Poet Biographies

T.S. Eliot: The Journey of a Modernist Master

T.S. Eliot, the iconic 20th-century poet, left an indelible mark on the literary world. His remarkable body of work explored themes of disillusionment, spirituality, and the fragmented modern world.

T.S. Eliot portrait

T.S. Eliot is remembered today as a literary critic, poet, dramatist, playwright, and editor. Eliot’s poems have had a lasting influence on a generation of writers. Today, he is seen as a leader of the Modernist movement, and some of his best works, including ‘The Waste Land‘ and The Hollow Men, ‘are some of the most influential pieces of writing of the last 150 years.

His iconic reputation was cemented in 1948 when he won’t the Nobel Prize in Literature. T.S. Eliot’s poetry is known for its focus on spirituality, the anxieties of modern times, disillusionment, the human experience, and the loss of traditional values in modern society.

Life Facts

  • T.S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in September of 1888.
  • His full birth name was Thomas Stearns Eliot.
  • Eliot took on a number of teaching jobs in England, including at the University of London.
  • He married Esmé Valerie Fletcher when she was thirty and he was sixty-eight.
  • Eliot contracted emphysema and died in his home in Kensington, London, in 1965.

Interesting Facts

  • He studied languages such as Ancient Greek and German.
  • Eliot hated his first poems and destroyed them.
  • The musical “Cats” is inspired by Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’
  • He believed ‘Four Quartets‘ was his best work.

Famous Poems

  • ‘Little Gidding’ is named after an Anglican community from the 17th century. Within the poem, Eliot uses the image of the Pentecostal fire to speak on purification. He has come to the conclusion that humanity is flawed due to its separation from God and that this is what has led the world down its war-laden path.
  • ‘Journey of the Magi’ depicts, in Eliot’s characteristic style, the terrible conditions through which the Magi traveled to meet the Christ child after his birth. The weather was freezing, and there was hardly any food or shelter. When they finally get to the manager, he has no great presence, but that doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t important. After returning home, the speaker declares that he longs for a second death so that he will be able to join God.
  • ‘Ash-Wednesday’ is one of Eliot’s longest poems and was written after he converted to Anglicanism. It deals with themes much more devotional in nature than previously. The poem’s subject is the Christian holiday, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. By the end, the main theme is clear. That one has to turn away from the physical world and toward God, where the sickness of humankind can’t reach.
  • ‘The Waste Land’ is certainly one of Eliot’s most popular poems. It is often called his masterpiece. It was published in 1922 about the First World War. The poem utilizes five different speakers in a wide range of settings.
  • ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ a wonderful and very complicated dramatic monologue, was finished around 1910. It is focused on the mind of a modern man, a person who is the victim of his own time, emotionally immature, and bordering on neuroticism. By the end of the poem, Prufrock’s true emotional distance from the world is made clear.

Early Life

T.S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in September of 1888. His full birth name was Thomas Stearns Eliot, and he was one of six surviving children born to parents Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte Champe Stearns. His father was a businessman and board member of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, and his mother was a writer and social worker.

Eliot was the youngest of his siblings, four of whom were girls. Eliot’s childhood was not a peaceful one. He developed a love for literature after being confined to his home. He was afflicted with a congenital double inguinal hernia. This meant he was unable to socialize with his peers and was forced to spend a great deal of time alone. He soon came to love stories of the Wild West and those of Mark Twain.


When Eliot was ten years old, he attended Smith Academy in St. Louis. He studied languages such as Ancient Greek and German. It was a few years later that he began to write poetry. His first works were disappointing to the young writer, and he destroyed them. Eliot published his first poem in 1905 in the Smith Academy Record, a publication run by his school.

Eliot moved on to study at Milton Academy in Massachusetts before attending Harvard University in 1909. Only a few months later, he published what is now his oldest surviving poem, ‘Song,’ in The Harvard Advocate. It was followed by a number of short stories that detailed a visit to the Igorot Village during the World’s Fair of St. Louis.

In 1910, Eliot moved to Paris, where he studied philosophy at Sorbonne. He returned to Harvard for a short time to study Indian philosophy and Sanskrit and then moved on to Merton College, Oxford University. While Eliot was traveling throughout Europe, WWI began. In 1915, Eliot met his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood. They were married in June of that year. The following year Eliot completed a doctoral dissertation but did not return to complete the final requirements for his degree.

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.

T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot Portrait

Literary Career

Eliot took on a number of teaching jobs in England, including at the University of London. He lived with Bertrand Russel for a time. In 1917 Eliot was working at Lloyds Bank as a bank clerk. It was during his tenure at Lloyds that he published ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in his volume, ‘Prufrock and Other Observations.’ This collection also included ‘Portrait of a Lady’ and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night.’ He would remain in that position until 1925, when he became the director of the publishing firm later to be known as Faber and Faber. He would work here for the rest of his career. He was responsible in part for publishing the works of Ted Hughes and W.H. Auden.

In 1920 his second collection, ‘Poems,’ was published. It included words such as Whispers of Immortality’ and ‘Gerontion.’ It was followed two years later by ‘The Waste Land’ and then ‘Hollow Men.’ These two works were composed during dark periods of Eliot’s life, such as while his marriage was falling apart. It was around 1927 that Eliot was able to become a British citizen and entered the Anglican Church.

Later Career and Death

In the 1930s, Eliot accepted a professorial position at Harvard for one academic year. He returned to England after this time period and published a number of plays, such as Sweeney Agonistes, Murder in the Cathedral, and The Cocktail Party. These were followed by works of non-fiction and literary criticism. His poetic works, ‘Ash Wednesday,’ ‘Coriolan,’ and ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ were all published in the 30s.

For a large portion of his adult life, from 1925 to 1965, he undertook the roles of editor and director in the publishing house of Faber & Faber.

During the later part of his life, Eliot married Esmé Valerie Fletcher. She was thirty years old, and he was sixty-eight. The two married in secret and did not have any children. In January 1965, Eliot contracted emphysema and died in his home in Kensington, London. He was cremated, and his ashes were brought to St Michael and All Angel’s Church in Somerset. It was here that his ancestors had first landed upon emigrating to America.

Influence from other Poets

T.S. Eliot was notably influenced by writers such as Ezra PoundWB YeatsWilliam ShakespeareWalt Whitman, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Eliot was known for his study of the poetry of Dante, John Webster, John Donne, and French poet Jules Laforgue. By studying them, he was able to mold his poetic style.


What was T.S. Eliot best known for?

T.S Eliot is best known as one of the leaders of the Modernist movement in poetry and as the author of such works as ‘The Waste Land‘ and ‘Four Quartets.’ He was not only a celebrated poet but a literary critic, dramatist, playwright, and editor.

Was T.S. Eliot a nihilist?

It is said that a lot of Eliot’s early poetry had an element of Nihilism running through it. However, as his life went by, he gradually turned to religion, and this was reflected in his later work.

What is T.S. Eliot’s most famous poem?

It is hard to select a single poem as Eliot’s most famous due to the quality of his work. However, some notable mentions include ‘Hollow Men,’ ‘Portrait of a Lady,’ and the play Murder in the Cathedral.

Where was T.S. Eliot born?

T.S. Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1888. He was born to Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte Champe Stearns and was one of six surviving children.

Who was T.S. Eliot influenced by?

T.S. Eliot was notably influenced by writers such as Ezra PoundWB YeatsWilliam ShakespeareWalt Whitman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dante, John Webster, John Donne, and French poet Jules Laforgue.

William Green Poetry Expert
Will created Poem Analysis back in 2015 and has a team of the best poetry experts helping him analyze poems from the past and present. Although he has a background in Automotive Engineering, having worked for McLaren testing supercars, Will has a keen eye for poetry and literature.
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