20+ T.S. Eliot Poems

Ranked by Poetry Experts

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), an American turned British citizen, was a renowned poet and literary critic who had a significant impact on modernist poetry. His works challenged traditional poetic forms and explored themes of disillusionment, fragmentation, and the search for meaning in the modern world.

Eliot’s profound and highly influential poetry continues to be celebrated for its complexity, allusions, and introspective exploration of the human condition.

T.S. Eliot

The Waste Land

by T.S. Eliot

‘The Waste Land,’ epitomizing literary modernism, is one of the most important poems of the 20th century portraying its despondent mood in a new form.

'The Waste Land' is one of the best and most famous poems of T.S. Eliot as it best exemplifies its time, Eliot's poetic qualities, his literary theories on poetry, and the dominant concerns of his poems. Eliot is known for its complexity and fragmented structure while using literary, cultural, historical, mythological, and religious allusions in his poetry; 'The Waste Land' is replete with fragmented, hard-to-connect images and complex allusions. Even in his essay "The Metaphysical Poets" (1921), Eliot emphasized the need for allusion, indirectness, and complexity in poetry to capture the complexities of the contemporaneous era. With its complexity, allusions, and representation of the alienated, fragmented, spiritually barren, and culturally confused world of the post-war 20th Century, 'The Waste Land' culminates and best represents Eliot's poetic style.

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

The Hollow Men

by T.S. Eliot

‘The Hollow Men’ presents the hollow, degenerated, and disillusioned people dealing with their meaningless existence amidst the ruins of the postwar world.

The creation of 'The Hollow Men' began with material discarded from Eliot's one of the best poems, 'The Waste Land,' to shorten the poem ('The Waste Land'). 'The Hollow Men' precisely portrays the spiritually and morally dead "hollow men" existing in the modern world or rather in - 'The Waste Land.' Dante Alighieri's 'Divine Comedy' and James George Frazer's 'The Golden Bough' had a lifelong impact on T.S. Eliot and his works. 'The Hollow Men' alludes largely to the three books of 'Divine Comedy' and is heavily influenced by 'The Golden Bough'.

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T.S. Eliot

Breaking away from Victorian diction, T.S. Eliot presents the distinct realities of his time in the stream of consciousness by experimenting with poetic form.

'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', written early in Eliot's career, established his reputation and eventually became one of the defining poems of literary modernism. Eliot's famous allusive method in the poem focuses on Dante's 'Divine Comedy' while portraying modern-day society as 'Inferno' or hell. In 1950, Eliot described Dante "as the most persistent and deepest influence upon my own verse." Eliot's poems are known to convey the decadence of the modern world.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

Burnt Norton

by T.S. Eliot

‘Burnt Norton’ explores the philosophical concepts of time, spirituality, and transcendence, focusing on the human quest for higher meaning.

'Burnt Norton', the most-earlier written, is the first poem in Eliot's prime poetic work, 'Four Quartets'. While marking a departure from the hopelessness of 'The Waste Land', it foregrounds major thematic concerns of 'Four Quartets', including Eliot's idea of cyclic time and the possibility of salvation. The poem demonstrates Eliot's characteristic allusive method with complex allusions; unlike poems like 'The Waste Land,' 'Burnt Norton' exudes a sense of unity with a collage of seemingly fragmented allusions. The poem also refers to the passages of Eliot's famous play 'Murder in the Cathedral' as both were written simultaneously.

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

Ash Wednesday

by T.S. Eliot

In rich poetic language, ‘Ash Wednesday’ presents the spiritual struggle of an alienated individual lacking faith in decayed modern culture.

'Ash Wednesday' is Eliot's first major long poem after his conversion to Anglicanism from Unitarianism in 1927. The poem, often known as "conversion poem," marks the shift in Eliot's poetic style and subject, which continued to move from fragmented narratives to lyrical wholes exuding optimism and hope for modern humanity instead of hopelessness and pessimism. Nonetheless, Eliot continued to use his complex allusive method and modernist techniques taking his artistic capabilities to new heights.

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope

Sweeney among the Nightingales

by T.S. Eliot

‘Sweeney Among the Nightingales’ reflects the modern world’s degraded state through its layered allusions, symbolism, and imagery.

Sweeney is a popular character that Eliot uses to explore dehumanization, moral and sexual debasement, alienation, and disillusionment of modern urban men. 'Sweeney Among the Nightingales' is the most well-known and one of the earliest poems of Eliot centered on Sweeney's character. The poem follows Eliot's allusive method and refers to literary and cultural sources. Eliot even mentioned the poem in his famous essay 'Tradition and Individual Talent' (1919), stating that the poem refers to the "passages of the greatest poetry."

Apeneck Sweeney spread his knees

Letting his arms hang down to laugh,

The zebra stripes along his jaw

Swelling to maculate giraffe.


by T.S. Eliot

Once considered as a preface to the major poem ‘The Waste Land’ by T.S. Eliot, ‘Gerontion’ effectively deals with the huge psychological, spiritual, and physical destruction caused by the great war.

With thematic concerns of postwar decay and fragmented form, 'Gerontion' is known to anticipate Eliot's major work 'The Waste Land,' which appeared two years later. Eliot even considered publishing 'Gerontion' as a preface to 'The Waste Land.' Nevertheless, the poem carved a place for its distinct personal and contemplative representation of the postwar world while delving into philosophical and theological themes anticipating significant poems like 'Ash Wednesday.' 'Gerontion' comparatively contemplates or laments rather than painting the horror of the world in a much shorter length.

Here I am, an old man in a dry month,

Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.

I was neither at the hot gates

Nor fought in the warm rain

Portrait of a Lady

by T.S. Eliot

The speaker of the poem observes the older lady to be callous as he hangs out with her, only to find out he himself is indeed emotionally desolate and callous.

'Portrait of a Lady' is one of the early poems that established Eliot's reputation in the intellectual and literary world of the early 20th Century. The poem anticipates thematic concerns and complex forms seen later in Eliot's most significant postwar works. Like 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,' this poem deals with meaningless modern urban life and decadence with the idea of unrequited love in the background. Distinctively, 'Portrait of a Lady' focuses on the woman, presenting her as trapped in meaningless and superficial urban life.

Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon

You have the scene arrange itself — as it will seem to do—

With 'I have saved this afternoon for you';

And four wax candles in the darkened room,

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

by T.S. Eliot

‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night,’ with its spooky mood and setting, captures the tortured and fragmented human psyche amidst a destructed modern world.

'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' is one of the early poems that established Eliot's reputation. As Eliot became one of the prominent voices of the 20th Century, 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' gained vast literary importance. The poem distinctively explores mind, time, and memory in the decadent modern world as the speaker wanders on an urban street late at night. Eliot carries the theme of the decadent modern world in most of his poems.

Twelve o'clock.

Along the reaches of the street

Held in a lunar synthesis,

Whispering lunar incantations

Journey of the Magi

by T.S. Eliot

‘Journey of the Magi’ shows the Magi’s transformative spiritual journey as he grapples with a new spiritual reality.

'Journey of the Magi' is a prominent poem of Eliot from his 'Ariel' collection, consisting of short poems meditating on religion and spiritual growth. The poem carries distinct religious and spiritual character found in Eliot's poems published after his conversion to Anglicanism. In 1928, Eliot prefaced a collection of his essays 'For Lancelot Andrewes', declaring himself a "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-catholic in religion." Nevertheless, 'Journey of the Magi' continues to carry Eliot's consistent themes of alienation, the uncertain modern world, and his allusive method.

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

Explore more poems from T.S. Eliot

Sweeney Erect

by T.S. Eliot

‘Sweeney Erect’ presents the complex and ambiguous state of Sweeney, in turn questioning civilization’s state in the modern world.

'Sweeney Erect', published in Eliot's 'Poems' (1920) collection, is one of the significant works wherein he uses Sweeney's character. Eliot uses the character of Sweeney in a few of his works to explore the themes of dehumanization, moral and sexual debasement, alienation, and disillusionment of men amidst the uncertain and culturally degraded modern world; 'Sweeney Erect' explores similar themes with rich allusions featuring Eliot's characteristic allusive method.

And the trees about me,

Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks

Groan with continual surges; and behind me

Make all a desolation. Look, look, wenches!


by T.S. Eliot

‘Preludes’ is a chilling exploration of life amidst urban decay, alienation, and absence of meaning in the dark modern world.

'Preludes' is one of the earliest poems of T.S Eliot, written during 1910-11 and published in Eliot's first collection 'Prufrock and Other Observations' (1917), which established his reputation in the literary world. 'Preludes' explores urban decay, spiritual and moral desolation, and the degraded modern world anticipating major poems like 'The Waste Land' and 'Gerontion'. The poem carries Eliot's allusive method, starking grim urban imagery, and modernist techniques.

The winter evening settles down

With smell of steaks in passageways.

Six o’clock.

The burnt-out ends of smoky days.


by T.S. Eliot

‘Marina’ presents the joy of the spiritual awakening of a lost individual, offering hope to the readers living in a desolate modern world.

'Marina' is one of the most important 'Ariel' poems of Eliot. After his conversion to Anglicanism, Eliot wrote a series of short poems for Faber & Gwyer (Faber & Faber later) called the Ariel series. The poem is often considered a spiritual meditation dealing with spiritual crises while articulating feelings of religious awakening, anticipating the much-celebrated longer poem 'Four Quartets.' 'Marina' like 'Ash Wednesday' exemplifies Eliot's post-conversion style.

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

Whispers of Immortality

by T.S. Eliot

‘Whispers of Immortality’ contemplates yearning for immortality and the power of art amidst the permanence of death.

Written during the first world war sometime around 1915-1918 and first collected in Eliot's 1919 'Poetry' collection, 'Whispers of Immortality' presents transient human life with a focus on mortality while critiquing the superficiality of society. Nevertheless, the poem includes Eliot's characteristic style and themes, including complex allusions, multiple voices, the hollowness of meaningless daily pursuits, and the search or significance of a higher spiritual meaning.

Webster was much possessed by death

And saw the skull beneath the skin;

And breastless creatures under ground

Leaned backward with a lipless grin.

La Figlia Che Piange

by T.S. Eliot

‘La Figlia Che Piange’ presents the internal conflict of the speaker as he cannot come to terms with the memories of his breakup.

'La Figlia Che Piange,' the poem with an Italian title, meaning "the girl who weeps," is among Eliot's earliest poems written during 1910-11. As Eliot's major poems were occupied with the thematics of the degraded modern world, 'La Figlia Che Piange' distinctively deals with the human condition following the end of a romantic relationship. Nevertheless, like Eliot's famous poem 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', the poem presents the disturbed psyche of the speaker through complex thoughts and multiple voices.

So I would have had him leave,

So I would have had her stand and grieve,

So he would have left

As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,

Aunt Helen

by T.S. Eliot

‘Aunt Helen’ presents a strange elegy that, in a detached tone, paints the world’s indifference instead of lamenting death.

'Aunt Helen' is a thirteen-line short poem first published in Harriet Monroe's 'Poetry' magazine in 1915. The poem captures the indifferent environment of an urban milieu after "Aunt Helen's" death. It was significantly included in Eliot's 1920 'Poetry' collection. As Eliot's poems deal with the thematics of the modern urban world, the poem can be seen to present the lonely death of an old woman in a modern urban world.

Miss Helen Slingsby was my maiden aunt,

And lived in a small house near a fashionable square

Cared for by servants to the number of four.

Now when she died there was silence in heaven

Morning at the Window

by T.S. Eliot

‘Morning at the Window’ presents the dejected lives of lower-class city people through the observations of an upper-class speaker.

'Morning at the Window' is a short poem published in Eliot's first poetry collection 'Prufrock and other Observations' (1917). Like many of Eliot's poems, the poem reflects on degraded modern urban existence and alienation; however, 'Morning at the Window' deals with urban decay with distinct class consciousness. The subjects discussed amidst the eerie urban landscape are servants and maids, i.e., people from the lower classes.

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,

And along the trampled edges of the street

I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids

Sprouting despondently at area gates.

Macavity: The Mystery Cat

by T.S. Eliot

‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’ is a light verse presenting the amusing crimes of the superhuman cat – Macavity.

'Macavity: The Mystery Cat' is a significant poem from Eliot's light-verse collection, 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats' (1939), the only collection he wrote for a younger audience. Eliot was fond of 'Sherlock Holmes'; Macavity is the main character in the collection of poems based on the character of Professor Moriarty from Arthur Canon Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—

For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.

He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:

For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

The Naming Of Cats

by T.S. Eliot

‘The Naming of Cats’ is a light verse explaining how cats have three different names: a family name, a peculiar name, and a secretive name.

'The Naming of Cats' is a popular poem from Eliot's only light verse collection, 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats'. The poem tries to decode the psychology behind the occasional meditative behavior of cats while reflecting on how cats get their different names that are three in number.

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

It isn’t just one of your holiday games;

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

Song: If space and time, as sages say

by T.S. Eliot

‘Song: If space and time, as sages say,’ philosophically contemplates the fleeting nature of time and the importance of content moments.

'Song: If space and time, as sages say' is one of Eliot's early poems, which was published in the student literary magazine 'Harvard Advocate' when Eliot was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University during 1906-1909. The collection of Eliot's Harvard and Smith Academy poems, 'Poems Written in Early Youth' (1967), contains three songs; thus, the poem's first line defines the identity of the respective song.

If space and time, as sages say,

Are things which cannot be,

The fly that lives a single day

Has lived as long as we.

The Song of the Jellicles

by T.S. Eliot

‘The Song of the Jellicles’ introduces merry and bright felines – Jellicle cats awaiting to dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

'The Song of the Jellicles' is a poem in Eliot's poetry collection 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats' with Jellicle cats as the main characters, a significant part of Eliot's fictional worldbuilding of various cats. Eliot used the Jellicle cat earlier in 1933 in a poem called 'Five Finger Exercises.' Faber and Faber republished the poem individually as a picture book in 2017.

Jellicle Cats come out to-night

Jellicle Cats come one come all:

The Jellicle Moon is shining bright—

Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.

We're glad you like visiting Poem Analysis...

We've got everything you need to master poetry

But, are you ready to take your learning

to the next level?