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Monday, November 26, 2007

Thomas Stearns Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri. Because his family claimed strong roots in the city, Eliot grew up downtown, knowing both the affluent neighborhoods and rougher regions of St. Louis. He attended Smith Academy until he was sixteen and then spent one year at Milton Academy in Massachusetts before he entered Harvard University. While at the university, Eliot stumbled upon the poetry of Jules Laforgue, and because of it, decided that he would pursue a career as a poet. He began submitting his work to the Harvard Advocate and had them published in the school newspaper. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1910. That year, he moved to Paris, France, and although he made plans to earn his doctorate in philosophy at Harvard, he decided to move abroad to England in 1914 before he finished his studies.

There he met Ezra Pound, a highly influential leader of contemporary poets who encouraged Eliot to publish his work. As his poetry began appearing in several magazines, Eliot met and was enamored with Vivien Haigh-Wood. In 1915, the two married impulsively, much to the dismay of Eliot’s family, and lived in London … his tumultuous personal life and insatiable desire to reach broader audiences with his poetry deterred Eliot from appreciating his fame …for over fifteen years until Eliot suffered a breakdown that resulted in the couple’s divorce. In the meantime, however, Eliot worked tirelessly. His first collection of poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917, followed by Poems in 1919. He was quickly acknowledged as one of the leading writers in progressive literature and 1922’s The Waste Land only further secured him as a premier author of the twentieth century. Similarly, his positions as the editor of The Criterion, a new literary journal in London, and as an editor for the publishing firm Faber and Faber, did not hurt his reputation.

However, his tumultuous personal life and insatiable desire to reach broader audiences with his poetry deterred Eliot from appreciating his fame. He continued producing collections of poetry at an accelerated pace as well as short stories, plays, and impressive volumes of literary criticism. As Eliot tried to maintain his writing and editorial duties, his personal life continued to suffer; when he divorced Vivien in 1933, he saw her committed to a mental hospital five years later. His poetry grew more melancholy and grave as World War II raged on, and at its conclusion, Eliot ceased writing poetry altogether. He continued to write plays, essays, and criticisms. He married Valerie Fletcher in 1947 and one year later was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He remained writing in England for the rest of his life, and died on January 4, 1965.

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