TS Eliot

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TS Eliot (1934)

Thomas Stearns Eliot (born September 26, 1888 in St. Louis , Missouri , United States , † January 4, 1965 in London , England ) was an English-language poet , playwright and critic who is considered one of the most important representatives of literary modernism . In 1948 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature .

Eliot studied philosophy and literature at Harvard . After a year of study at the Sorbonne and a stay in 1914 at the University of Marburg , Eliot emigrated to London at the beginning of the First World War and from then on lived mainly there. He worked first as a teacher, then from 1917 to 1925 in the foreign department of Lloyds Bank until he joined the publishing house Faber und Faber , in whose management he worked for decades. He spent a lot of time in Paris in the 1920s . In 1927 he became a British citizen and joined the Church of England .

Eliot celebrated his first successes as a writer in 1915 with J. Alfred Prufrocks Liebesgesang (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) ; but his international breakthrough came in 1922 with Das wüsten Land , one of the most influential poems of the 20th century. It has often been compared to James Joyce 's novel of the century Ulysses , which was first published by the same publisher in the same year. This was followed by The Hollow Men , Ash Wednesday and the Four Quartets , which represent his late work and contributed to the fact that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

Eliot was also active as a playwright and published seven dramas , of which Mord im Dom is the most internationally known work today. When The Cocktail Party was staged on Broadway in 1950 , Eliot received the Tony Award for Best Play as the author of the play .

Eliot's brittle, relational poetry is rich in allusions to myth, culture and poetry from ancient India through the Middle Ages to the prewar period (so-called educational poetry). It reflects a world that has fallen out of joint and tries to solve the existential problem of modern man by turning to a Christian-based humanism (especially in the late work since 1930). His stage works are the revival of poetic drama.


Eliot, the youngest of seven children of a distinguished Boston family whose ancestors immigrated from England to America in the 17th century, was born in St. Louis. His father, Henry Ware Eliot, owned a brick factory, and his mother, Charlotte Stearns Champe Eliot, was a former teacher. At the age of 17 he began studying at Harvard , later he studied mathematics, philosophy and European and Asian languages at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1911 he returned to Harvard University as a doctoral student and finally went to Europe in 1914. His first stop there was Marburg , where he wanted to take part in a university vacation course that was then canceled. When the First World War broke out, after the end of the German mobilization, he traveled via the neutral Netherlands, first to London and finally to Oxford , where he had received a scholarship at Merton College . During this time he decided to become a poet and published his first significant poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock , in the Catholic Anthology edited by Ezra Pound . Subsequently, he only returned to America as a visitor.

Eliot and Virginia Woolf . Photo by Ottoline Morrell , 1924

In England he worked as a bank clerk from 1915 to 1925 until he became director of the renowned publishing house Faber & Gwyer (later Faber & Faber). In 1915 he married Vivienne Haigh Wood. The marriage was unhappy and remained childless; his wife often suffered from various diseases. In 1921 Eliot suffered a nervous breakdown; In 1933 he separated from his wife, who died in 1947 in a psychiatric facility where she had spent seven years.

On a trip to Paris in 1920 he first met James Joyce , with whom he later became friends. In 1920 he published the volume of essays The Sacred Wood , in which he called for the aesthetic depersonalization of the poem through the radical liberation from any emotional expression of the artist and its " self-sacrifice " ( self-sacrifice ) and "extinction" ( extinction ) in his product. In 1922 he founded the literary magazine The Criterion , whose editor he remained until it was discontinued in 1939. In 1922 his first major work appeared, the verse epic Das wüsten Land (English original title The Waste Land) , which Ezra Pound had helped him to compile and edit. Eliot was awarded the Dial Prize for Special Contribution to American Literature. This made him famous in one fell swoop.

In 1927 Eliot became a British citizen and joined the Church of England . His appearance during this time was emphatically British, which went so far that he adopted an English accent. He rejected many aspects of the American tradition. Nonetheless, he temporarily traveled back to the United States to take on a visiting professorship in poetics at Harvard in 1932 and 1933.

In 1935 the drama Murder in the Cathedral was published . Various essays came out over the next two decades . In 1942 he published the poem Little Gidding , and in 1944 the important lyric work Four Quartets , which testifies to his struggle for spiritual knowledge. After that he stopped writing poetry so as not to have to repeat himself. He couldn't find any new forms of expression.

In 1952 TS Eliot became President of the London Library. In 1943 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters , 1954 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and 1960 to the American Philosophical Society . Over the years he has received numerous honorary doctorates , including from the Sorbonne , Yale University , Oxford and Munich. Until shortly before his death he published other essays and dramas, including The Confidential Clerk and The Elder Statesman .

In 1957 Eliot married his young secretary Valerie Fletcher. He died in London on January 4, 1965 at the age of 76. His widow managed the estate until her death in November 2012.


The emphasis in Eliot's work was on poetry. He is considered an outstanding poet of his time, who saw his models in Virgil , Dante and William Shakespeare . He also attached great importance to metaphysical poetry . In a work published in 1921, he particularly emphasized the English poet John Donne and thus sparked an international discussion among metaphysical poets. He also wrote influential critical essays on romantic poetry . Eliot's themes were time and eternity, the struggle for the rebirth of the spirit and reconciliation with the spirits of the past. Its drama was mainly inspired by William Butler Yeats . He also made free rhythms and abstract poetry, sometimes with musical compositional elements, popular in Europe.

Eliot saw literature as an opportunity to uncover an order in chaotic reality and thus to exert a direct influence on individual life. His way of thinking was influenced by Buddhism , Christian mysticism and ancient philosophy . He took the view that you can only understand the present if you deal intensively with the past. He himself exerted a strong influence on some important later currents of thought, including existentialism .

Political and religious views

TS Eliot's view of the world was primarily shaped by the Christian faith, as it is expressed in the high church direction of the Anglican Church ( Church of England ) , and by thinkers like Augustine . He largely rejected a social orientation towards worldly values ​​and called for culture to be oriented towards religion, since it could not function in any other way. He regarded liberalism , humanism or Marxism as having failed. Political orientations that are not based on belief must inevitably lead to totalitarianism or anarchy in his eyes . Faith is not arbitrary, but must include an acceptance of dogmas and the church. A society that does not follow these principles runs the risk of breaking up for Eliot.

Eliot had great distrust of the idea of ​​progress, which played a major role in the modern age. In part, this is because he rejected a strict division of time into past, present, and future and had more transcendental ideas about time. For him, the past and the future are always included in the present. For him, time is not conceivable without a reference to eternity, history is not conceivable without a reference to God. For him, therefore, worldly progress rests on false values; it is always oriented towards the future, which, however, does not make sense in Eliot's thought model and, on the contrary, can lead to making people blind to more important values.

One accusation that TS Eliot was repeatedly exposed to is that of hostility towards Jews . In particular, a passage in his poem Gerontion and a series of lectures that he gave in Virginia in 1933 were perceived as explicitly anti-Semitic. Although Eliot implicitly distanced himself, at least in part, from such views after the Second World War , anti-Semitic principles of his thinking still play a role in current Eliot research.

Eliot as a playwright

TS Eliot turned to the drama relatively late, in the 1930s. He was heavily influenced by William Butler Yeats. Eliot was a fan of verse drama , in which he saw the merits of literary and musical works combined. He criticized playwrights such as Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov for their use of prose , which in his eyes restricted their means of expression. In contrast, he regarded verses as clearly superior, since they had a deeper and less articulated basis and thus had a stronger effect.

A problem with verse drama for Eliot was its alienation from the life of its time. He regarded the usual blank verse as unsuitable for reproducing the reality of life, since everyday language had moved too far away from it. He therefore criticized a large part of the dramas written in blank verse in the 19th and early 20th centuries for their artificiality. For Eliot, an approach to everyday language was necessary in order to be able to reach the theater audience emotionally again. The verse forms he chooses are therefore relatively free; typical are verses with three accents and different numbers of syllables, which he handled flexibly.

Like the language, the characters and settings in his dramas are contemporary and often commonplace. Often, however, religious or mythological elements are at the basis of this, some of which are obvious, others rather remain hidden. For Eliot, the focus was less on modernizing the myths than on the intention of making the general human, which he expressed in these myths, tangible for the modern audience.

An important German translator of some of Eliot's works was Rudolf Alexander Schröder (1878–1962).



  • Prufrock and other Observations . 1917
  • Ara Vos Prec (1919)
  • The Waste Land (dt. The Waste Land ). 1922
  • The Hollow Men (dt. The hollow men ), 1925
  • Ash Wednesday (German Ash Wednesday ). 1930
  • Marina . 1930
  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (dt. Old Possum's Book Cats ). 1939 (set to music as Musical Cats in 1981 )
  • East Coker . 1940
  • Burnt Norton . 1941
  • The Dry Salvages . 1941
  • Little Gidding . 1942
  • Four Quartets (German four quartets ). 1943


  • Sweeney agonistes . 1932
  • The Rock . 1934
  • Murder in the Cathedral (dt. Murder in the Cathedral ). 1935
  • The Family Reunion (Eng. A family day ). 1939
  • The Cocktail Party (dt. The Cocktail Party ). 1950
  • The Confidential Clerk (Eng. The private secretary ). 1954
  • The Elder Statesman (dt. A deserved statesman ). 1959


  • The Sacred Wood . 1920
  • The Criterion ; Magazine, publisher from 1922 to 1939
  • Andrew Marvell . 1922
  • Homage to John Dryden . 1924
  • Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca . 1927
  • For Lancelot Andrews: Essays on Style and Order . 1928
  • Dante . 1929
  • Tradition and Experiment in Present-Day Literature . 1929
  • Thoughts After Lambeth . 1931
  • John Dryden . 1932
  • The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism . 1933
  • After Strange Gods . 1934
  • Elizabethan essays . 1934
  • Essays Ancient and Modern . 1936
  • The Idea of ​​a Christian Society . 1939
  • Britain at War . 1941
  • Points of View . 1941
  • The Classics and The Man of Letters . 1942
  • Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (German contributions to the concept of culture ). 1949
  • Poetry and Drama . 1951
  • The Three Voices of Poetry . 1954
  • Religious Drama: Mediaeval and Modern . 1954
  • On Poetry and Poets (German poets and poetry ). 1957
  • Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of FH Bradley . 1964 (first printing of the dissertation from 1916)
  • The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry . Year of origin unknown, first published in 1994


  • Kenneth Asher: TS Eliot and Ideology . Cambridge 1995, ISBN 0-521-45284-8 .
  • Gregor BrandEliot, Thomas Stearns. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 30, Bautz, Nordhausen 2009, ISBN 978-3-88309-478-6 , Sp. 324-358.
  • Ronald Bush: TS Eliot . Oxford 1983, ISBN 0-19-503376-0 .
  • Joseph Chiari: TS Eliot - Poet and Dramatist . New York 1979, ISBN 0-87752-218-9 .
  • Robert Crawford: Young Eliot: from St. Louis to The Waste Land . Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2015, ISBN 978-0-374-27944-8 .
  • Valerie Eliot (Ed.): The Letters of TS Eliot . Vol. I, 1898-1922. San Diego [etc.] 1988.
  • Carl August Emge : The question of a new concept of culture. Considerations on the guideline of the view of Thomas Stearns Eliot (= Academy of Sciences and Literature. Treatises of the humanities and social sciences class. 1962, No. 7).
  • AG George: TS Eliot - His Mind and Art . Bombay 1962.
  • Anthony Hands: Sources for the Poetry of TS Eliot . Oxford 1993, ISBN 0-86054-761-2 .
  • Anthony Julius: TS Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form . Cambridge 1995.
  • Jürgen Klein (Ed.): TS Eliot, poeta doctus, tradition and the constitution of classical modernism . With a contribution by Wolfgang Iser . Peter Lang Publishing, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin / Bern / Brussels / Oxford / Vienna 2003, ISBN 978-3-631-39819-7 .
  • FO Matthiessen : The Achievement of TS Eliot: An Essay on the Nature of Poetry. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1935, online [1] .
  • James E. Miller Jr .: TS Eliot. The Making of an American Poet, 1888-1922 . The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.
  • William Skaff: The Philosophy of TS Eliot . Philadelphia 1986, ISBN 0-8122-8017-2 .
  • Hartmut Sommer: The gateway to the rose garden - TS Eliot and his adopted home England. In: Revolte und Waldgang. The poet philosophers of the 20th century . Lambert Schneider, Darmstadt 2011, ISBN 978-3-650-22170-4 .
  • John Worthen: TS Eliot: a short biography . House Publishing, London 2011, ISBN 978-1-906598-86-0 .

Web links

Commons : TS Eliot  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Peter H. Butter: TS Eliot . In: Herman J. Weiand (Ed.): Insight IV. Analyzes of Modern British and American Drama . Hirschgraben Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., ISBN 3-454-12740-8 , p. 62. See also Gisela Trahms: Schamane mit Bowler. (see web links). In contrast to this, Kuna dates Eliot's entry into the publishing house Faber & Gwyer (later Faber & Faber) in 1923. Cf. Franz Kuna: TS Eliot . Friedrich Verlag, 2nd rev. Edition, Velbert 1972, p. 8.
  2. See Franz Kuna: TS Eliot . 2nd, rev. Edition. Friedrich Verlag, Velbert 1972, p. 7 ff. See also Peter H. Butter: TS Eliot . In: Herman J. Weiand (Ed.): Insight IV. Analyzes of Modern British and American Drama . Hirschgraben Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., ISBN 3-454-12740-8 , p. 62. See also Gisela Trahms: Schamane mit Bowler. (see web links).
  3. See e.g. B. Hans Ulrich Seeber (Ed.): English literary history . 5th edition. Verlag JB Metzler, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 3476024210 , p. 345 f.
  4. ^ Peter H. Butter: TS Eliot . In: Herman J. Weiand (Ed.): Insight IV. Analyzes of Modern British and American Drama . Hirschgraben Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., ISBN 3-454-12740-8 , p. 62 f.
  5. Der Brockhaus, Universal Lexikon in 20 volumes, Volume 5, Leipzig 2007, p. 1840.
  6. Biography in The Beacon - The English Students Own Magazine. April 1965, issue 7, Beacon-Verlag Koerber OHG, Bad Dürkheim, p. 15.
  7. ^ TS Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In: Ezra Pound (Ed.): Catholic Anthology 1914–1915 , London 1915, pp. 2–8. Accessed August 19, 2014.
  8. See Franz Kuna: TS Eliot . 2nd rev. Edition. Friedrich Verlag, Velbert 1972, p. 8.
  9. Valerie Eliot, widow of TS Eliot, dies at 86 , The Guardian of November 11, 2012
  10. Dirk Weidmann: And I Tiresias have foresuffered all… In: Literatura 51 (3), 2009, pp. 98-108, here p. 99 (English).
  11. George (1962), p. 225 f.
  12. Philip M. Martin: Mastery and mercy. A study of 2 religious poems: “The wreck of the Germany” by GM Hopkins and “Ash wednesday” by TS Eliot . Oxford University Press, Oxford 1957.
  13. George (1962), p. 216
  14. cf. z. B. Julius (1995)
  15. Chiari (1972), p. 115
  16. Chiari (1972), p. 117 f.
  17. Chiari (1972), p. 118