(1888 – 1965)
Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (St. Louis, MO, USA, September 26, 1888 – London, England, January 4, 1965), better known by his pen name T. S. Eliot, was an American-born British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and “one of the twentieth century’s major poets”. He moved to England in 1914 at age 25, settling, working and marrying there. He was eventually naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39, renouncing his American citizenship.
Eliot attracted widespread attention for his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915), which is seen as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement. It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1945). He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”.
Major Awards and Honors
Orders of the British Empire
- 1948: Order of Merit
Nobel Prize in Literature
Laurence Olivier Awards (Great Britain)
- 1981: Hilton Award for Best New Musical – “Cats”
Evening Standard Theatre Awards
- 1981: Best Musical – “Cats”
Critics’ Circle Awards (Great Britain)
- 1981: Best New Musical – “Cats”
Légion d’Honneur (France)
- 1951: Officier de la Légion
Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)
- 1960: Commandeur de l’Ordre
Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA)
Tony Awards (Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre) (USA)
- 1950: Best Play – “The Cocktail Party”
- 1983: Best Musical – “Cats”
- 1983: Best Book of a Musical – “Cats”
Hansischer Goethe-Preis (Hanseatic Goethe Prize) (Germany)
- Eeldrop and Appleplex (1917)
- Prufrock and Other Observations (1917)
- Poems (1919)
- Ara Vos Prec (1920)
- Poems. (1920)
- The Waste Land (1922)
– Facsimile and transcript of the original drafts edition published in 1971.
- Poems 1909–1925 (1925)
- Ariel Poems
– Written for the publisher Faber’s Ariel Poems series:
- The Journey of the Magi (1927)
- A Song for Simeon (1928)
- Animula (1929)
- Marina (1930)
- Triumphal March (1931)
- Ash-Wednesday (1930)
- Words for Music (1934)
– Privately printed.
- Collected Poems 1909–1935 (1936)
- Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)
- East Coker (1940)
- Burnt Norton (1941)
- The Dry Salvages (1941)
- Little Gidding (1942)
- Four Quartets (1943)
- Selected Poems (1948)
- The Undergraduate Poems of T. S. Eliot (1949)
– Unauthorized reprint of poems originally published in the Harvard Advocate).
- Poems Written in Early Youth (1950)
– Privately printed.
- The Complete Poems and Plays (1952).
- The Cultivation of Christmas Trees (1954)
– Part of a new Faber & Faber series of Ariel poems.
- Collected Poems 1909–1962 (1963)
- Inventions of the March Hare: Poems, 1909–1917 (1996)
Plays and Screenplays
- Sweeney Agonistes: Fragments of an Aristophanic Melodrama (1932)
- The Rock: A Pageant Play (1934)
- Murder in the Cathedral (1935)
- The Family Reunion (1939)
- The Cocktail Party (1950)
- Murder in the Cathedral: The Film (1952)
– Co-written with the movie’s director / producer George Hoellering; based on Eliot’s drama.
- The Confidential Clerk (1954)
- The Elder Statesman (1959)
- Collected Plays (1962)
Nonfiction and Letters
- Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry (1918)
- The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920)
- Homage to John Dryden: Three Essays on Poetry of the Seventeenth Centur (1924)
- Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca (1927)
- For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order (1928)
- Dante (1929)
- Thoughts After Lambeth (1931)
- Charles Whibley: A Memoir (1931)
- Selected Essays, 1917–1932 (1932)
- John Dryden: The Poet, the Dramatist, the Critic. (1932)
- The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism: Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England (1933)
- After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (1934)
- Elizabethan Essays (1934)
- Essays Ancient & Modern (1936)
- The Idea of a Christian Society (1939)
- Points of View (1941)
- The Classics and the Man of Letters (1942)
- The Music of Poetry (1942)
- Reunion by Destruction (1943)
- What Is a Classic? (1945)
- A Practical Possum (1947)
- On Poetry (1947)
- Milton (1947)
- A Sermon. (1948)
- Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948)
- From Poe to Valéry (1948)
- The Aims of Poetic Drama (1949)
- Poetry and Drama (1951)
- An Address to Members of the London Library (1952)
- The Value and Use of Cathedrals in England Today (1952)
- American Literature and the American Language (1953)
- The Three Voices of Poetry (1953)
- Religious Drama: Mediaeval and Modern (1954)
- The Literature of Politics (1955)
- The Frontiers of Criticism (1956)
- On Poetry and Poets (1957)
- Geoffrey Faber 1889–1961 (1961)
- George Herbert (1962)
- Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (1964)
- To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings (1965
- Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot (1975)
- The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry: The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926, and the Turnbull Lectures at the Johns Hopkins University, 1933 (1993)
- The Letters of T.S. Eliot
- Vol. 1, 1898–1922 (1988)
- Vol. 2, 1923–1925 (2009)
- Vol. 3, 1926–1927 (2012)
- Vol. 4, 1928–1929 (2013)
- Vol. 5, 1930–1931 (2014)
- Vol. 6, 1932–1933 (2016)
Online Editions of T.S. Eliot’s Work
A Selection of Quotes
“It is certain that a book is not harmless merely because no one is consciously offended by it.”
“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
The Sacred Wood
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
The Cocktail Party
“Half the harm that is done in this world
Is due to people who want to feel important.”
“Your burden is not to clear your conscience
But to learn how to bear the burdens on your conscience.”
The Family Reunion
“Thus with most careful devotion
Thus with precise attention
To detail, interfering preparation
Of that which is already prepared
Men tighten the knot of confusion
Into perfect misunderstanding.”
“The detective story, as created by Poe, is something as specialised and as intellectual as a chess problem, whereas the best English detective fiction has relied less on the beauty of the mathematical problem and much more on the intangible human element. […] In The Moonstone the mystery is finally solved, not altogether by human ingenuity, but largely by accident. Since Collins, the best heroes of English detective fiction have been, like Sergeant Cuff, fallible.”
Preface to Harry Crosby, Transit of Venus (1931)
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Little Review (1918)
“[Henry] James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it. […] In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought. […] James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation.”
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
The Ad-dressing of Cats
“You’ve read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse –
But all may be described in verse.
You’ve seen them both at work and games,
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:
How would you ad-dress a Cat?
So first, your memory I’ll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.
Now Dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
But yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul.
Of course I’m not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He’s very easily taken in –
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He’s such an easy-going lout,
He’ll answer any hail or shout.
Again I must remind you that
A Dog’s a Dog – A CAT’S A CAT.
With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that –
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an OOPSA CAT!
I’ve heard them call him James Buz-James –
But we’ve not got so far as names.
Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste –
He’s sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.”
“Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before,
Is really Asparagus. That’s such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.
His coat’s very shabby, he’s thin as a rake,
And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.
Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats
But no longer a terror to mice or to rats.
For he isn’t the Cat that he was in his prime;
Though his name was quite famous, he says, in his time.
And whenever he joins his friends at their club
(which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub)
He loves to regale them, if someone else pays,
With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days.
For he once was a Star of the highest degree
He has acted with Irving, he’s acted with Tree.
And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,
Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.
But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,
Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.”
“He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!
And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair
But it’s useless to investigate Mcavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’ but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spaer:
At whatever time the deed took place MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!”
“Old Deuteronomy‘s lived a long time;
He’s a Cat who has lived many lives in succession.
He was famous in proverb and famous in rhyme
A long while before Queen Victoria’s accession.
Old Deuteronomy’s buried nine wives
And more – I am tempted to say, ninety-nine;
And his numerous progeny prospers and thrives
And the village is proud of him in his decline.
At the sight of that placid and bland physiognomy,
When he sits in the sun on the vicarage wall,
The Oldest Inhabitant croaks: “Well, of all …
Things … Can it be … really! … No! … Yes! …
Oh, my eye!
My mind may be wandering, but I confess
I believe it is Old Deuteronomy!”
Old Deuteronomy sits in the street,
He sits in the High Street on market day;
The bullocks may bellow, the sheep they may bleat,
But the dogs and the herdsman will turn them away.
The cars and the lorries run over the kerb,
And the villagers put up a notice: ROAD CLOSED –
So that nothing untoward may chance to disturb
Deuteronomy’s rest when he feels so disposed
Or when he’s engaged in domestic economy:
And the Oldest Inhabitant croaks: “Well of all …
Things … Can it be … really! … No! … Yes! …
Oh, my eye!
My sight’s unreliable, but I can guess
That the cause of the trouble is Old Deuteronomy!”
“The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he’d rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he’d rather chase a mouse.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat –
And there isn’t any call for me to shout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!
Magical Mr. Mistoffelees
“He is quiet and small, he is black
From his ears to the tip of his tail;
He can creep through the tiniest crack
He can walk on the narrowest rail.
He can pick any card from a pack,
He is equally cunning with dice;
He is always deceiving you into believing
That he’s only hunting for mice.
He can play any trick with a cork
Or a spoon and a bit of fish-paste;
If you look for a knife or a fork
And you think it is merely misplaced –
You have seen it one moment, and then it is gawn!
But you’ll find it next week lying out on the lawn.
And we all say: OH!
Well I never!
Was there ever
A Cat so clever
As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!
“Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones –
In fact, he’s remarkably fat.
He doesn’t haunt pubs – he has eight or nine clubs,
For he’s the St. James’s Street Cat!
He’s the Cat we all greet as he walks down the street
In his coat of fastidious black:
No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousers
Or such an impeccable back.
In the whole of St. James’s the smartest of names is
The name of this Brummell of Cats;
And we’re all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to
By Bustopher Jones in white spats!
“Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clown, quick-change comedians, tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had extensive reputation. They made their home in Victoria Grove –
That was merely their centre of operation, for they were incurably given to rove.
They were very well know in Cornwall Gardens, in Launceston Place and in Kensington Square –
They had really a little more reputation than a couple of cats can very well bear.
If the area window was found ajar
And the basement looked like a field of war,
If a tile or two came loose on the roof,
Which presently ceased to be waterproof,
If the drawers were pulled out from the bedroom chests,
And you couldn’t find one of your winter vests,
Or after supper one of the girls
Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls:
Then the family would say: “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie – or Rumpelteazer!” – And most of the time
they left it at that.
Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a very unusual gift of the gab.
They were highly efficient cat-burglars as well, and remarkably smart at smash-and-grab.
They made their home in Victoria Grove. They had no regular occupation.
They were plausible fellows, and liked to engage a friendly policeman in conversation.
When the family assembled for Sunday dinner,
With their minds made up that they wouldn’t get thinner
On Argentine joint, potatoes and greens,
And the cook would appear from behind the scenes
And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow:
“I’m afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow!
For the joint has gone from the oven-like that!”
Then the family would say: “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer!” – And most of the time
they left it at that.
Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a wonderful way of working together.
And some of the time you would say it was luck, and some of the time you would say it was weather.
They would go through the house like a hurricane, and no sober person could take his oath
Was it Mungojerrie – or Rumpelteazer? or could you have sworn that it mightn’t be both?
And when you heard a dining-room smash
Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
Or down from the library came a loud ping
From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming –
Then the family would say: “Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!” – And there’s nothing
at all to be done about that!”
- The T.S. Eliot Society (UK)
- The T.S. Eliot Society (USA)
- T.S. Eliot’s Nobel Prize profile
- T.S. Eliot’s profile on the website of the Poetry Foundation
- T.S. Eliot’s profile at Poets.org