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Thomas Stearns Eliot 1888 - 1965

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Thomas Stearns Eliot 1888 - 1965

Thomas S. Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri, into a family of English descent. Eliot went to Harvard in 1906, where he became acquainted with Indian philosophy, which later influenced his major works. After gaining is M.A. (Master of Arts) degree, he went to the Sorbonne in Paris. In France he began to read the work of the French Symbolists, as Jules Laforgue. He then travelled to Germany, where he continued to study literature and philosophy. At the outbreak of World War I, he was obliged to leave Germany and went to Oxford to study Greek philosophy. In 1915 he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a ballet dancer and a writer. The meeting with Ezra Pound, the leading Modernist in London, was decisive for Eliot. The years 1915-25 were a great strain to Eliot, due to money problems, his work in a bank, poor relations with his wife and his own nervous instability. During this time he finished the first draft of The Waste Land.

The Waste Land is considered as the most important poem of this century. It expresses the modern artist's disillusion with the modern world and, at the same time, his need and search for a new tradition. It also represents the culmination of the first phase in Eliot's career, which may be called pessimistic or even nihilistic.

Eliot's way out of nihilism was religion. He gradually accepted the Christian faith and this reached its culmination with Four Quartets.

Eliot's sources:

He learned from the Imagists, Pound in particular, the necessity for clear and precise language and images.

From the French Symbolist Eliot took free verse.

He was deeply influenced by John Donne and the Metaphysical poets, whom he helped to re-evaluate.

Perhaps the single greatest influence in Eliot was Dante. In his Divina Commedia Dante shown that the poet could express a complete range of emotions.

Other important sources were mythology, Shakespeare's works and popular tradition.


from The Waste Land

The Waste Land is perhaps the central work in the modernist tradition, and not only for its content.

The structure

The structure is modernist, its five unequal sections showing no logical continuity. The lines very in length and rhythm, and would seem to be a form of free verse, although there are some regularities and rhymes.

The contents.

The poem is divided into five sections:

The Burial of the Dead opens with the coming of spring as a "cruel thing". Here is expressed the fundamental contrast of the poem, between aridity and fertility. Traditional myths and symbols are used in an original way and acquire different connotations (for instance the traditional positive connotation of spring is reversed). The setting is London, seen from the point of view of the Waste Land (the "Unreal City"), and there are some real topographical elements.

A Game of Chess examines the theme of cultural and emotional sterility in two different contexts, one upper class and the other lower class. The image of the game of chess is used to express the opposition of the characters.

The scene opens in a rich house, a little baroque, which is widely described. We don't know if the woman's speech is a monologue or a conversation; however, it express the lack of communication of modern society.

Then the scene moves to a pub, where a woman is talking about a friend of hers, Lil, who has problems with her husband and is not happy with her life. The situation is different: there's a real conversation and people do act, but it betrays lack of love and emotions all the same.

The Fire Sermon is influenced by oriental philosophy, Buddhist in particular. The central episode is the seduction of a London typist by a City clerk, typical of modern sex without love and without communication. The central ure is that of Tiresias, the Theban blind prophet, who embodies both sexes.

Death by Water introduces the idea of purification by water using images of drowning

What the Thunder Said unites all the themes and motifs of the poem. The poem ends with the words of an Upanishad, a poetic commentary on the Hindu scriptures.


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