September 26

This Day in History

Literary

Sep 26, 1888:

T.S. Eliot is born

On this day, poet T.S. Eliot is born in St. Louis, Missouri.

Eliot's distinguished family tree included an ancestor who arrived in Boston in 1670 and another who founded Washington University in St. Louis. Eliot's father was a businessman, and his mother was involved in local charities.

Eliot took an undergraduate degree at Harvard, studied at the Sorbonne, returned to Harvard to study Sanskrit, and then studied at Oxford. After meeting poet and lifelong friend Ezra Pound, Eliot relocated to England. In 1915, he married Vivian Haigh-Wood, but the marriage was unhappy, partly due to her mental instability. She died in an institution in 1947.

Eliot began working at Lloyd's Bank in 1917, writing reviews and essays on the side. He founded a critical quarterly, Criterion, and quietly developed a new brand of poetry. His first major work, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, was published in 1917 and hailed as the invention of a new kind of poetry. His long, fragmented images and use of blank verse influenced nearly all future poets, as did his masterpiece The Waste Land, published in Criterion and the American review The Dial in 1922. While Eliot is best known for revolutionizing modern poetry, his literary criticism and plays were also successful. In 1925, he accepted a job as an editor at Faber and Faber, which allowed him to quit his job at the bank. He held the position for the rest of his life.

Eliot lectured in the United States frequently in the 1930s and 1940s, a time when his own worldview was fluctuating: He converted to Christianity. In 1957, he married his assistant, Valerie Fletcher. The couple lived happily until his death in 1965.

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