One of the 20th century’s most profound figures in literature, Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended Harvard University before studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1914 he settled in England and worked as a schoolmaster and eventually met and became friends with many popular writers of the time including Ezra Pound. Around the time he was working with Lloyds Bank of London he also started editing the Egoist (1917–1919). In 1922, he founded the exclusive and influential literary journal Criterion. In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen and about the same time entered the Anglican Church.
Eliot has been one of the most daring innovators of twentieth-century poetry. He believed that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry. He never compromised either with the public opinion or with the language itself. Despite this difficulty his influence on modern poetic diction has been immense.
Eliot’s poetry from Prufrock (1917) to the Four Quartets (1943) reflects the development of a Christian writer: the early work, especially The Waste Land (1922), is a search for a higher world. It deals with dark and haunting themes of individual consciousness and spiritual desolation against the decline of civilisation. In Ash Wednesday (1930) and the Four Quartets this higher world becomes more visible; nonetheless Eliot has always taken care not to become a religious poet and often belittled the power of poetry as a religious force. However, his dramas Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and The Family Reunion (1939) are more openly Christian apologies. Eliot’s plays Murder in the Cathedral (1935), The Family Reunion (1939), The Cocktail Party (1949), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1959) were published in one volume in 1962; Collected Poems 1909-62 appeared in 1963. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.