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Friday, 2 January 2015

T.S. Eliot


Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Henry Ware Eliot, was a successful businessman, president and treasurer of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis, Missouri.

His mother Charlotte Champe Stearns wrote poetry and was a social worker.

Thomas' parents were both 44 years old when he was born. His four sisters were between eleven and nineteen years older; his brother was eight years older.

He was related to three U.S. Presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Thomas Eliot was known to family and friends as Tom.

 If T.S. Eliot’s first names had been the other way round, he would have been ST Eliot, which is ‘toilets’ backwards.

Once he learned to read, young Thomas immediately became obsessed with books and was completely absorbed in tales depicting savages, the Wild West, or Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer.

From 1898 to 1905, Eliot attended Smith Academy. His first published poem, A Fable For Feasters, was written as a school exercise and was published in the Smith Academy Record in February 1905.

After working as a philosophy assistant at Harvard from 1909 to 1910, Eliot moved to Paris, where from 1910 to 1911, he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. From 1911 to 1914, he was back at Harvard studying Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. Eliot was awarded a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford in 1914.


In early 1915 Eliot got engaged to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a Cambridge governess. They were married at Hampstead Register Office on June 26. 1915.

Haigh-Wood in 1921

The marriage was markedly unhappy, in part because of Vivienne's mental health issues. Vivienne was committed to the Northumberland House mental hospital, Stoke Newington, in 1938, and remained there until she died. Although Eliot was still legally her husband, he never visited her.

Their relationship became the subject of a 1984 play Tom & Viv, which in 1994 was adapted as a film.

On January 10, 1957, at the age of 68, Eliot married 30-year-old Esmé Valerie Fletcher. She had been his secretary at Faber and Faber since August 1949.


After leaving Merton, Eliot worked as a schoolteacher, most notably at Highgate School, a private school in London, where he taught French and Latin—his students included the young John Betjeman.

In 1925 Eliot joined the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, later Faber and Faber, where he remained for the rest of his career, eventually becoming a director.

At Faber and Faber, Eliot  was responsible for publishing important English poets like W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Ted Hughes.

The Waste Land, Eliot's 1922 modernist poem has been an influence on a variety of rock musicians. The Pet Shop Boys, M. Ward and Shadows Fall have all drawn on this work.

Having heard Eliot recite The Waste Land at Windsor Castle in the 1940s, the Queen Mother confided to historian A.N. Wilson: "At first the girls [Elizabeth and Margaret] got the giggles, then I did, then even the King [George VI]."


On June 29, 1927, Eliot converted to Anglicanism from Unitarianism, and in November that year he took British citizenship. He became a warden of his parish church, Saint Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London.

Eliot centered many of his poems on an Anglo Catholic Christianity. His Four Quartets, heralded, as one of the greatest philosophical poems in the English language,were a reflection of the poet’s adherence to the Anglo Catholic Church.


TS Eliot liked cats and wrote a book about the feline creatures, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939.

"Old Possum” was the nickname by which fellow poet Ezra Pound referred to Eliot.

The book was the basis for Cats, a spectacular musical comedy of the 1980s with music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Cats premiered in London's West End on May 11, 1981 — it was supposed to have starred Judi Dench, but she injured her achilles tendon in rehearsals and was replaced by Elaine Paige.
The original 1981 London cast of Cats

Eliot's widow Valerie allowed the show on the proviso it consisted only of Eliot's poems set to music.("Memory" is the sole exception, with words by Trevor Nunn).

“Memory” is sung by the character Grizabella briefly in the first act and in full at the climax of the show.  Grizabella is not mentioned in the book, however Eliot's widow Valerie gave Nunn an unpublished eight line poem by Eliot called "Grizabella the Glamour Cat." It has also been said that she is a feline version of a woman, who is mentioned in Eliot's poem Rhapsody on a Windy Night.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of T.S. Eliot’s poems, he received a Tony Award 18 years after he died.


For many years Eliot had suffered from lung-related health problems including bronchitis caused by heavy smoking. He died of emphysema at his home  at No. 3 Kensington Court Gardens in London, on January 4, 1965, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.

In accordance with  Eliot's wishes, his ashes were taken to St. Michael's Church in East Coker, the village in Somerset from which his ancestors had emigrated to America.

His ashes were interred beneath a plaque bearing a line from his poem of the same name: "In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning."

In 1967, on the second anniversary of his death, Eliot was commemorated by the installation of a large stone in the floor of Poets' Corner in London's Westminster Abbey.

Sources Wikipedia,

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