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T.S. Eliot

(1888-1965)

Thomas Stearns (TS) Eliot was born in Saint Louis, Missouri on September 26, 1888. Eliot's poetry and critical works helped shape modern literature, and in 1948 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Eliot received his education at Smith Academy (closed in 1917) in Saint Louis, at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, and at Harvard University, where he obtained a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy. After studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and at Oxford University, he settled in London in 1914. Eliot worked first as a teacher, then as a clerk for Lloyd's Bank, while writing poetry in his spare time. In 1917, with the encouragement of his friend and mentor, American poet Ezra Pound, he published his first major poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. "Prufrock" revealed Eliot's early style, mixing humour and pessimism. The Waste Land (1922) expressed his horror at the spiritual turmoil of modern Europe. Eliot's Ash-Wednesday (1930) is more traditional, and with its religious emphasis, more hopeful than his previous work. Eliot also wrote several plays including Murder in the Cathedral, (1935), The Family Reunion (1939), The Cocktail Party (1950), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1958). In 1922 Eliot founded, and for seventeen years, edited the literary journal, Criterion. He also served as director of London publisher, Faber & Faber, from 1925 until his death in 1965.

Bibliography Poetry • Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) -The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock -Portrait of a Lady (poem) • Poems (1920) -Gerontion -Sweeney Among the Nightingales • The Waste Land (1922) • The Hollow Men (1925) • Ariel Poems (1927-1954) -The Journey of the Magi (1927) • Ash Wednesday (1930) • Coriolan (1931) • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) • The Marching Song of the Pollicle Dogs and Billy M'Caw: The Remarkable Parrot (1939) in The Queen's Book of the Red Cross • Four Quartets (1945)


Plays • • • • • • •

Sweeney Agonistes (published in 1926, first performed in 1934) The Rock (1934) Murder in the Cathedral (1935) The Family Reunion (1939) The Cocktail Party (1949) The Confidential Clerk (1953) The Elder Statesman (first performed in 1958, published in 1959)

Non-fiction´ • The Second-Order Mind (1920) • Tradition and the Individual Talent (1920) • The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920) -"Hamlet and His Problems" • Homage to John Dryden (1924) • Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca (1928) • For Lancelot Andrewes (1928) • Dante (1929) • Selected Essays, 1917–1932 (1932) • The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933) • After Strange Gods (1934) • Elizabethan Essays (1934) • Essays Ancient and Modern (1936) • The Idea of a Christian Society (1940) • A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1941) made by Eliot, with an essay on Rudyard Kipling, London, Faber and Faber. • Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948) • Poetry and Drama (1951) • The Three Voices of Poetry (1954) • The Frontiers of Criticism (1956) • On Poetry and Poets (1957)

Posthumous publications • To Criticize the Critic (1965) • The Waste Land: Facsimile Edition (1974) • Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917 (1996)


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherised upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats 5 Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question ‌ Oh, do not ask, “What is it?â€? Let us go and make our visit.

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In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening, Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys, Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, 20 And seeing that it was a soft October night, Curled once about the house, and fell asleep. And indeed there will be time For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; 25 There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; 30 Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.

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And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— 40 [They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”] My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin— [They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”] Do I dare 45 Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. For I have known them all already, known them all:— Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 50 I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall Beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume? And I have known the eyes already, known them all— 55 The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? 60 And how should I presume? And I have known the arms already, known them all— Arms that are braceleted and white and bare [But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!] It is perfume from a dress 65 That makes me so digress? Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl. And should I then presume? And how should I begin? Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers,

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Asleep … tired … or it malingers, Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me. Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? 80 But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter, I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, 85 And in short, I was afraid. And would it have been worth it, after all, After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, Would it have been worth while, 90 To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it toward some overwhelming question, To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”— 95 If one, settling a pillow by her head, Should say: “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.” And would it have been worth it, after all, Would it have been worth while, 100 After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets, After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor— And this, and so much more?— It is impossible to say just what I mean! But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen: 105 Would it have been worth while If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl, And turning toward the window, should say: “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all.” No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, 115 Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;


At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool. I grow old … I grow old … 120 I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.

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I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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Prufrock and Other Observations. 1917. This collection of poems contains one of Eliot’s first and most well-known poems, namely, the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, in which he examines, through the introspections of the narrator, the emptiness and soulless quality of the bleak social world surrounding him.

The waste land

Perhaps Eliot’s most famous work, this controversial poem details the journey of the human soul searching for redemption. The Waste Land is known not only for its probing subject matter but also its radical departure from traditional poetic style and structure incorporating historical and literary allusions as well as unconventional use of language. When Eliot first published The Waste Land in 1922, it caused a colossal stir in the literary world and in society in general. Eliot's use of nontraditional techniques, his gritty imagery, and the sheer incoherence of the work as a whole mystified, enraged, and enthralled readers and critics. As Helen Vendler notes in her 1998 Time article, "Modern poetry had struck its note." In fact, readers had never seen anything quite this modern before. The poem seemed to have a little bit of everything, and was much neatier than the other literary offerings of the time, and not just in Europe.


T. S. Eliot  

Biography and work

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