Thomas Stearns Eliot - 1888-1965

··born and raised in St. Louis Missouri

··family was Unitarian

··1906 entered Harvard

· ·B.A., M.A. philosophy

· ·wrote Ph.D. thesis on philosophy of F.H. Bradley; degree incomplete

· ·1914 – studied in Germany, Sorbonne, Oxford

· ·settled in London; meets Ezra Pound

· ·married Vivien Haigh-Wood 1915 – early 1930s

· ·occupations included teaching, book reviews for TLS;

· ·Foreign department of Lloyd’s Bank from 1917

· ·assist. editor at the Egoist, editor for The Criterion (1922-1939)

· ·Michael Levenson (The Geneology of Modernism) : Pound as provocateur, Eliot as consolidator

· ·conscious effort to explain the modernist project

· ·director of publishing for Faber and Faber

· ·1948 Order of Merit and Nobel Prize

· ·married Valerie Fletcher 1957

· ·critic, essayist, dramatist, poet

· ·1917 Prufrock and Other Observations pub. by Harriet Shaw Weaver

· 1919 Poems Hogarth Press (Leonard and Virginia Woolf)

· 1920 Ara Vos Prec 

· 1922 The Waste Land pub. in inaugural issue of The Criterion

· 1927 – conversion to Anglicanism and becomes British citizen

· Four Quartets: (pub. as whole 1943) 


The Waste Land as Modernist Icon

 Publication History

· Eliot began work on the poem in 1921; wrote most of the poem in Lausanne while on 3 month rest leave from Lloyds Bank

· met with Ezra Pound; Pound credited with reducing poem by half; correspondence shows that Pound and Eliot often read one another’s work;

· 1959 interview, Eliot asked if Pound’s editing altered the “intellectual structure” of The Waste Land; Eliot responded that “I think that it was just as structureless, only in a more futile way, in the longer version” (“The Art of Poetry”)

· poem pub. in The Criterion (U.K.) and The Dial (U.S.) in October 1922

· Eliot relied on Pound for help in marketing the poem; deliberately avoided Vanity Fair magazine as too mainstream. Scofield Thayer, editor of The Dial, bought the poem without having read it on Pound’s recommendation (Lawrence Rainey, The Price of Modernism)

· Pound marketed poem as “justification of the ‘movement,’ of our modern experiment since 1900” and later wrote that The Waste Land is “as good in its way as Ulysses in its way”; conscious effort to establish Eliot as the poetic Joyce (letters 8 Feb 1922 and 9 & 10 March 1922).

·Eliot wanted a bound version of poem; contract with Boni and Liveright to publish poem as book with Eliot’s notes; Hogarth Press also pub. limited edition of 460 copies.

· Eliot received "$150 as the price of the poem proper, $2000 for The Dial Award, a subsequent $580.28 in royalities on the sales of the Liveright edition, and perhaps another L20 [20 pounds] from the Hogarth Press edition - altogether about $2800, a figure that in modern terms would surely be somewhere between $45,000 and $55,000. (It was 2.5 times the $1,150 per annum earned by the executive secretary to the editor of Vanity Fair)" (Rainey, The Price of Modernism).



Reception of Poem

· “… we accept ‘The Waste Land’ as one of the most moving and original poems of our time. It captures us” (Conrad Aiken New Republic 4 Feb. 1923)

· “Mr. Eliot’s poem… gives us the malaise of our time…. what whole groups of impassioned intellectuals are saying to each other” (Harriet Monroe, Poetry March 1923, 326)

· “It has great beauty & force of phrase; symmetry; & tensity. What connects it together, I’m not so sure….One was left, however with some strong emotion” (The Diary of Virginia Woolf in North 137).

· “We have here range, depth, and beautiful expression. What more is necessary to a great poem? This vision is singularly complex and in all its labyrinths utterly sincere. It is the mystery of life that it shows two faces, and we know of no other modern poet who can more adequately and movingly reveal to us the inextricable tangle of the sordid and the beautiful that make up life. Life is neither hellish nor heavenly; it has a purgatorial quality. And since it is purgatory, deliverance is possible” (TLS 26 Oct. 1922 in North 137).

· "There is a new kind of literature abroad in the land, whose only obvious fault is that no one can understand it….

The Dial has awarded its $2000 prize for the best poem of 1922 to an opus entitled The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot. Burton Rascoe, of The New York Tribune, hails it as incomparably great. Edmund Wilson, Jr., of Vanity Fair, is no less enthusiastic in praise of it. So is J. Middleton Murry, British critic.


It is rumoured that The Waste Land was written as a hoax. Several of its supporters explain that that is immaterial, literature being concerned not with intentions but results” (Time 3 March 1923 in   North, 153).

· “The thing is a mad medley. It has a plan, because its author says so: and presumably it has some meaning, because he speaks of its symbolism; but meaning, plan, and intention alike are massed behind a smoke-screen of anthropological and literary erudition, and only the pundit, the pedant, or the clairvoyant will be in the least aware of them” (Charles Powell, Manchester Guardian, 31 Oct 1923, in North 156).


Context for The Waste Land

· ·1890 The Golden Bough - Sir James Frazer– cross cultural study of fertility myths ·

· 1903 Prologemena to the Study of Greek Religion – Jane Harrison ·

· 1920 From Ritual to Romance - Jessie L. Weston

· W.W.I

· Treaty of Versailles as Carthiginian Peace

· fascination with occult practices, Tarot cards



"In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators, any more that the scientist who uses the discoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own, independent, further investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, or ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history....Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method. It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible for art...." (Eliot, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth”).


"Even The Golden Bough can be read in two ways: as a collection of entertaining myths, or as a revelation of that vanished mind of which our mind is a continuation” (Eliot, “The Rite of Spring and The Golden Bough”).


"The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked” (Eliot, “Hamlet”).


“I dislike the word ‘generation’, which has been a talisman for the last ten years; when I wrote a poem called The Waste Land some of the more approving criics said that I had expressed the ‘disilusionment of a generation’, which is nonsense. I may have expressed for them their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention” (Eliot, “Thoughts After Lambeth” 368).