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Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965), American-English author, was one
of the most influential poets writing in English in the 20th century,
one of the most seminal critics, an interesting playwright, and an
editor and publisher.
On Sept. 26, 1888, T. S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Mo., a member
of the third generation of a New England family that had come to St.
Louis in 1834. Eliot's grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot,
Unitarian minister and founder of schools, a university, a learned
society, and charities, was the family patriarch. While carrying on
a tradition of public service, the Eliots never forgot their New
England ties. T. S. Eliot claimed that he was a child of both the
Southwest and New England. In Massachusetts he missed Missouri's
dark river, cardinal birds, and lush vegetation. In Missouri he
missed the fir trees, song sparrows, red granite shores, and blue
sea of Massachusetts.
Henry Ware Eliot, the father of T. S. Eliot, became chairman of the
board of a brick company and served the cultural institutions his
father had helped found, as well as others. He married an
intellectual New Englander, Charlotte Champ. After having six
children, she turned her energies to education and legal safeguards
for the young. She also wrote a biography, some religious poems, and
a dramatic poem (1926), with a preface by her already widely
respected youngest child, Thomas.
Eliot grew up within the family's tradition of service to religion,
community, and education. Years later he declared, "Missouri and the
Mississippi have made a deeper impression on me than any part of the
world." The Eliots also spent summers on Cape Ann, Mass. These
places appear in Eliot's early poetry, but in the Four Quartets of
his maturity his affection for them is most explicit.
of a Poet
In St. Louis young Eliot received a classical education privately
and at Smith Academy, originally named Eliot Academy. He composed
and read the valedictory poem for his graduation in 1905. After a
year at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, he went to Harvard in 1906.
He was shy, correct in dress, and intellectually independent. He
studied under such versatile men as William James, George Santayana,
Josiah Royce, and Irving Babbitt. He discovered Dante and heard talk
of reviving poetic drama. Among such student personalities as Walter
Lippmann, Heywood Broun, Conrad Aiken, and E. E. Cummings, Eliot
made a modest impression as a contributor and editor of the Harvard
Advocate. He was quietly completing his bachelor of arts degree in 3
years and was hard on the track of a new poetic voice. In 1908 he
discovered Arthur Symons's The Symbolist Movement in Literature, and
through it the French poet Jules Laforgue. From the example of
Laforgue, other French symbolists, and late Elizabethan dramatists,
he began to develop the offhand eloquence, the pastiches and
discordant juxta-positions, the rhythmic versatility, and the
concern masked by evasive irony and wit that would soon dominate the
American-British renascence in poetry.
Eliot's stay at Harvard to earn a master of arts in philosophy was
interrupted by a year at the Sorbonne. He returned to Harvard in
1911 but in 1914 he went abroad again on a Harvard fellowship to
study in Germany. When World War I broke out, he transferred to
Merton College, Oxford, and studied with a disciple of F. H. Bradley,
who became the subject of Eliot's dissertation. Ezra Pound, the
young American poet, discovered Eliot at Oxford. Though they were
quite different, they shared a devotion to learning and poetry.
After Oxford, Eliot decided to stay in England and in 1915 married a
vivacious Englishwoman, Vivienne Haigh Haigh-Wood. He taught at
Highgate Junior School for boys near London (1915-1916) and then
worked for Lloyd's Bank. While teaching, he completed his
dissertation, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H.
Bradley. The dissertation was accepted, but Eliot did not return to
America to defend it so as to receive his doctorate. His study of
Bradley, however, contributed to his thought and prose style.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Eliot tried to
join the U.S. Navy but was rejected for physical reasons. That year
his first volume of verse, Prufrock and Other Observations, appeared
and almost immediately became the focus for discussion and
controversy. Eliot's abruptly varied rhythms and his mixtures of
precision and discontinuity, contemporary references and echoes of
the past, and immediate experience and haunting leitmotifs spoke to
the distraction and alienation that World War I had intensified in
Western civilization. This quality was most effective in the
ironically titled poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," in
which the Victorian dramatic monologue is turned inward and wedded
to witty disillusion and psychic privacies to present a dilettante
character fearful of disturbing or being disturbed by anything in
the universe. Prufrock moves through a dehumanized city of
dispirited common men on an empty round of elegant but
uncommunicative chitchat. The many voices within him, speaking in
approximations of blank verse and in catchy couplets, contribute to
what Hugh Kenner, the American critic, called an "eloquence of
Critic and Editor
As literary editor of the Egoist, a feminist magazine, from 1917 to
1919, Eliot began the editorial and critical careers that would
continue until his death. The back pages of the Egoist were
entrusted to a succession of young poet-editors, and here, with the
aid of Ezra Pound, the new poetry and criticism got a hearing. Eliot
was also writing anonymous reviews for the London Times and
publishing essays that announced the appearance of a sometimes
pontifical but illuminating critic. In 1919 two of his most
influential pieces appeared. "Tradition and the Individual Talent"
advocated the "depersonalization" of poetry and a redirection of
interest away from the poet's personality to the poem, the process,
and the tradition to which the poem belonged. "Hamlet and His
Problems" defined "objective correlative," a term soon to achieve
wide currency, as a particular object, act, sequence, or situation
which the poet infuses with a particular feeling in order to be able
to call it up economically by mere mention of the thing or event. In
this essay Eliot demonstrated the need to cut through received
opinion to the literary work itself. He declared that the "primary
problem" in Hamlet is not the character but the play, because the
character has to bear the burden of an "inexpressible" emotion "in
excess of the facts as they appear."
In his early critical essays, collected as The Sacred Wood (1920),
Homage to John Dryden (1924), Selected Essays: 1917-1932 (1932), and
The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), Eliot pointed to
the poets, critics, and cultural figures who had been helpful to him
and might assist others in adjusting 20th-century experience to
literary and cultural tradition. Eliot was drawn to precision and
concreteness in language, seeking "to purify the dialect of the
tribe," as he later put it. He called attention to thematic or
musical structure for communicating complex psychological experience,
to past mergers of thought and feeling that could counteract the
modern "dissociation of sensibility," and to the "mythical method"
of James Joyce's novel Ulysses and of his own poetry - a method that
contrasts the balance and sanity of masterpieces and the ages that
produced them with the contemporary deracination that isolates
individuals culturally and psychologically. With learned
understatement he also assessed critics from Aristotle to his
Harvard teacher Irving Babbitt. He found creative guides in 19th-century
French symbolists; the 17th-century man of letters John Dryden and
his predecessor John Donne; the Jacobean dramatists; and beyond them
Dante, a bitter exile who created a serene masterpiece.
A rising poet and critic, Eliot made his way into elite British
circles. The Bloomsbury group led by Leonard and Virginia Woolf
welcomed him; as a somewhat British American, both conservative and
liberal leaders could accept him; and young writers on both sides of
the Atlantic offered respect and affection. When restless Pound left
London for Paris in 1920, Eliot quietly assumed the leadership of
England's young intelligentsia.
In "Gerontion" (1920) Eliot offered a shorter, less fragmented
perspective on Prufrock's unfocused world, resorting again to the
interior monologue, this time spoken by a despairing old man who did
not believe or act passionately in youth and now regrets the
spiritual waste of his life.
The Waste Land
While convalescing from exhaustion in 1921, Eliot advanced his
diagnosis of war-enervated, spiritually moribund Europe with a draft
of The Waste Land. This was to become, after publication in 1922,
the most influential and controversial poem of the century. Eliot
corresponded with Pound about the poem, and Pound's drastic editing
compressed it, no doubt unifying and sharpening it. Eliot
acknowledged Pound's help by dedicating the poem to him in Dante's
words as "il miglior fabbro," the better maker.
In The Waste Land Eliot defines alienation and also indicates a
remedy. Voices such as Prufrock's and Gerontion's are still heard,
but Eliot's spokesman is now a mild Jeremiah, a lonely prophet or
pilgrim who seeks spiritual regeneration in person and in thought
throughout a corrupt city and across a disoriented continent. Spring
is no longer the joyous season of renewal: "April is the cruelest
month," for it calls unwilling people to physical and spiritual
regeneration, to leave off unsacramental sex and materialistic busy-ness.
Eliot had intensified and extended the varied rhythms and montages
of his earlier interior monologues and now organized them in a five-part
structure deriving from Beethoven's late quarters. While sordid and
distracted images still abound, hopeful ones have increased, and a
greater tension exists between the two. Social disintegration is
equated with a shattered wasteland, but the poem's central
consciousness is nevertheless alert to the possibility of recreating
personal and communal wholes out of the present and the past, of
fertility rites, Christianity, Indian philosophy, and Western
literature and art: "These fragments I have shored against my ruin."
Also in 1922 Eliot founded the Criterion, an influential little
magazine that appeared until 1939, when he discontinued its
publication. In it he stressed learning, discipline, and the
constant renewal of tradition in literature. The magazine also
reflected his growing religiousness and his devotion to the idea of
a culture stratified by class and unified by Christianity.
As author of The Waste Land and editor of the Criterion, Eliot
assumed a dominant role in literature in America and in Great
Britain. He left Lloyd's Bank in 1925 and joined Faber and Faber,
Ltd., a publisher, eventually rising to a directorship there.
Meanwhile Eliot was crossing a divide in his career. He ended his
preoccupation with one kind of alienation in "The Hollow Men"
(1925), where the will-less subjects of the poem cluster in a dead
land, waiting like effigies for a galvanic revelation that does not
come. They comment on their lot in a spastic chorus that includes a
children's game song, a fragment of the Lord's Prayer, and a parody
of "world without end" and other expressions from the Bible and the
Book of Common Prayer.
"The Hollow Men," "Gerontion," and The Waste Land compose a triptych
that delineates the estrangement of the self in a society fallen
into secularism, with the central panel, The Waste Land, suggesting
the possibility of salvaging the self by reconstituting culture out
of its scattered parts.
Religious and Cultural Views
In 1927 Eliot became an Anglo-Catholic and a British citizen. With
the heightened social consciousness of the worldwide economic
depression, a reaction set in against his conservatism. It grew more
difficult to explain away on literary grounds the anti-Semitic
references in several of his poems. In After Strange Gods (1934)
Eliot took the literary ideas of his "Tradition and the Individual
Talent" and made them apply to culture. He also declared that too
many freethinking Jews would be a detriment to the kind of organic
Christian culture he proposed. This work, along with The Idea of a
Christian Society (1939) and Notes toward a Definition of Culture
(1948), indicated Eliot's stand against the pluralistic society of
most Western democracies. Without a reconstruction of Christendom,
the alternative, he felt, was paganism.
With Ash Wednesday (1930), while the literary tide was flowing
Leftward, Eliot emerged as the sole orthodox Christian among
important Anglo-American poets. The title of this six-part poem
refers to the beginning of Lent, the most intense season of
penitence and self-denial in the Christian year. The poem's central
consciousness is an aging penitent closer to the convert Eliot than
his spokesman in any previous major poem. Like his antecedents, the
penitent is alienated - but from God, not from society or nature;
and following the precedents of Dante and St. John of the Cross, the
16th-century Spanish mystic, he sets out to draw near the divine
presence. The poem is his interior monologue narrating his progress
and praying for guidance. The tone of unbroken sincerity and
passionate yearning, of anxiety and some joy is new for Eliot. The
penitent desires to abandon ambition, his fading powers of
expression, the enticements of the world, and all that may prevent
his mounting the turning stairs toward salvation. Though his longing
for the vision of God known in childhood is not fulfilled, he
progresses toward it, and he will persist. American critic F. O.
Matthiessen remarked how Eliot with "paradoxical precision in
vagueness" used wonderfully concrete images to convey the mystery of
a spiritual experience.
In 1934 Eliot published After Strange Gods and also brought his
religious and dramatic interests together in The Rock. This pageant
mingles narrative prose with poetic dialogue and choruses as part of
a campaign to raise funds to restore London's churches. Eliot's
speakers ask for visible gathering places, where the "Invisible
Light" can do its work.
In 1935 Murder in the Cathedral, perhaps Eliot's best play, was
produced at Canterbury Cathedral. It has to do with Archbishop
Thomas Becket, who was assassinated before the altar there in 1170.
Its theme is the historical competition between church and state for
the allegiance of the individual. Its poetry suggests blank verse
with deviations. Becket prepares, like the penitent in Ash Wednesday,
to accept God's will, knowing that "humanity cannot bear much
reality." After his death, the chorus, speaking for humanity,
confesses that "in life there is not time to grieve long," even for
In 1936 Eliot concluded his Poems 1909-1935 with "Burnt Norton," the
first of what became the Four Quartets, an extended work that proved
to be his poetic viaticum. "Burnt Norton," in which Eliot makes
vivid use of his recurring rose-garden symbolism, grew out of a
visit to a deserted Gloucestershire mansion. This poem engendered
three others, each associated with a place. "East Coker" (1940) is
set in the village of Eliot's Massachusetts ancestors. The last two
quartets appeared with the publication of Four Quartets (1943). The
third, "The Dry Salvages," named for three small islands off the
Massachusetts coast where Eliot vacationed in his youth, draws on
his American experiences; and the fourth, "Little Gidding," derives
from a visit to the site of a religious community, now an Anglican
shrine, where the British king Charles I paused before he
surrendered and went to his death. Here Eliot asks forgiveness for a
lifetime of mistakes, which no doubt includes his possible anti-Semitism
of the years before the war. Each of the quartets is a separate
whole but related to the others. All employ the thematic structure
of music and the five movements of The Waste Land. The theme,
developed differently, is the same in each: a penitential Eliot
seeks the eternal in and through the temporal, the still dynamic
center of the turning world. One may seek or wait in any place at
any time, for God is in all places at all times. The theme and
method continue those of Ash Wednesday, but the feeling in Four
Quartets is less passionately personal, more compassionate and
reconciled. The verse is serene, poised, and sparsely graceful.
Midway in his composition of Four Quartets, Eliot published Old
Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939). Here Eliot the fabulist
appeared, and the humorist and wit resurfaced.
The Family Reunion, the first of Eliot's four plays for the
professional stage, appeared in 1939. He later observed that its
hero was a prig but its poetry the best in any of his plays. This
play, like the other three, employs the familiar conventions of
drawing-room comedy to encase religious matters. The Family Reunion
and The Cocktail Party (1940) both involve analogs with classical
Greek dramas. The Confidential Clerk (1954) and The Elder Statesman
(1959) even employ potentially melodramatic situations, although
they are not developed popularly, for Eliot is preoccupied with
individual religiousness and the self-revelations and mutual
understandings it effects within families. In fact, The Elder
Statesman, the last and simplest of his plays, contending that true
love is beyond verbal expression, is dedicated to his second wife,
The most successful of these plays, The Cocktail Party, enjoyed
respectable runs and revivals in London and New York. It puts the
tension between the temporal and the eternal in more effective
dramatic terms than do the other plays. By means of the familiar, a
cocktail party, Eliot involves the audience in the unbelievable, a
modern martyrdom. He contrasts lives oriented to the natural with
that of a martyred missionary devoted to the supernatural. At the
same time he parallels a Greek drama more subtly than he did in The
Eliot's drawing-room plays, however, have only a limited appeal. The
poetry in the last three is unobtrusively effective, carried by
voices moving naturally along the hazy border between poetry and
prose. They are not so much powerful plays as suggestive ones.
Honor and Old Age
Following World War II there were important changes in Eliot's life
and literary activities. In 1947 his first wife died. Suffering from
nervous debilities, she had been institutionalized for years, and
Eliot had visited her every Sunday and kept his suffering and
deprivation private. In 1948 he received the Nobel Prize and the
British Order of Merit, and the list of his honors continued to grow.
Publishing no important poetry after the Four Quartets, he devoted
himself to the poetic drama, the revitalization of culture, some new
criticism in On Poetry and Poets (1957), the readjustment of earlier
critical judgments, and the editing of collections of his poetry and
plays. In 1957 he married his private secretary, Valerie Fischer,
and enjoyed a felicitous marriage until he died on Jan. 4, 1965, in
London. In accordance with earlier arrangements his ashes were
deposited in St. Michael's Church, East Coker, his ancestral village,
on April 17, 1965.
Many poets and artists paid final tribute to Eliot, including Pound:
"A grand poet and brotherly friend"; W. H. Auden: "A great poet and
a great man"; Allen Tate: "Mr. Eliot was the greatest poet in
English of the 20th century"; Robert Lowell: "He was a dear personal
friend. Our American literature has had no greater poet or critic";
Robert Penn Warren: "He is the key figure of our century in America
and England, the most powerful single influence." Avowedly Christian
in a secular age, Eliot tried to revitalize the religious roots of
Western culture. His career recalls the versatile man of letters of
the 18th century.
An edition of Eliot's work is The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S.
Eliot (1969). Donald C. Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (1952),
lists Eliot's writings through 1951.
The literature on Eliot is extensive. Herbert Howarth, Notes on Some
Figures behind T. S. Eliot (1964), provides biographical information.
Hugh Kenner, The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot (1959), is probably the
standard work on Eliot. Francis O. Matthiessen, The Achievement of
T. S. Eliot (1935; 3d ed. 1958), provides a balanced introduction.
Russell H. Robbins, The T. S. Eliot Myth (1951), primarily because
of Eliot's conservatism, offers a negative view. Other studies
include Elizabeth A. Drew, T. S. Eliot: The Design of His Poetry
(1949); Helen L. Gardner, The Art of T. S. Eliot (1949); and D. E.
S. Maxwell, The Poetry of T. S. Eliot (1952). George Williamson, A
Reader's Guide to T. S. Eliot: A Poem-by-Poem Analysis (1953; 2d ed.
1966), is a helpful reference work.
Collections of critical estimates of Eliot are Balachandra Rajan, ed.,
T. S. Eliot: A Study of His Writings by Several Hands (1947);
Richard March and M. J. Tambimuttu, eds., T. S. Eliot: A Symposium
(1948); Leonard Unger, ed., T. S. Eliot: A Selected Critique (1948);
and Neville Braybrooke, ed., T. S. Eliot: A Symposium for His
Seventieth Birthday (1958). Studies of particular works include
Raymond Preston, " Four Quarters" Rehearsed (1946), and Robert E.
Knoll, ed., Storm over the Waste Land (1964.
1917 Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry. Eliot's first
critical volume is an anonymously published pamphlet written to help
promote Pound's poetry and poetics while Pound was helping Eliot get
his poetry published. In Pound's works Eliot detects a tension
between freedom and restraint and a reliance on tradition that he
finds missing in other contemporaries.
1917 Prufrock and Other Observations. Eliot's first collection has
been likened to The Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge as a
turning point in poetic development. "The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock," first published in Poetry in 1915, is the volume's
singular achievement, a dramatic monologue of a man beset by his own
timidity and the frustrations and shallowness of modern life.
Rendered in a succession of images and a network of allusions,
Prufrock typifies Eliot's future work and many of the central
techniques of modern poetry.
1920 The Sacred Wood: Essays in Poetry and Criticism. Eliot's first
critical collection is generally regarded as one of the most
important and influential critical works of the century. It includes
some of Eliot's most famous essays, including "Tradition and the
Individual Talent," "Hamlet and His Problems" (defining Eliot's
concept of the "objective correlative"), and "The Metaphysical Poets,"
which helps restore the reputation of seventeenth-century writers
such as John Donne.
1920 Poems. Eliot's second collection, and his first American
publication, includes his Sweeney poems, introducing his version of
the representative modern man, in "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning
Service," "Sweeney Among the Nightingales," and "Sweeney Erect." "Gerontion"
anticipates The Waste Land in its despairing portrait of the
sterility and barrenness of modern life.
1922 The Waste Land. The most influential poem of the twentieth
century is a multivocal poetic sequence interweaving images and
allusions around the theme of the barrenness of the modern postwar
world. Ezra Pound was responsible for cutting almost half its
original length, eliminating exposition and transitions. Positive
and negative responses cause one reviewer to refer to the poem as a
"battle-field" in which "its adherents see nothing but its virtues;
its detractors see nothing but its faults." William Carlos Williams
would later call the work the "atom bomb" of modern poetry,
establishing the standard by which any attempt to fashion a modern
epic poem would have to be measured.
1925 The Hollow Men. Eliot reworks deleted fragments from the first
draft of The Waste Land into a poetic sequence that meditates on the
barrenness of the modern landscape and the search for values to
redeem it. Eliot also publishes his collected works, Poems,
1926 Sweeney Agonistes: Fragments of an Aristophanic Melodrama.
Eliot's initial excursion into drama is this first of two fragments
featuring his representative figure, Sweeney. "Part One: Fragment of
a Prologue" borrows from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which Eliot
greatly admired, for its scenes of London postwar party life. The
second part, "Fragment of an Agon," with Sweeney as a choral figure
commenting on the barren modern landscape, would appear in 1927. The
two parts would be combined in 1932 and first performed at Vassar
College in 1933.
1927 "Journey of the Magi." Published in the same year as the poet's
Anglican conversion and naturalization as a British citizen, the
monologue is the first in a series of poems dealing with spiritual
growth that would include "A Song for Simeon" (1928), "Animula"
(1929), "Merina" (1930), and "Triumphal March" (1931).
1929 For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order. Eliot's
eclectic collection of essays, first published in England in 1928,
includes the title piece on the sermons of the seventeenth-century
Anglican bishop; literary essays on Crashaw, Middleton, and
Baudelaire; and a critique of Irving Babbitt and the New Humanism.
The collection prompts Edmund Wilson to declare that Eliot "has now
become perhaps the most important literary critic in the English-speaking
1930 Ash Wednesday. Based on his Anglican conversion, Eliot's poetic
sequence asserts his religious faith. Many take it as the poet's
attempt to answer the spiritual despair of The Waste Land (1922). It
employs a similar highly allusive multivocal style, interweaving
elements from Dante's Divine Comedy and a sermon by the seventeenth-century
Anglican bishop Lancelot Andrewes.
1932 Selected Essays, 1917-1932. This gathering of many of Eliot's
most significant literary and cultural essays, including "The
Metaphysical Poets," "Hamlet and His Problems," and "Tradition and
the Individual Talent," solidifies Eliot's reputation as one of the
era's most formidable and influential critics.
1933 The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism. Eliot's lecture
series at Harvard includes discussions of Elizabethan poetry and
drama; considerations of John Dryden, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy
Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Matthew Arnold; and an articulation
of Eliot's increasing social and cultural conservatism.
1934 After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy. In a series of
lectures delivered at the University of Virginia, Eliot defines the
tradition in modern English literature and discusses the effect on a
writer who is not brought up in an "environment of a central and
1934 The Rock. Eliot's initial attempt at poetic drama is this
pageant play written on behalf of the Anglican diocese of London,
which dramatizes the history of Christianity.
1935 Murder in the Cathedral. Eliot's verse drama of the martyrdom
of Thomas à Becket is first performed in America at Yale University;
the Federal Theatre Project would bring it to Broadway in 1936.
1936 Essays, Ancient and Modern. In an expansion of his previous
critical volume, For Lancelot Andrewes (1928), Eliot considers
moral, political, psychological, and theological topics as well as
literary critiques of Alfred Tennyson and Blaise Pascal.
1936 Collected Poems, 1909-1935. Eliot's collected work includes his
major poetic achievement of the 1930s, "Burnt Norton," originally
conceived as an independent work but later incorporated as the first
section of Four Quartets.
1936 Federal Theatre Project. Established by Congress to assist
theatrical professionals put out of work by the Depression, the
project at its height employed thirteen thousand people who helped
mount twelve hundred productions attended by more than twelve
million people. FTP productions included the Broadway premieres of
T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and Sinclair Lewis's It Can't
1936 The Ford Foundation. Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, create this
organization, which, after their deaths, would become the world's
largest philanthropic endowment, with assets of more than $6 billion.
The foundation has supported diverse programs in fields such as
world law and peace, advancement of basic democratic principles,
improvement of the world's economic conditions, and education.
1939 Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Eliot's collection of
Edward Lear-like poems about fanciful felines such as Growltiger,
Mistoffelees, and Macavity the Mystery Cat displays a playful side
of the poet and critic. Andrew Lloyd Webber would adapt the poems
into the long-running musical Cats in 1981.
1939 The Family Reunion. Eliot's verse drama attempts to re-create a
modern Greek tragedy in an English country home.
1940 "East Coker." The second in the cycle of poems collected in
1943 as Four Quartets. The poem, like the larger sequence, is a
meditation on the power of memory and experience to evoke a kind of
1940 The Idea of a Christian Society. In a series of lectures Eliot
defines "the essential conditions which must obtain in any future
society which is to be compatible with freedom for the Christian
community within it to live the Christian life."
1943 The Four Quartets. Eliot's poetic sequence, previously
published in parts in 1935 and 1940-1942, is published in full. The
last of his major poetic works, it offers Eliot's philosophical and
spiritual meditation on temporality and eternity. Many view it as
his most accomplished achievement in poetry.
1949 Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. Eliot takes up Matthew
Arnold's role as cultural critic in this consideration of the
concept of culture and its social impact.
1950 The Cocktail Party. Eliot's play employs a standard dramatic
device--an uninvited outsider--to address the issue of religious
faith. Written in blank verse that is almost conversational in
effect, the play baffles the critics but has a nearly year-long run
1951 Poetry and Drama. Eliot discusses his own plays and dramatic
aims and methods in this published version of a lecture delivered at
Harvard in 1950.
1953 The Confidential Clerk. Inspired by Euripides' Ion, Eliot's
verse comedy deals with a financier's clerk who is suspected of
being the businessman's illegitimate son. Although dealing with some
of Eliot's major themes, such as sin, redemption, and the search for
identity and vocation, the play receives contradictory critical
assessments, with some considering it the worst of Eliot's dramas
and others, the best.
1957 On Poetry and Poets. The volume collects Eliot's major
criticism from the 1940s and 1950s, including "The Music of Poetry,"
a central document for the New Criticism, and "Poetry and Drama,"
which supplies Eliot's definition of and justification for his
1958 The Elder Statesman. Eliot's final poetic drama is a romantic
comedy dealing with the moral rebirth of a man who, after a long
life of public success, finally acknowledges his private failures.
It is noteworthy as one of Eliot's most sympathetic treatments of
1965 To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings. Eliot's final
critical collection brings together essays mostly from the 1950s
along with some of his earliest pieces, including "Ezra Pound: His
Metric and Poetry" and "Reflections on 'Vers Libre,'" both from
1917. The title essay is a candid review of Eliot's critical career,
including his confessions about errors of judgment.