T.S. Eliot (Thomas Stearns)

T.S. Eliot
Born: 26-09-1888, Saint Louis, Missouri (US)
Died: 04-01-1965, London (GB)


He was one of the seven children of Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte Champe Stearns. His grandfather was the founder of the Washington University and the first Unitarian church in Saint Louis. This was a rich family and literature formed an important part of the life of this young poet, writer and philosopher. His mother was also a poet.

During his youth, he was unable to perform any physical task, due to physical limitations. He was, however, able to attend school. His first poem was written when he attended Smith’s Academy. The title was Fable for feasters. In the years 1906 to 1909, he studied Literature at Harvard. After graduating, he worked as a philosophy assistant at Harvard (1909 – 1910). During that time, he published some of his work in the Harvard Advocate and became friends with Conrad Aiken.

From 1910 to 1911 he lived in France (Paris). He studies Philosophy at Sorbonne University. Back at Harvard, he studied Philosophy and Sanskrit between 1911 and 1914. He finally was offered a chance to study at Merton College in Oxford (GB). He wasn’t really fond of this place. After one year, he left Oxford. He married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, but the marriage wasn’t successful, due to the mental condition of Haigh-Wood.

An interesting career move, was the new job he accepted at Lloyds Bank. He worked on the department responsible for foreign money transfers. He also worked as an editor for The Egoist and started his own magazine – The Criterion. In this magazine, he published the poem that he is mostly remembered for: The waste land. The 434-line poem is written around the legend of the Holy Grail and the Fisher King. This poem is considered a classic poem and is one of the central work as it comes to modernist poetry. Writing this poem, took him several years.

With The Criterion, Eliot was able to create an impressive network. He would benefit from this for the rest of his life. Long-lasting friendships were the result.

In 1925, Eliot left Lloyds and took on a job as a publishing director at Faber and Gwyer (Faber and Faber). This meant, he was able to publish the works of other important poets, such as Stephen Spender, Ted Hughes and W.H. Auden. Being in England, he decided not only to convert to Anglicanism. He also took on the British nationality (1927). After this, he became warden of the St. Stephens’s church in London.

There were two important steps for him to take on the British nationality and convert to Anglicanism:

  1. He needed something new; hope.
  2. The need to get more involved with the English community.

It was Peter Ackroyd, one of his biographers, to come up with these two theories. Especially the part about hope, since his marriage was falling apart and he separated from his wife in 1932. This separation was not legal in any way. When Vivienne died in 1938, they were still married. After she died, there were some romances, including Esmé Valerie Fletcher. The two of them got married in 1957, when Eliot was 68 years old. His wife was at that time 30. The wedding was kept a secret, except for Esmé’s parents.

On January 4th 1965, T.S. Eliot died in his home in Kensington (London). He suffered from Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He was cremated and his ashes were taken to St. Michael and All Angels’ Church (Somerset).

Poems published on this website

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons – Photographed one Sunday afternoon in 1923 by Lady Ottoline Morrell

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