T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St. Louis, MO., but became a British citizen in 1927. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and honored extensively for his poetry, criticism, essays and plays, he was acclaimed “the most important English-speaking poet and critic of the 20th Century” by The Boston Globe. He lived principally in London and is buried in Westminster Abbey. The youngest of seven children, he was raised in a sometimes affluent family of Unitarians; he received his B.A. and M.A. from Harvard, before migrating to England.
Some of Eliot’s best known poems include, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Hollow Men, The Waste Land are iconoclastic, subtly pioneering free verse, somewhat existential and despairing of life, as even their somber titles often connote and revealing his terror of the inner self and his rallying cry for disillusionment. In The Waste Land, he takes refuge in apathy and thinks of himself only as a scarecrow, a theme which he continues in The Hollow Men, where he shrinks from everything with the other hollow men: “We are the hollow men, We are the hollow men, Leaning together, Headpiece filled with straw, Our dried voices…Are quiet and meaningless, As wind in dry grass…This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Never consistently financially successful, he grew more and more conservative, sporadically religious and prejudiced, joining his “hollow men”. His stature as a poet grew over the years, until he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, while doing a fellowship at Princeton. If Eliot seems too lugubrious, too downtrodden and empty, we must remember that he lived through The Great Depression and World Wars I and II. In the latter, he lived in London, receiving the daily poundings from Germany. Who wouldn’t feel despair from such times? Still, his poetry is hard to read and offers so little to lift our spirits or to enable us to maximize what is positive in our lives. As such, the value of T. S. Eliot escapes this reader, and I confess an affinity for the metrically rhymed verse of Shakespeare and other classic poets.