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A Level English Guide to T. S. Eliot: Introduction

Theresa Sowerby | Tuesday April 02, 2013

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  1. Introduction
  2. A Guide to Reading Four Early Poems
  3. Grouping The Poems - Key Features

Introduction

Introducing Eliot

Brief Biography

T.S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot was born to a middle class family in St Louis, Missouri in 1889. Although American, he was always very conscious of British literary traditions and drawn to what he saw as an important source of inspiration. In 1914 he moved to England and became a British subject in 1927. He was always interested in religion. Brought up a Unitarian christian, he later converted to Anglicanism but was fascinated by early fertility cults and Eastern religions, which he explores in his most famous poem The Waste Land. He married twice; his first marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood was reportedly unhappy and resulted in separation. At 67 he remarried, this time to his secretary at the publishing firm where he worked, Faber and Faber. His second wife, Valerie Eliot, survived the poet, who died in 1965. Most famous for his poetry (including the children’s poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which became the base text for the musical Cats) Eliot also wrote stage plays and essays on literature and culture. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

It is helpful for students embarking on a study of T. S. Eliot to have some appreciation of key aspects of the literary period called Modernism and of the earlier French ‘Symbolist’ poets as it is unlikely that they will have come across anything quite like this in their previous studies. One way of doing this interactively is to begin with a poem by Eliot’s American friend and contemporary, Ezra Pound called In a Station of the Metro. Written in 1912 and set in the Paris Metro (Underground), it is an ‘imagist’ poem consisting of only 14 words:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

In small groups they analyse the poem, considering the...


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