|T. S. Eliot|
T. S. Eliot in 1923 by Lady Ottoline Morrell
|Born||Thomas Stearns Eliot
26 September 1888
St. Louis, Missouri
|Died||4 January 1965 (aged 76)
|Occupation||Poet, dramatist, literary critic|
|Citizenship||American by birth; British from 1927|
|Education||A.B. in philosophy|
|Alma mater||Harvard University
Merton College, Oxford
|Notable work(s)||The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915), The Waste Land (1922)|
|Notable award(s)||Nobel Prize in Literature (1948), Order of Merit (1948)|
|Spouse(s)||Vivienne Haigh-Wood (1915–1947); Esmé Valerie Fletcher (1957 until his death)|
Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888–January 4, 1965) was an Anglo-American poet, playwright, and literary critic, arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. The first poem he became known for, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, was started in February 1910 and published in Chicago in June 1915, and is regarded as a masterpiece of the modernist movement. It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including Gerontion (1920), The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930), and Four Quartets (1945). He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935).
Born in Saint Louis, Missouri, and educated at Harvard, Eliot studied philosophy at the Sorbonne for a year, then won a scholarship to Oxford in 1914, becoming a British citizen when he was 39. "[M]y poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England," he said of his nationality and its role in his work. "It wouldn't be what it is, and I imagine it wouldn't be so good ... if I'd been born in England, and it wouldn't be what it is if I'd stayed in America. It's a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America." He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
Eliot was born into the Eliot family, a bourgeois family, originally from New England, who had moved to St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Henry Ware Eliot (1843–1919), was a successful businessman, president and treasurer of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis. His mother, Charlotte Champe Stearns (1843–1929), wrote poems and was a social worker. Eliot was the last of six surviving children; his parents were both 44 years old when he was born. His four sisters were between 11 and 19 years older than him; his brother was eight years older. Known to family and friends as Tom, he was the namesake of his maternal grandfather Thomas Stearns.
From 1898 to 1905, Eliot attended Smith Academy, where he studied Latin, Ancient Greek, French, and German. He began to write poetry when he was 14 under the influence of Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a translation of the poetry of Omar Khayyam, though he said the results were gloomy and despairing, and he destroyed them. The first poem that he showed anyone was written as a school exercise when he was 15, and was published in the Smith Academy Record, and later in The Harvard Advocate, Harvard University's student magazine.
After graduation, he attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts for a preparatory year, where he met Scofield Thayer, who would later publish The Waste Land. He studied philosophy at Harvard from 1906 to 1909, earning his bachelor's degree after three years, instead of the usual four. Frank Kermode writes that the most important moment of Eliot's undergraduate career was in 1908, when he discovered Arthur Symons's The Symbolist Movement in Poetry (1899). This introduced him to Jules Laforgue, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Verlaine, and without Verlaine, Eliot wrote, he might never have heard of Tristan Corbière. He wrote that the book affected the course of his life. The Harvard Advocate published some of his poems, and he became lifelong friends with Conrad Aiken, the American novelist.
He worked as a philosophy assistant at Harvard from 1909–1910, then from 1910–1911, he lived in Paris, studying philosophy at the Sorbonne, where he attended lectures by Henri Bergson and read poetry with Alain-Fournier. From 1911–1914, he was back at Harvard studying Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. He was awarded a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford in 1914. He visited Marburg in Germany first, where he planned to take a summer program, but when the First World War broke out, he went to Oxford instead. There were so many American students at Merton at the time that the Junior Common Room proposed a motion "that this society abhors the Americanization of Oxford," defeated by two votes after Eliot reminded the students how much they owed American culture. But he didn't settle at Merton, and left after a year. He wrote to Conrad Aiken on New Year's Eve 1914: "I hate university towns and university people, who are the same everywhere, with pregnant wives, sprawling children, many books and hideous pictures on the walls ... Oxford is very pretty, but I don't like to be dead." By 1916, he had completed a PhD dissertion for Harvard on Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley, about F. H. Bradley but he failed to return for the viva voce.
In a letter to Aiken late in December 1914, Eliot, aged 26, wrote, "I am very dependent upon women (I mean female society)," and then added a complaint that he was still a virgin. Less than four months later, Thayer introduced Eliot to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a Cambridge governess. They were married at Hampstead Register Office on June 26, 1915.
After a short, unaccompanied visit to his family in the United States, he returned to London and took several teaching jobs such as lecturing at Birkbeck College, University of London. The philosopher Bertrand Russell took an interest in Eliot's wife while the newlyweds stayed in his flat. Some scholars have suggested that she and Russell had an affair, but the allegations were never confirmed. In a private paper written in his sixties, Eliot confessed: "I came to persuade myself that I was in love with Vivienne simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of [Ezra] Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land." Their relationship was the subject of a 1984 play Tom and Viv, which in 1994 was made into a film.
After leaving Merton, Eliot worked as a schoolteacher, most notably at Highgate School, a private school in London, where he taught French and Latin—his students included the young John Betjeman—and later at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe a state school in Buckinghamshire. To earn extra money, he wrote book reviews and lectured at evening extension courses. In 1917, he took a position at Lloyds Bank in London, working on foreign accounts. On a trip to Paris in August 1920, he met the writer James Joyce and artist Wyndham Lewis. Eliot said he found Joyce arrogant—Joyce doubted Eliot's ability as a poet at the time—but the two soon became friends, with Eliot's visiting Joyce whenever he was in Paris. In 1925, he left Lloyds to join the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, later Faber and Faber, where he remained for the rest of his career, eventually becoming a director. Wyndham Lewis and Eliot became close friends, a friendship leading to Lewis's well-known painting of Eliot in 1938 (see lead image, above).
On June 29, 1927 Eliot converted to Anglicanism, and in November that year took British citizenship. He became a warden of his parish church, Saint Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London, and a life member of the Society of King Charles the Martyr.
By 1932, Eliot had been contemplating a separation from his wife for some time. When Harvard offered him the Charles Eliot Norton professorship for the 1932-1933 academic year, he accepted and left Vivienne in England. Upon his return, he arranged for a formal separation from her, avoiding all but one meeting with her between his leaving for America in 1932 and her death in 1947. Vivien was committed to the Northumberland House mental hospital, Stoke Newington, in 1938, and remained there until she died. Although Eliot was still her husband, he never visited her.
From 1946 to 1957, Eliot shared a flat with his friend John Davy Hayward, who gathered and archived Eliot's papers, styling himself "Keeper of the Eliot Archive". Hayward also collected Eliot's pre-Prufrock verse, commercially published after Eliot's death as Poems Written in Early Youth. When Eliot and Hayward separated their household in 1957, Hayward retained his collection of Eliot's papers, which he bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge in 1965.
On January 10, 1957, Eliot married Esmé Valerie Fletcher, 37 years younger than him. In contrast to his first marriage, Eliot knew Fletcher well, as she had been his secretary at Faber and Faber since August 1949. They kept their wedding secret; the ceremony was held in a church at 6.15 a.m. with virtually no one in attendance other than his wife's parents. Since Eliot's death, Valerie has dedicated her time to preserving his legacy; she has edited and annotated The Letters of T. S. Eliot and a facsimile of the draft of The Waste Land. In the early 1960s, by then in failing health, Eliot worked as an editor for the Wesleyan University Press, seeking out new poets in Europe for publication.
Eliot died of emphysema in London on January 4, 1965. For many years he had had health problems caused by his heavy smoking, and had often been laid low with bronchitis or tachycardia. His body was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. According to Eliot's wishes, the ashes were taken to St Michael's Church in East Coker, the village from which his ancestors had emigrated to America. There, a simple wall plaque commemorates him with a quotation from his poem "East Coker": "In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning." On the second anniversary of his death, he was commemorated by the installation of a large stone in the floor of Poets' Corner in London's Westminster Abbey. The stone is inscribed with his dates, his Order of Merit, and a quotation from his poem, "Little Gidding": "the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond / the language of the living."
For a poet of his stature, Eliot produced a relatively small amount of poetry. He was aware of this early in his career. He wrote to J. H. Woods, one of his former Harvard professors, that, "My reputation in London is built upon one small volume of verse, and is kept up by printing two or three more poems in a year. The only thing that matters is that these should be perfect in their kind, so that each should be an event."
Typically, Eliot first published his poems individually in periodicals or in small books or pamphlets, and then collected them in books. His first collection was Prufrock and Other Observations (1917). In 1920, he published more poems in Ara Vos Prec (London) and Poems: 1920 (New York). These had the same poems (in a different order) except that "Ode" in the British edition was replaced with "Hysteria" in the American edition. In 1925, he collected The Waste Land and the poems in Prufrock and Poems into one volume and added The Hollow Men to form Poems: 1909–1925. From then on, he updated this work as Collected Poems. Exceptions are Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), a collection of light verse; Poems Written in Early Youth, posthumously published in 1967 and consisting mainly of poems published 1907–1910 in The Harvard Advocate,, and Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917, material Eliot never intended to have published, which appeared posthumously in 1997.
In 1915 Ezra Pound, overseas editor of Poetry magazine, recommended to Harriet Monroe, the magazine's founder, that she publish "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". Although the character Prufrock seems to be middle-aged, Eliot wrote most of the poem when he was only 22. Its now-famous opening lines, comparing the evening sky to "a patient etherised upon a table," were considered shocking and offensive, especially at a time when Georgian Poetry was hailed for its derivations of the 19th century Romantic Poets. The poem follows the conscious experience of a man, Prufrock (relayed in the "stream of consciousness" form characteristic of the Modernists), lamenting his physical and intellectual inertia, the lost opportunities in his life and lack of spiritual progress, with the recurrent theme of carnal love unattained. Critical opinion is divided as to whether the narrator leaves his residence during the course of the narration. The locations described can be interpreted either as actual physical experiences, mental recollections, or even as symbolic images from the sub-conscious mind, as, for example, in the refrain "In the room the women come and go." The poem's structure was heavily influenced by Eliot's extensive reading of Dante Alighieri, in the Italian, and refers to a number of literary works, including Hamlet and those of the French Symbolists.
Its reception in London can be gauged from an unsigned review in The Times Literary Supplement on June 21, 1917: "The fact that these things occurred to the mind of Mr Eliot is surely of the very smallest importance to anyone, even to himself. They certainly have no relation to poetry…"
In October 1922 Eliot published The Waste Land in The Criterion. It was composed during a period of personal difficulty for Eliot—his marriage was failing, and both he and Vivien were suffering from nervous disorders. The poem is often read as a representation of the disillusionment of the post-war generation. That year Eliot lived in Lausanne, Switzerland to take a treatment and to convalesce from a break-down. There he wrote the final section, "What the Thunder Said," which contains frequent references to mountains. The poem's original draft was submitted to Ezra Pound, who persuaded Eliot to shorten it considerably. Before the poem's publication as a book in December 1922, Eliot distanced himself from its vision of despair. On November 15, 1922, he wrote to Richard Aldington, saying, "As for The Waste Land, that is a thing of the past so far as I am concerned and I am now feeling toward a new form and style." The poem is known for its obscure nature—its slippage between satire and prophecy; its abrupt changes of speaker, location, and time; its elegiac but intimidating summoning up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures. Despite this, it has become a touchstone of modern literature, a poetic counterpart to a novel published in the same year, James Joyce's Ulysses. Among its best-known phrases are "April is the cruellest month", "I will show you fear in a handful of dust"; and "Shantih shantih shantih," the Sanskrit word that ends the poem.
The Hollow Men appeared in 1925. For the critic Edmund Wilson, it marked "the nadir of the phase of despair and desolation given such effective expression in The Waste Land." It is Eliot's major poem of the late twenties. Similar to other work, its themes are overlapping and fragmentary: post-war Europe under the Treaty of Versailles (which Eliot despised: compare Gerontion); the difficulty of hope and religious conversion; and Eliot's failed marriage.
Allen Tate perceived a shift in Eliot's method, writing that, "The mythologies disappear altogether in The Hollow Men." This is a striking claim for a poem as indebted to Dante as anything else in Eliot’s early work, to say little of the modern English mythology—the ‘Old Guy [Fawkes]’ of the Gunpowder Plot—or the colonial and agrarian mythos of Joseph Conrad and James George Frazer, which, at least for reasons of textual history, echo in The Waste Land. The "continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity" that is so characteristic of his mythical method remained in fine form. The Hollow Men contains some of Eliot's most famous lines, most notably its conclusion:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Ash Wednesday is the first long poem written by Eliot after his 1927 conversion to Anglicanism. Published in 1930, it deals with the struggle that ensues when one who has lacked faith acquires it. Sometimes referred to as Eliot's "conversion poem," it is richly but ambiguously allusive, and deals with the aspiration to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation, inspired by Dante's Purgatorio. The style is different from the poetry that predates his conversion. Ash Wednesday and the poems that followed had a more casual, melodic, and contemplative method.
Many critics were particularly enthusiastic about it. Edwin Muir maintained that it is one of the most moving poems Eliot wrote, and perhaps the "most perfect," though it was not well-received by everyone. The poem's groundwork of orthodox Christianity discomfited many of the more secular literati.
In 1930, he published a book of light verse, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, "Old Possum" being Ezra Pound's nickname for him. This first edition had an illustration of the author on the cover. In 1954, the composer Alan Rawsthorne set six of the poems for speaker and orchestra, in a work entitled Practical Cats. After Eliot's death, it became the basis of the musical, Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Eliot regarded Four Quartets as his masterpiece, and it is the work that led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. It consists of four long poems, each first published separately: Burnt Norton (1936), East Coker (1940), Dry Salvages (1941) and Little Gidding (1942). Each has five sections. Although they resist easy characterisation, each begins with a rumination on the geographical location of its title, and each meditates on the nature of time in some important respect—theological, historical, physical—and its relation to the human condition. Each poem is associated with one of the four classical elements: air, earth, water, and fire.
Burnt Norton asks what it means to consider things that might have been. We see the shell of an abandoned house, and Eliot toys with the idea that all these merely possible realities are present together, invisible to us. All the possible ways people might walk across a courtyard add up to a vast dance we can't see; children who aren't there are hiding in the bushes.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
East Coker continues the examination of time and meaning, focusing in a famous passage on the nature of language and poetry. Out of darkness, Eliot offers a solution: "I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope".
The Dry Salvages treats the element of water, via images of river and sea. It strives to contain opposites: "... the past and future/Are conquered, and reconciled".
Little Gidding (the element of fire) is the most anthologized of the Quartets. Eliot's experiences as an air raid warden in The Blitz power the poem, and he imagines meeting Dante during the German bombing. The beginning of the Quartets ("Houses .../Are removed, destroyed") had become a violent everyday experience; this creates an animation, where for the first time he talks of Love as the driving force behind all experience. From this background, the Quartets end with an affirmation of Julian of Norwich: "all shall be well and/All manner of thing shall be well".
The Four Quartets cannot be understood without reference to Christian thought, traditions, and history. Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language of such figures as Dante, and mystics St. John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. The "deeper communion" sought in East Coker, the "hints and whispers of children, the sickness that must grow worse in order to find healing," and the exploration which inevitably leads us home all point to the pilgrim's path along the road of sanctification.
With the important exception of his magnum opus Four Quartets, Eliot directed much of his creative energies after Ash Wednesday to writing plays in verse, mostly comedies or plays with redemptive endings. He was long a critic and admirer of Elizabethan and Jacobean verse drama; witness his allusions to Webster, Thomas Middleton, William Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd in The Waste Land. In a 1933 lecture he said: "Every poet would like, I fancy, to be able to think that he had some direct social utility. ... He would like to be something of a popular entertainer, and be able to think his own thoughts behind a tragic or a comic mask. He would like to convey the pleasures of poetry, not only to a larger audience, but to larger groups of people collectively; and the theatre is the best place in which to do it."
After The Waste Land (1922), he wrote that he was "now feeling toward a new form and style." One project he had in mind was writing a play in verse with a jazz tempo featuring Sweeney, a character who had appeared in a number of his poems. Eliot did not finish it. He did publish separately two pieces of what he had written. The two, Fragment of a Prologue (1926) and Fragment of an Agon (1927) were published together in 1932 as Sweeney Agonistes. Although Eliot noted that this was not intended to be a one-act play, it is sometimes performed as one.
A pageant play by Eliot called The Rock was performed in 1934 for the benefit for churches in the Diocese of London. Much of it was a collaborative effort; Eliot accepted credit only for the authorship of one scene and the choruses. George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, had been instrumental in connecting Eliot with producer E. Martin Browne for the production of The Rock, and later asked Eliot to write another play for the Canterbury Festival in 1935. This one, Murder in the Cathedral, concerning the death of the martyr, Thomas Becket, was more under Eliot's control. After this, he worked on commercial plays for more general audiences: The Family Reunion (1939), The Cocktail Party (1949), The Confidential Clerk, (1953) and The Elder Statesman (1958). The Broadway production in New York of The Cocktail Party received the 1950 Tony Award for Best Play.
Eliot also made significant contributions to the field of literary criticism, strongly influencing the school of New Criticism. While somewhat self-deprecating and minimizing of his work—he once said his criticism was merely a “by-product” of his “private poetry-workshop”—Eliot is considered by some to be one of the greatest literary critics of the 20th century. The critic William Empson once said, "I do not know for certain how much of my own mind [Eliot] invented, let alone how much of it is a reaction against him or indeed a consequence of misreading him. He is a very penetrating influence, perhaps not unlike the east wind."
In his critical essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Eliot argues that art must be understood not in a vacuum, but in the context of previous pieces of art: “In a peculiar sense [an artist or poet] ... must inevitably be judged by the standards of the past.” This essay was one of the most important works of the school of New Criticism. Specifically, it introduced the idea that the value of one work of art must be viewed in the context of all previous work, a “simultaneous order” or works. Also important to New Criticism was the idea—as articulated in Eliot’s essay "Hamlet and His Problems”—of an “objective correlative,” which posits a connection among the words of the text and events, states of mind, and experiences. This notion concedes that a poem means what it says, but suggests that there can be a non-subjective judgment based on different readers’ different—but perhaps corollary—interpretations of a work.
More generally, New Critics took a cue from Eliot in regards to his “‘classical’ ideals and his religious thought; his attention to the poetry and drama of the early seventeenth century; his deprecation of the Romantics, especially Shelley; his proposition that good poems constitute ‘not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion'; and his insistence that ‘poets…at present must be difficult.’”
Eliot’s essays were a major factor in the revival of interest in the metaphysical poets. Eliot particularly praised the metaphysical poets' ability to show experience as both psychological and sensual, while at the same time infusing this portrayal with—in Eliot's view—wit and uniqueness. Eliot's essay "The Metaphysical Poets," along with giving new significance and attention to metaphysical poetry, introduced his now well-known definition of "unified sensibility," which is considered by some to mean the same thing as the term "metaphysical."
His 1922 poem The Waste Land—which at the time of its publication, many critics believed to be a joke or hoax—also can be better understood in light of his work as a critic. He had argued that a poet must write “programmatic criticism"; that is, a poet should write to advance his own interests rather than to advance “historical scholarship". Viewed from Eliot's critical lens, The Waste Land likely shows his personal despair about World War I rather than an objective historical understanding of it.
In 1958, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed Eliot to a commission that produced The Revised Psalter (1963). A harsh critic of Eliot's, C. S. Lewis, was also a member of the commission, where their antagonism turned into a friendship.
Eliot's poetry was first criticized as not being poetry at all. Many critics attacked his practice of widespread interweaving of quotations from other authors into his work. "Notes on the Waste Land," which follows the poem, gives the source of many of these, but not all. Eliot defended this as a necessary salvaging of tradition in an age of fragmentation, and completely integral to the work, adding richness through unexpected juxtaposition. Other critics have condemned the practice as showing a lack of originality, and for plagiarism. The prominent critic F. W. Bateson published an essay called "T. S. Eliot: The Poetry of Pseudo-Learning". Eliot wrote in The Sacred Wood: "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different."
Canadian academic Robert Ian Scott pointed out that the title of The Waste Land and some of the images had previously appeared in the work of a minor Kentucky poet, Madison Cawein (1865–1914). Bevis Hillier compared Cawein's lines "… come and go/Around its ancient portico" with Eliot's "… come and go/talking of Michelangelo". (This line actually appears in Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and not in The Waste Land.) Cawein's "Waste Land" had appeared in the January 1913 issue of the Chicago magazine Poetry (which contained an article by Ezra Pound on London poets). But scholars are continually finding new sources for Eliot's Waste Land, often in odd places.
Many famous fellow writers and critics have paid tribute to Eliot. According to poet Ted Hughes, "Each year Eliot's presence reasserts itself at a deeper level, to an audience that is surprised to find itself more chastened, more astonished, more humble." Hugh Kenner commented, "He has been the most gifted and influential literary critic in English in the twentieth century." However, other writers have not supported this view. In one of his criticisms, Samuel Beckett suggests that Eliot's work belongs in what the reverse of "T. Eliot" spells.
C. S. Lewis thought Eliot's literary criticism "superficial and unscholarly". In a 1935 letter to a mutual friend of theirs, Paul Elmer More, Lewis wrote that he considered the work of Eliot to be "a very great evil." In a 1943 letter to Eliot, Lewis expressed both admiration along with antagonism toward his views when he wrote: "I hope the fact that I find myself often contradicting you in print gives no offence; it is a kind of tribute to you—whenever I fall foul of some widespread contemporary view about literature I always seem to find that you have expressed it most clearly. One aims at the officers first in meeting an attack!"
The depiction of Jews in some of Eliot's poems has led several critics to accuse him of anti-Semitism. Gerontion contains a depiction of a landlord referred to only as the "jew [who] squats on the window sill." Another much-quoted example is the poem, Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar, in which a character in the poem implicitly blames the Jews for the decline of Venice: "The rats are underneath the piles/ The Jew is underneath the lot." In A Cooking Egg, Eliot writes, "The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From Kentish Town and Golder's Green" (Golders Green is a largely Jewish suburb of London). On the other hand, commentators note that the publisher of Gerontion and Burbank was John Rodker, himself Jewish. Additionally, Eliot mailed a draft of Gerontion to his friend Sidney Schiff, also a Jew, for pre-publication editing and commentary. A third "anti-Semitic" poem, Sweeney Among the Nightingales, was published by Eliot's Jewish friend Leonard Woolf. None of these men considered the poems anti-Semitic.
Eliot wrote a letter to the Daily Mail in January 1932, congratulating the newspaper for a series of laudatory articles on the rise of Benito Mussolini, and in a series of lectures delivered at the University of Virginia in 1933, later published under the title After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (1934), he said, regarding a homogeneity of culture, "What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable." He later disavowed the book, and refused to allow any part of it to be reprinted. In The Idea of a Christian Society (1940) he writes, "totalitarianism can retain the terms 'freedom' and 'democracy' and give them its own meaning: and its right to them is not so easily disproved as minds inflamed by passion suppose."
One of the first protests against Eliot on the subject of anti-Semitism came in the form of a poem from the Anglo-Jewish writer and poet Emanuel Litvinoff, read out during an inaugural poetry reading for the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1951, attended by Eliot. Only a few years after the Holocaust, Eliot had republished lines originally written in the 1920s about "money in furs" and the "protozoic slime" of Bleistein's "lustreless, protrusive eye" in his Selected Poems of 1948, angering Litvinoff. Litvinoff read out his poem, entitled "To T. S. Eliot," to a packed but silent room, ending with the lines, "Let your words/tread lightly on this earth of Europe/lest my people's bones protest".
There was an absolute shocked silence. When I finished reading it Herbert Read said to me "if I had known that you were going to read such a poem I would never have allowed it" and I thought "eh and you're an anarchist?" Then hell broke loose and I remember particularly Stephen Spender getting up and saying "as a poet as Jewish as Litvinoff, I'm outraged by this unwanted, undeserved attack on my friend T.S. Eliot" and so on and so forth ... Apparently Eliot was heard to mutter, he had his head down leaning on a chair, to his entourage "it's a good poem."
Leonard Woolf, husband of Virginia Woolf, who was himself Jewish and a friend of Eliot's, judged that Eliot was probably "slightly anti-Semitic in the sort of vague way which is not uncommon. He would have denied it quite genuinely." In 2003, Professor Ronald Schuchard of Emory University published details of a previously unknown cache of letters from Eliot to Horace Kallen, which reveal that in the early 1940s Eliot was actively helping Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria to re-settle in Britain and America. In letters written after the war, Eliot also voiced support for the state of Israel.
In 2009, Faber published Volume 2 of Eliot's letters, and reissued Volume 1 with 200 new letters. Craig Raine writes that the letters reveal some of Eliot's correspondents as flagrant anti-Semites, though Eliot himself was more restrained. Eliot's mother writes, "I have an instinctive antipathy to Jews, just as I have to certain animals," while his legal and literary representative in New York, John Quinn, writes of the streets being "infested ... with swarms of horrible looking Jews, low, squat, animal-like." Eliot complains to Quinn that he is annoyed with his publisher in the U.S., Horace Liveright, who was Jewish, and that, "I am sick of doing business with Jew [sic] publishers who will not carry out their part of the contract unless they are forced to," though he goes on to write in not dissimilar terms about Christian publishers too: "I wish I could find a decent Christian publisher in New York who could be trusted ..."
See also: The Four Quartets
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
And let my cry come unto Thee.
Literary Studies > T. S. Eliot
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The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living - T.S Eliot, Little Gidding
If you have any questions please bring them up in the discussion area, I would be happy to talk them over. Would someone please run a search for typos?
This course carries with it possibly the strangest assignment you will ever be given. Examine the sensual in ways you never have before. Follow specks of light, trace the patterns of sound cars make as they go past in your mind. In addition, find beautiful places and sit and look at them. Also, think, critically consider everything you experience, analyse the culture around you, consider the motivations people have for doing everything.
The course has with it supplementary material, mostly reading. The choices are selected to try to help you understand T.S Eliot and his poetry, they do not all immediately connect with the reading they are attached to, but as a whole, if considered carefully, will give you insight not only into the soul and writings of T.S Eliot, but also into the soul of humankind. I would appreciate persons knowledgeable about non western traditions to post equivalent literature from traditions they understand ( i.e Buddhist and Hindu texts, etc.) into these sections.
Papers in this course will not be marked, nevertheless it is recommended for your own sake that you complete them, they add far greater depth to the experience and enhance your writing skills. In addition, they might even help you find things about yourself, your life and your philosophy you never knew before. To find the readings online, as well as invaluable essays and study aids, look in the resources section.
(Poetic reading assingments should be read out loud if possible)
Does our society allow us a voice?
"The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock". Read all biographical materials provided ( and more if you can find some).
The use of rhyme in the first verse
The fragmentary nature of the poem
The themes of isolation and impotencency it brings up
The surreal images it uses ( i.e "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons).
Try to understand the purpose for every element of the poem.
Fear and trembling by Soren Kierkegaard.
What are the future directions of modern society
"The Waste Land"
One poem and one essay, as before. Let your essay be informed by the resources I have posted at the bottom of the page.
Sections of beyond good and evil by Nietzsche (enter an internet search to find).
What makes life meaningful, is modern life not as meaningful as it should be?
"The Hollow Men"
One poem and one essay, as before. Let your essay be informed by the resources I have posted at the bottom of the page.
Browse sections of Max Weber's "The protestant work ethic and the rise of capitalism."
What is change? How does it effect mankind?
One poem and one essay, as before. Let your essay be informed by the resources I have posted at the bottom of the page. There's no supplementary material this week because I'd like you to try something more daring, write a long poem.
What does death mean to you?
One poem and one essay, as before. Let your essay be informed by the resources I have posted at the bottom of the page.
The triumph of life by Shelley.
What are things we cannot deny?
"The Dry Salvages"
View a copy of the artwork "The Scream" ( enter a search) read some material and interpretation of it if possible.
What would it be like to experience something you cannot describe, or to find yourself suddenly find your postion in the great cosmic scheme of things ( if there were such a thing).
Some of the works of St John of the cross ( enter a search).
If life goes on an on, humankind largely unchanged, If so few of us reach a point of spirtual fufilment, what can the ordinary people do? What would make your life more meaningful?
"Murder in the Cathedral"
The Book of Ecclesiastes
What have you learned? Has it changed you as a person? Why not write a poem or an essay about it? Or even a short story? Are you glad you took the course? T.S Eliot won the nobel prize for liteature, would you have awarded it to him?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot An introduction to T.S Eliot the man.
http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/eliot/life.htm- An more in depth introduction
http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/ A simple concise introduction to the poetry of T.S Eliot.
http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/eliot/eliot.htm- A lot of very good essays on T.S Eliot and his work.
http://www.bartleby.com/198/1.html The love song of Alfred J Prufcock.
http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/ A hypertext version of "The Waste Land".
http://www.cs.umbc.edu/~evans/hollow.html The Hollow Men .
http://www.tristan.icom43.net/quartets/ The four quatrets.
http://www.wellsprings.org.uk/wellspring_of_pilgrimage/litgidd.htm A description of Little Gidding church.
Unfortunately no copy of "Murder in the Cathedral" could be found online. If you wish to complete this section of the course you will have to buy a copy yourself, failing that you could just skip it.
http://home.ddc.net/ygg/etext/fear.htm- Fear and Trembling.
http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/Nietzsche/beyondgoodandevil_tofc.htm- Beyond Good and Evil.
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/WEBER/cover.html- The Protestant work ethic and the rise of capitalism
http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem1912.html- The Triumph of Life.
http://www.poemhunter.com/p/m/poem.asp?poet=34197&poem=412162- St John of the cross ( one of his poems).
http://www.bartleby.com/108/21/- The book of Ecclesiastes
Spark notes for most of these things are avaliable. Simply search "spark notes" on google, and then find them on the page.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 - January 4, 1965), was an American poet. He was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. He also wrote plays and some important essays about literature.
One famous book of his was written for children and is called The Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The songs in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats are based on poems in it. He also wrote "The Waste Land", a very mysterious, complicated poem that helped start a new style called Modernism. His friend, Ezra Pound, another Modern poet, helped him finish it.
He was married two times. He worked at a bank in England and later as the head editor of a famous publishing company in London that is now called Faber and Faber. In 1948, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.