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T. S. Eliot. 1888-1965. presentation by Bethany Jones. Background. Thomas Stearns Eliot was born to a prominent family in St. Louis, Missouri. “having passed one’s childhood beside the big river” influenced his poetry. He earned his master’s degree at Harvard. eliot’s work.

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t s eliot

T. S. Eliot


presentation by Bethany Jones

  • Thomas Stearns Eliot was born to a prominent family in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • “having passed one’s childhood beside the big river” influenced his poetry.
  • He earned his master’s degree at Harvard.

eliot’s work

1917 Prufrock and Other Observations

1922 The Waste Land

1925 Poems 1909-1925

1930 Ash-Wednesday

1963 Collected Poems 1909-1962

The Waste Land was T.S. Eliot’s first major philosophical work. Critics’ opinions of it still vary wildly, though it has been generally accepted that The Waste Land is a very important and influential work. It has been interpreted in many different ways. Some see it as the Grail legend in a modern setting.

Eliot himself says he is in debt to Sir James Frazer and Jessie L. Weston for their book From Ritual to Romance, a story of the Grail legend as the surviving record of an initiation ritual.


Other literary critics have suggest theories as to who the narrator is. In some parts of the poem, the narrator identifies himself as Tiresias, a blind prophet in Greek myth [prominent in the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles]. Some of the references in the poem lead others to say that Eliot is speaking through Ulysses, the Latin equivalent of the Greek Odysseus.




Eliot’s The Waste Land is an exploration of post-World War I life as a desert, a hopeless world to be ventured through. Even in discussing spring and new life, he refers to a rude awakening:

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.


The love song of j. alfred prufrock

  • Prufrock…”deals with spiritually exhausted people who exist in the impersonal modern city. Prufrock is a representative character who cannot reconcile his thoughts and understanding with his feelings and will. The poem displays several levels of irony, the most important of which grows out of the vain, weak man's insights into his sterile life and his lack of will to change that life.”
  • How does this poem reflect what we have learned about Modernism?
  • What happens in this poem? Disregarding the quote at the top, what do YOU think it is ‘about’?


  • This poem was written after T.S. Eliot converted to Christianity. Comparing the earlier ‘Prufrock’ and this poem, do you think it made a difference in his work?
  • Themes?

[death, rebirth, afterlife]

  • Which poem do you prefer and why?

Related modernist artists/art forms

  • His friend and sometime editor, poet Ezra Pound
  • Eliot’s work is quoted more than once in the film Apocalypse Now
  • Fitzgerald and Faulkner, contemporaries of Eliot, developed similar characters to his in trying to portray the modern man: solitary, overly intellectual, incapable of expressing himself.


T.S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. He died in 1965 and his ashes were interred in East Coker. His chosen epitaph reads, ‘In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.’

He continues to inspire and intrigue audiences to this day.