Thomas Stearns Eliot, often shorten as T. S. Eliot was a poet, dramatist and literary critic and a Nobel Prize winner for his exceptional work in the world literature. Some of his best known works include the poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, Murder in the Cathedral & The Hollow Men, Four Quarters and the plays Murder in the Cathedral and The Cocktail Party. His most famous essay remains Tradition and the Individual Talent. Best known for his poems, Eliot also achieved distinction in the field of literary criticism and has been ranked as the greatest literary critic of the 20th century. Born in America, Eliot moved to the United Kingdom in 1941, where he earned an international fame and appreciation for his literary works for the first time. He was granted the British citizenship in 1927, at the age of thirty nine.
Childhood & Education
Born on 26 September 1888, Eliot was the son of Henry Ware Eliot, a successful entrepreneur, president and treasurer of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company. His mother Charlotte Champe Stearns was a poet and also a social worker. Of their six surviving children, Eliot was the youngest and had siblings much elder than him. In 1898, Eliot started his education from a preparatory school for Washington University 'Smith Academy' where he learned Latin, Greek, French and German until he left the school in 1905. After graduating, he went on to study at Harvard University where he received a B. A. from 1906 to 1909. In 1910, Eliot earned his Master's degree from the University and settled in Paris studying at the Sorbonne.
He rejoined the University in 1911 as a doctoral student in philosophy where he read avidly and keenly the writings of F.H. Bradley, Buddhism and Indic philosophy. Upon completing his course there, Eliot was sent to Merton College, Oxford University on a scholarship in 1914. While at Oxford, Eliot met his future wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a Cambridge lecturer. Eliot dropped the Merton College in the middle and married Vivienne on 26 June 1915 in a secret ceremony. He settled in London with his wife and supported himself with his small teaching jobs.
Career & Life in England
Eliot left Merton and took up a job of teaching at Highgate School and then Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. In 1917, he was hired by the Lloyds Bank in London where he dealt with the foreign accounts. While working in the bank, he continued to write book reviews and lecture at various colleges. After working for sometime, Eliot left the bank in 1925 and joined the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer where he was made its director in coming years.
In 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen. By this time, Eliot had grown tired of his unhappy marriage with Vivienne who therefore, when offered the Charles Eliot Norton professorship by Harvard University in 1932, took the opportunity and left her in England. He returned to London in 1933 and successfully sought an official separation from his wife. Vivienne passed away in 1947 after a long treatment in a mental hospital of London. Eliot married for a second time; to his previous secretary at Faber and Gywer (later Faber and Faber). He married Esme Valerie Fletcher, a girl much younger than him, on 10 January 1957 in a secret ceremony. The marriage was successful though short as Eliot would die after eight years of their marriage and his wife would edit The Letters of T.S. Eliot after his death.
Eliot is mainly known for his poems such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday and Four Quarters. The poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock depicts a man lamenting his physical inability and failure in attaining the spiritual and intellectual growth in life. The poem initially was not very successful but it received praise for its techniques of expression and citation. The Waste Land was published in 1922, and was composed during his life with his first wife. According to Eliot, the plot of the poem was inspired by his personal experience of his marriage and was a result of his mental status at that time. The poem deals with the individual awareness and spiritual anguish against the decline of civilization. His next legendry poem The Hollow Men came in 1925 and was marked for its connection with the post war Europe and religious issues.
Ash Wednesday, his first poem after conversion appeared in 1930. The poem expounds the difficulty one finds in pursuit of the knowledge of God, when the person had been always doubtful in the past. The poem somehow gives a glimpse of the agonistic and spiritual dilemma of the poet was ranked among his best works. However his masterpiece and the magnum opus of spiritual poems is believed to be the poem Four Quarters, which made him the winner of Nobel Prize in literature in 1948. The poem is based upon philosophy of life and the knowledge of mysticism. Eliot also produced some fine plays among which The Rocks and Murder in the Cathedral are considered his best works in this genre.
Eliot as Critic
Eliot is also remembered for his contribution to the field of literary criticism which he attributed to his habit of avid reading and working on artistic values. Though he never himself accepted the honor, he is ranked as the most famous and influential literary critic of the 20th century. His best known critical essay Tradition and the individual talent emphasizes the need of understanding of art in a way that is related to the previous piece of art. According to some, Eliot's talent as a literary critic can be found in his poems such as The Waste Land and Four Quarters. In 1939, Eliot wrote a book of light verse, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Eliot's prodigious output of critical works include The Sacred Wood (1920); For Lancelot Andrewes (1928); Selected Essays, 1917–32 (1932); The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933); After Strange Gods (1934); Elizabethan Essays (1934); Essays Ancient and Modern (1936); and Notes towards a Definition of Culture (1948).
A chronic smoker, Eliot led a life troubled by health problems such as bronchitis and tachycardia which had lowered his immunity and stamina. He contracted emphysema in London and died on 4 January 1965 and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were taken to St. Michael's Church in East Coker, his ancestral village whence they immigrated to America.