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T. S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 - January 4, 1965), was an American poet, dramatist, and literary critic.

Eliot was born into a prominent Unitarian Saint Louis, Missouri family; the famous Chancellor of Washington University Tom Eliot was a 5th cousin. Eliot's major work shows few signs of St. Louis, but there was, in his youth, a Prufrock furniture store in town.

But T.S. Eliot made his life and literary career in Great Britain, following the curtailment of a tour of Germany by the outbreak of World War I. After the War, in the 1920s, he would spend time with other great artists in the Montparnasse Quarter in Paris, France where he would be photographed by Man Ray. He dabbled in Buddhism and studied Sanskrit and was a student of G. I. Gurdjieff.

Through the influence of Ezra Pound he came to prominence with the publication of a poem, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock[?], in 1915. His style was fresh and modernist.

In 1922, the publication of The Waste Land became one of the principal examples of the new wave of poetry of the time. The Waste Land came to represent the disillusionment of the post-World War I generation. Some regard the poem's distinctive reliance on allusion, particularly to Greek and Latin mythological figures, and its inclusion of German and French phrases, as weaknesses which exclude the "average" reader, yet the poem remains one of Eliot's most-read works.

His later work, following his conversion to Anglicanism on June 29, 1927, is often but by no means exclusively religious in nature. This includes such works as The Hollow Men[?], Ash-Wednesday, The Journey of the Magi[?], and Four Quartets. Eliot considered Four Quartets to be his masterpiece, as it draws upon his vast knowledge of mysticism and philosophy. It consists of four poems, "Burnt Norton," "The Dry Salvages," "East Coker," and "Little Gidding." Each of these runs to several hundred lines total and is broken into five stanzas. Although they resist easy characterization, they have many things in common: Each begins with a rumination of the geographical location of its title, and each meditates on the nature of time in some important respect--theological, historical, physical, and on its relation to the human condition. A reflective early reading suggests an inexact systematicity among them; they approach the same ideas in varying but overlapping ways, although they do not necesarily exhaust their questions.

"Burnt Norton" asks what it means to consider things that aren't the case but might have been. We see the shell of an abandoned house, and Eliot toys with the idea that all these "merely possible" realities are present together, but invisible to us: All the possible ways people might walk across a courtyard add up to a vast dance we can't see; Children who aren't there are hiding in the bushes.

Eliot's plays, mostly in verse, include Murder in the Cathedral (1935), a frankly religious piece about the death of St Thomas Becket. He confessed to being influenced by, among others, the works of 17th century preacher, Lancelot Andrewes. Later, he was appointed to the committee formed to produce the "New English" translation of the Bible.

In 1948, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, while at the same time his friend Ezra Pound was being held in an asylum for the mentally insane.

Later, his 1939 children's book of poetry, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, was the basis of the hit West End and Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats.

Interesting note of trivia, late in his life, Eliot became somewhat of a penpal with comedian Groucho Marx. Eliot even requested a portrait of the comedian, which he then proudly displayed in his home.

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