‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper’, TS Eliot wrote in his celebrated poem, ‘The Hollow Men’. Cherished for his perceptive social critique of the decay of the modern world, TS Eliot remains one of the most renowned poets and a leading academic presence in 20th century literature. Although born Thomas Stearns Eliot in Missouri, T.S. Eliot would become a naturalised British citizen after immigrating to England at the age of 25. He would also become modern poetry’s leading voice and a powerful presence in publishing at Faber & Faber in London.
Eliot, a natural academic and student of philosophy, completed his education in just three years at Harvard, where he focused his studies on Sanskrit and teachings of Indian philosophy. Following his formal education, Eliot moved to England where he met esteemed poet and academic Ezra Pound — a union that became one of the most significantly influential artistic apprenticeships in all of modern literature. Pound would serve as Eliot’s critical editor, inspiring mentor and close friend in both his professional and personal lives. Pound’s literary presence and guidance would be felt throughout Eliot’s canon. Eliot’s debut poetic publication Prufrock and Other Observations was released in 1917, in which ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ was the standout poem. ‘Prufrock’ is the poet’s psychological exploration of the modern man in articulated stream of consciousness, framed as a dramatic monologue. The text thematically encompasses the protagonist’s view of the decomposition of the modern world: disappointment, humiliation, confusion, disgust and shame. The work of a stimulated poet calling on the inspiration of Shakespeare, Chaucer and the New Testament, ‘Prufrock’ proved to be a stunning professional debut for Eliot and established his voice in the modern poetic canon.
In the five years following the publication of Prufrock and Other Observations, Eliot supported his passions of writing poetry and literary essays by working as both a teacher and a bank clerk. But 1922 solidified Eliot as a revolutionary poetic talent with the publication of his cornerstone text, The Waste Land. An epic and inspired poem, The Waste Land demonstrates fluid shifts between time, memory, scene and speaker. It serves as both a poetic interpretation of modern satire and solemn social commentary of the deterioration of the early 20th century. Often noted for its ambiguity and obscure unconventionality, The Waste Land remains today one of the most celebrated and sacred poetic texts of modern literature.
In addition to his reputation as a poet, Eliot was also a revered academic of poetry, prose and the critical essay, as well as a powerful figurehead at Faber & Faber Publishing in London. Although American born, Eliot would live, write and die a passionate Englishman. His adoption by the United Kingdom defined and inspired a poetic canon that would change English Literature irrevocably.
Listen to T.S. Eliot reading The Waste Land below: