Glossary entry for
Eliot, T. S.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was one of the most influential and innovative
Modernist poets. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, was educated at
Harvard and later at Oxford University, England. He arrived in England
shortly before the outbreak of WWI, and stayed for the duration. Having
married an English writer, Vivian Haigh-Wood in 1915, he chose to remain
in England permanently. Eliot's first wife was highly neurotic and suffered
increasingly bad health. The strain brought Eliot to the verge of a nervous
breakdown, and he spent time in a Swiss sanitorium. Eliot left his wife in
1937, and didn't remarry until 1957.
He had already written the first of his major poems,
The Love Song of
Alfred Prufrock in 1915, but after his return from Switzerland to England
in 1922, his tour de force,
Waste Land (set in a mythological
London), was published after some editorial help from his friend, fellow
poet and rival, Ezra Pound.
Other major works of Eliot's are
Hollow Men (1925), a critique of
Western civilization, and Four Quartets (1936, 1943). All these poems are
dense and difficult to appreciate without guidance, partly because they
refer extensively to other literary texts and (predominantly) Christian
mythology. Eliot became a British subject and joined the Church of England
in 1927. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.
As a sample of his work, here is
Norton" (from Four Quartets)
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present.
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden.
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