Thomas Sterne Eliot - Biography and Works

Thomas Sterne Eliot is the most influential poet of the twentieth century, and also a great dramatist and critic. Born in America, he became a citizen of England later, and began the modernist movement in English literature, which was especially marked by his modern epic The Waste Land.

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Eliot was influenced by French symbolism, helped to establish the imagist movement, and brought the forgotten metaphysical poetry to popularity with the claim that good poetry must be a balance of emotion and intellect. He was an anti-romantic who said that he was a classicist in literature: he believed that poetry is the conversion of emotion based on personal experience into something that is universally and humanly significant. He also advocated for standards of tradition along with the originality of personal talent.

 Eliot's first major poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917), revealed his original and highly developed style. The poem shows the influence of certain French poets of the 1800's, but its startling jumps from rhetorical language to cliche, its indirect literary references, and its simultaneous humor and pessimism were quite new in English literature.

"Prufrock" created a small literary satire, but The Waste Land (1922) created uproar. Some critics called the work a masterpiece, others a hoax. While this long, complex poem includes many obscure literary references, many in other languages, its main direction is clear. It contrasts the spiritual bankruptcy Eliot saw in modern Europe with the values and unity of the past.

 Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" (1930), far different from The Waste Land in tone and mood, is more musical, direct, and traditional, and in its religious emphasis, tentatively hopeful. Four Quartets, his last major poem, is a deeply religious, often beautiful, meditation on time and timelessness. It includes four sections: "Burnt Norton" (1936), "East Coker" (1940), "The Dry Salvages" (1941) and "Little Gidding" (1942).

Eliot also wrote several verse dramas. Murder in the Cathedral (1935), his first major play, is based on the death of Thomas Becket. On the surface, The Cocktail Party (1950) appears to be a sophisticated comedy, but it is really a deeply religious and mystical work. Eliot's other plays include The Family Reunion (1939), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1958). Eliot's Complete Poems and Plays (1909-1950) was published in 1952. Selected Essays is a collection of his important prose.

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Shrestha, Roma. "Thomas Sterne Eliot - Biography and Works." BachelorandMaster, 24 Nov. 2013,