Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)

T.S. Eliot was a poet, critic, and an editor. He was a major figure in English poetry, famous for works such as “The Waste Land,” and “The Sacred Wood.” His critical essays helped to start a movement of literary modernism by stressing tradition, along with objective discipline. Eliot, along with the help of William Butler Yeats, and Ezra Pound set new poetic standards by rejecting the English romantics.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, MO. on September 26th, 1888. He was the youngest child in a family that had seven children, and very well known ancestors. Some of these ancestors include Reverend William Greenleaf Eliot, who founded Washington University in St. Louis, and Isaac Stearns, who was one of the original settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Eliot’s father Henry Ware Eliot, was a prosperous industrialist, and his mother, Charlotte Eliot, was a writer.
He attended school at Smith Academy in St. Louis, and Milton Academy in Massachusetts. Growing up with so many older people helped him to gain a high sense of maturity, even at such a young age. He also became more mature through the different cultural, and community interests that his parents had. He even more proved his maturity when he read a poem that was translated by Edward Fitzgerald.
But more then proving his maturity, this poem was his first influence to become a poet. Another poet that was a major influence in Eliot’s life was Edgar Allen Poe. Poe’s “The Assignation” was the poem that ‘spiritually’ moved Eliot. After reading these inspirational works, Eliot had several jobs in which he began to write poetry for several different literary companies.
In 1906, he entered Harvard University. There, he published frequently in the Harvard Advocate. ‘He took courses with such professors as Paul Elmer More and Irving Babbitt, the latter of who influenced Eliot through his classicism and emphasis upon tradition, and also studied the poetry of Dante, who would prove to be a lifelong source of enthusiasm and inspiration.’ (Literature)
While at Harvard, Eliot studied philosophy, and literature. He received his B.A. in 1909, and stayed at Harvard to earn a Masters Degree in English Literature. In the fall of 1910, he spent a year in Paris, taking courses at the Sorbonne. When he returned to America, he went back to Harvard, where he took up graduate studies in philosophy, and he also became a teaching assistant. ‘He was awarded a traveling fellowship for the 1914-1915 academic year, and he intended to study in Germany, but the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 forced him to leave the country after only several weeks.’ (Literature)
In 1915, he met Vivienne Haigh-Wood. He liked her very much, because she had such different interest than he did. They got married after being together for two months. Around the time that he was married, he met Ezra Pound. Ezra became a life-long friend, and an important literary influence. In 1933 Eliot and his wife separated, because she had a mental breakdown, and had to be confined to many different asylums from 1933, until the time of her death in 1947. The emotional difficulties caused by his marriage led him to write some intense passages in some of his later poetry.
In 1917, he left his job as a teacher’s assistant, and began working at Lloyd’s Bank. Even though he was working in a bank, he continued to write poetry. His first important poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” was released during this time. On the narrator of Prufrock:
‘The speaker of this ironic monologue is a modern, urban man who, like many of his kind, feels isolated and incapable of decisive action. Irony is apparent from the title, for this is not a conventional love song. Prufrock would like to speak of love to a woman, but he does not dare.’ (Prufrock Notes)

The first volume of verse that Eliot wrote was “Prufrock and Other Observations.” In this, he uses the imagery of urban life in addition to the poetic depth. In this same year, Eliot became the assistant editor for the journal The Egoist.
It wasn’t until Eliot joined the publishing firm Faber & Gwyer that he became financially secure. During this time, the stress from him being overworked, and the tensions from his