Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis Missouri, to Henry Ware and Charlotte Stearns Elliot. His father was a businessman, and his mother was a poetress. Eliot came from a financially endowed family and was allowed to attend all of the best schools. His education started at the prestigies grammar school Smith Academy in St. Louis. He then went to secondary school in Massachuets at Milton Academy, a preparatory school for Harvard. In 1906, he started his Bachelors Degree at Harvard, and within three years he graduated. He then started graduate school at Harvard to earn a Masters degree in Philosophy.
In 1910 Eliot studied French Literature in Paris at Sorbonne. Then, in 1911 he went to Munich. Due to the war he was unable to travel back to the States, and was detained in London, England. Eliot had always dreamed of being out on his own. He finally had the chance. He devoted his life now to learning and writing. Eliots literary career began early in life. His first publication, “A Tale of A Whale,” was in an issue of The Milton Academy Record in the April issue of 1901. His second publication soon followed with Milton Academy publishing “The Man Who Was King” in the June issue of 1901.
His first major publications arrived shortly after. His friend and trusted advisor Ezra Pound was able to persuade Eliot to publish “The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in 1915. Pound also introduced Elliot to Vivian Haigh-Wood, who Elliot was married to three months after meeting. It is said that “The Love Song.. ” deals with Eliots own self image. The lead character in this poem is insecure around ladies, and the story is set in an environment where flirtation is a key component(Longman). Even though Eliot did receive fame for this poem, he still struggled with financial problems.
He was forced to get a job as a school teacher from 1915-1916. Eliot was still writing and now teaching, and also was having problems with his marriage; these factors undoubtably, led Elliot to collapsing and being sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland(Longman). He was thought to have suffered from a nervous condition, but was found out later he had alboulie. While in the sanitarium Elliot finished his finest work ever published “The Wasteland”. After Eliots death people drew upon the conclusion that the “The Waste Land” was a mirror of Eliots life (Litz, 61).
After Eliots short lived career as a school teacher, he took a job in a bank in London. This career was needed to support Elliot and his wife; however, it was not stimulating enough for Elliot. To keep Eliots writing a major part of his life, he created a quarterly literary magazine in 1922 entitled The Criterion. This magazine was unique because Elliot allowed a vast array of opinions by his writers. He did not limit writers to his beliefs or views of the time period. This magazine was intended to be original and stir up ideas within people.
Due to his position at the bank, Elliot wished for his name to remain anonymous as the editor of the Criterion. In a letter to a fellow co-worker, Edmund Wilson, he asked him to never reveal that he was the editor of The Criterion. Elliot feared that if it was announced that he was editor then it would jeopardize his job at the bank, and he could not afford to lose his job due to the fact he was not receiving payment for his editorship (Margolis 22). Elliot had always been far removed from any religious convictions, but in the early 1920s his work started to show some signs of religious beliefs.
He was not conscience of this, but evidence was beginning to show in his work. Pound had also turned Eliot onto the works of Dante, and around 1920 he began writing critiques of Dantes work comparing it to Christianity. Eliot also wrote a critique on William Blake and talked of how Christianity was the underlying meaning of Blakes works (Margolis, 38). Eliot unknowingly was starting to unleash the beliefs that would lead to the end of The Criterion. Eliot began to focus more on the Christian meaning of literature. He began to see the presence of a god in even his own writings.
Eliot had never truly believed in a God. Eliot was also the type of man that put all of himself in whatever he believed in, and when he finally becomes a Christian he will abandon all his other projects to focus on that aspect of his life. The year 1928 marked a new beginning for Eliot. He resigned from his job at the bank and joined Faber and Faber Publishing. Also, in 1928 Eliot joined the English Church. Eliot began to devote allot of energy to the church, and his ideas of religion began to show more prominently in his writing. In this same year Humanism was hitting a peak.
The ideas of this movement had caused allot of talk. The humanist were even trying to adopt there ideas as a religion. For the first time Eliot did not want to allow the ideas of someone different than his own to be published in his magazine. Years earlier he may not have cared, but his religious ideas were finally starting to become a part of him. After some debate, and an article by Eliot opposing of Humanism, he allowed the Humanist ideas into his publication (Margolis 146-155). His religious ideas were not only affecting his writing abilities, but they were also affecting his home life.
For years he had dealt with a crazed wife. Vivian had been in and out of mental institutions. She was very angry and jealous. Eliot could no longer deal with her. He knew there was something better than this, and in 1933 he finally made the decision to separate from his wife. Eliot did posses deep feeling for Vivian, but could no longer pretend that everything was all right between the two of them. Eliot went as far as to avoiding any places she might possibly be, and to end contact with mutual friends, for fear of running into Vivian (Headings, 139). By 1939 Eliot began a new chapter of his life.
His religious convictions were starting to dominate his life. He no longer felt it appropriate to be editor of The Criterion. He did not want to pass on his position to another, so publication ended. Eliot was now free to devote all of his time to the Church, and to his writings. His first publication of his new life was “The Family Reunion”. This poem dealt largely with his religious side, and showed a new Eliot to all of the world. Some believed that the end of The Criterion ended Eliots life as a writer, Eliot saw it though as a great awakening (Headings 206).
Not long after Eliots new life began disaster struck, in 1947 Vivian died while in a mental institution. Eliot was shattered by this news and asked a friend “How does one set about dying” (T. S. E. ). In 1948 he was delivered happier news, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. This award both stunned and overwhelmed Eliot for he had no clue of how far his writings had traveled. In Eliots acceptance speech he said ” to enjoy poetry belonging to another language, is to enjoy an understanding of the people to whom that language belongs, an understanding we can get in no other way” (Acceptance).
Eliot believed that poetry was the only way to bring the world together. He believed that through writing feeling and emotions people of all backgrounds and races could connect. Eliot thought that if people could connect on this emotional level the world would be a happier place. Another remarkable event was waiting just around the corner for Eliot. In 1956, he proposed to his secretary of eight years, Valerie Fletcher. They were married in January of 1957. Finally Eliot had a happy life. While talking to a friend about his new marriage, Eliot stated, “I am the happiest man in the whole world” (T. S. E. ).
His happy life was cut short, however. In 1962, he went into coma. He did recover, but a few years later on January 4, 1965 Eliot died of emphysema in London (T. S. E. ). Eliot never completed his doctorate at Harvard, and therefore was never a professor, like he had dreamed early in life. After not achieving this goal in his life, he adopted another goal. This goal was to reeducate society through his writings (Margolis, 21). He did this in many ways. To trace Eliots works you are essentially tracing his life.
By doing, this the reader is able to see how one man can transform from a young boy to an intelligent man, to a man trapped in an unhappy life, and lastly a man finding true peace through his own religious ideas. In 1917 Eliot published the poem “The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock. ” This poem took Eliot six years to write. The poem also shows a complex personality and diversity of writing styles in a long monologue. The title of this poem leads the reader to believe that it is one mans quest for love. The reader finds early on that this is not the case with this poem.
It opens with a quote from Dantes book the Inferno. I believe this is used to show Prufrocks mental state as one of being in hell on earth. He is trapped and feels isolated and alone. The first few lines of the poem show a peaceful scene. The fourth line in the poem begins to show the hell Prufrock feels. He talks of “one-night cheap hotels. “(6) He has no love in his life and is possibly forced to pay for the love he desires in the cheap hotels he talks of. Prufrock then asks the “overwhelming question,”(10) “What is it. “(11) The reader is never told what it is, or a possible answer to this question.
This keeps the readers attention by keeping the reader in wonder. Directly after this question is asked he states “the women come and go talking of Michelangelo. “(14) We begin to see why Prufrock feels so alone. He seems torn as to where he fits in, in society. He does not seem sure if he belongs in the cheap hotels or in conversations of Michelangelo. He then precedes to talk of the “yellow fog”(15) and “the yellow smoke. “(16) The smoke and fog may symbolize his suffocated feelings. He has no outlet to realize his emotions, and he keeps them bottled up in himself.
He is confused on life and of love and has no one he can seek guidance from. The smoke of fog may be drowning deeper and deeper anyway from society. He then repeats “women come and go talking of Michelangelo. “(35) It seems as though he deeply desires to be apart of this higher class in society. He is involved in the same social settings with these people, but he is unable(chained down by fear) to carry on a conversation with these people, especially the women. He then mentions time and asks himself “Do I dare? “(37) He is aware that age is taking a toll on his life, but he is still to paralyzed to act of his desires.
He thinks he will “disturb the universe” if he speaks to the ladies. (45) He has never talked to them and he knows if he does that will forever change the way everyone, including himself, views him. He is comfortable in his isolation and loneliness. In the next stanza he talks of how he has “measured out my life with coffee spoons. “(51) Showing us how predictable his life is. That the same settings occur day in and day out and that he always has the same reaction to them. He talks of how he has “known the voices dying” and “known the eyes” and of how he “knows the arms. 52,55,61)
He is very familiar with all the people in this social setting. He knows their voices and eyes, possibly even more personal details of these peoples lives. He has learned all these things though by watching, and listening, not by participating. He also talks of how he has seen “smoke that rises from the pipes,” and “men in shirt-sleeves, learning out windows. “(73) Once again he is referring to alienation from the two different classes. He is fearful of become a member of any part of society that would entail him socializing with women. Prufrock then starts to question whether “it had been worth it, after all. 87)
He wonders if the casual conversation, the flirtation with women and a business correspondence with men would have changed his life. He wonders if he would have been happier, or if in the end he would have still been miserable. He then states “No! I am not prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be:” and goes on to state all the things he is not. (111) He says he is not a politician, an advisor, or a lord, but a fool. He talks of growing old in his lonely life. He does not believe he will ever find love. He says “I have heard the mermaids sing… but they do not sing for me. “(124) Not even in an imaginary world can Prufrock find love.
In his isolation he can not even comprehend what it would mean to find love or companionship. Prufrock has no real connection with the real world. He lives a life of regret and despair. He is spiritually bankrupt. He has no love, nor does he seed any out. He has no guidance and does nothing to receive any. He lives alone, without a God or leader or a listener. He has closed himself off so much from the world that he can not even think in a normal pattern. He jumps from idea to idea, and never truly looks inside himself to find the answers. He believes they are beyond his reach, when all the answers lie within himself.