affairs and wrote a historical play about the Church, "Murder in the Cathedral," which was first performed in the chapter house of Canterbury Cathedral in June 1935.
Eliot's religious views are most notably contained in the poem Ash Wednesday, which he wrote in 1927 after his conversion, as well as in the Four Quartets, which were four related poems published separately between 1935 and 1942, and republished in one volume in 1943. Their titles are Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding.
Eliot considered Four Quartets to be his masterpiece. It draws upon his three-decade-long study of mysticism and philosophy. Christian imagery and symbolism is abundant in the poems.
Notable plays include The Cocktail Party, which concerns a group of contemporary people talking about their marital and other problems, and who are counseled by a mysterious character, ostensibly a psychiatrist, and Murder in the Cathedral, which is about the death of Thomas Becket.
Some famous lines from T. S. Eliot that are often alluded to or quoted include:
- Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
- I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach
- I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
- I do not think that they will sing to me.
- (from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock")
- This is the way the world ends
- Not with a bang but a whimper.
- (from "The Hollow Men")
- April is the cruellest month, breeding
- Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
- Memory and desire, stirring
- Dull roots with spring rain.
- (from The Waste Land)
- The whole earth is our hospital
- Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
- Wherein, if we do well, we shall
- Die of the absolute paternal care
- That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
- (from East Coker, Four Quartets)
- Ackroyd, Peter. T.S. Eliot (1984), excellent scholarly biography
- Brand, Clinton A. "The Voice of This Calling: The Enduring Legacy of T. S. Eliot," Modern Age Volume 45, Number 4; Fall 2003 online edition, conservative perspective
- Bush, Ronald. "Eliot, Thomas Stearns (1888–1965)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2007; very good summary
- Calder, Angus. T.S. Eliot (1987), 184pp; short interpretive biography online edition
- Gordon, Lyndall. T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life (1999) excerpt and text search
- Kenner, Hugh. The Invisible Poet (1960). by conservative critic
- Kimball, Roger. "A Craving for Reality: T.S. Eliot Today," New Criterion, Vol. 18, October 1999 online edition, by conservative critic
- Moody, A. David, ed. The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot (1995) excerpt and text search
- Tate, Allen, ed. T. S. Eliot: the man and his work (1967), by conservative critic
- Williamson, George. A Reader's Guide to T.S. Eliot: A Poem-By-Poem Analysis (1998) excerpt and text search
- Eliot, T.S. Collected Poems, 1909-1962 (The Centenary Edition) (1991) excerpt and text search
- Eliot, T.S. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Illustrated Edition (1982) excerpt and text search
- Eliot, T.S. Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot ed. by Frank Kermode (1975) excerpt and text search
- Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land (Norton Critical Editions) ed. by Michael North (2000) excerpt and text search
- Eliot, T.S. Selected essays (1932); enlarged (1960)
- Eliot, T.S. The letters of T. S. Eliot, ed. Valerie Eliot, vol 1 (1988)