"I am an Anglo-Catholic
in religion, a classicist in literature, and a royalist in politics." T.S. Eliot
so defined, and even exaggerated, his own conservatism. The ideas of this stimulating
writer were perhaps traditional, but the way in which he expressed them was extremely modern.
Eliot was one of the first to reject conventional verse forms and language. His
experiments with free expression contributed to his reputation as one of the most influential writers of his time (Shrine).
Thomas Stearns Eliot
was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept.
26, 1888. His family had produced distinguished Americans since colonial days
(Frenz). He entered Harvard University in 1906, completed his bachelor’s
degree in three years, and earned a master's degree in the next (Shrine). After
a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, during which he completed
graduate work, he returned to Harvard (Frenz). He studied further at Merton College, Oxford,
and decided to stay in England (Shrine). His first job was as a teacher and schoolmaster and then in a bank (Frenz). Despite his revolutionary style, he was quiet and conservative in his habits: he devoted his evenings mainly
to study and writing. He liked cats and wrote “Old Possum's Book of Practical
Cats,” published in 1939, about them (Shrine). It became the basis for
“Cats”, a famous musical comedy play of the 1980s.
In 1915, the verse
magazine Poetry published Eliot's first notable piece, “The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock” (Shrine) He followed this with other short
poems such as “Portrait of a Lady” and “The Waste Land” (Frenz). The latter, which was published in
1922, is considered by many to be his most challenging work, though its popularity might be less than that of “The Hollow
Men.” He founded and edited
the influential and exclusive literary journal Criterion during its years of publication (1922-1939) (Frenz). In 1927, Eliot became a British subject and was confirmed in the Church of England
(Shrine). His essays (“For Lancelot Andrewes,” 1928) and his poetry
(“Four Quartets,” 1943) began to reflect this association with a very traditional culture (Frenz).
T. S. Eliot’s
first drama was “The Rock” (1934), a pageant play (Frenz). This was
followed by “Murder in the Cathedra”' (1935), a play dealing with the assassination of Archbishop Thomas a Becket,
who was later canonized (see Becket). Despite the religious content of
“Murder in the Cathedral,” T. S. Eliot had a tendency to disparage the power of poetry as a religious influence,
and used religion mainly as convenient subject matter (Frenz). “The Family
Reunion” appeared in 1939. “The Cocktail Party,” based upon
the ancient Greek drama “Alcestis” by Euripides, came out in 1950 and “The Confidential Clerk” in
1953 (Shrine). The dialogue in his plays is written in a free, rhythmical verse
Eliot won the Nobel
prize for literature in 1948 and other major literary awards. He was married
twice and died on January 4, 1965, in London (Shrine).