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T.S. Eliot was born September 26, 1888, at St. Louis, Missouri. He was the seventh child born into a family with strong roots in New England. His grandfather was a Unitarian Minister. His father was president of a successful brick-making company. The family spent summers at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Although Eliot was sent to private schools and then Harvard, his father never influenced him toward any practical application of his education. He was allowed to choose his courses of study and he leaned toward language arts and philosophy. His family assumed he would become an academic, preferably teaching at Harvard. He was close to his mother but was a great disappointment to her when he chose to live abroad.

Eliot spent 1910 and 1911 in France attending lectures on philosophy and poetry at the Sarbonne. He never finished his doctoral studies at Harvard. Back in England, he wrote poetry and was introduced to literary circles by fellow American poet, Ezra Pound. His father continued to support him with an annual allowance.

He married Vivien Haigh-Wood in1915, while still unable to make a living as a poet. His parents were extremely upset by his decision to remain in England abandoning the career path they thought he should follow. His father cut off his allowance but did relent and agree to pay the annual rent on Tom and Vivien’s London flat. Unable to make a living writing poetry, Eliot accepted jobs teaching school, working in a bank as a translator, writing and editing publications, philosophy lectures and as a literary critic. Money was always scarce and Vivien was constantly ill. Noted philosopher Bertrand Russell was a close friend and paid their debts on several occasions. Ezra Pound helped Eliot get poetry published and also helped them with money.

Vivien’s health deteriorated and she was frequently sent to rest homes in the country to recuperate. Vivien’s mental illness plagued the couple throughout their marriage and they eventually lived separate lives until Vivien died in 1947.

T.S. Eliot was raised in a family of strict Unitarian belief. On June 29, 1927 he became an Anglican. After his conversion, he wrote the poem “Ash Wednesday” which deals with the move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation.

In November of that same year, he became a British citizen. Later in life he would refer to himself as “an American who wasn’t an American.”

In 1957 Eliot married Valerie Fletcher and lived happily with her until his death on January 4, 1965 at London. After his death Valerie released many of his unpublished works and letters and approved Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats into the wildly popular musical “Cats”.

T.S. Eliot never gained success while his father was living. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was one of his earliest poems and one of the best known. His body of work was enormous and covered subjects from traditional to comical using many different poetic forms but he was always searching for a new and different way of expressing thoughts and emotions.

10 T. S. Eliot Poems Everyone Should Read
1. “The Waste Land”
2. “The Hollow Men”
3. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
4. “Little Gidding”’
5. “Journey of the Magi”
6. “East Coker”
7. “Preludes”
8. “The Hippopotamus”
9. “The Naming of Cats”
10. “Morning at the Window”

Click here to see poems of T. S. Eliot

 

By Margaret Hall Simpson

 


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