Thomas Stearns Eliot

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Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 ? January 4, 1965) was a poet, dramatist and literary critic, whose works, such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, "The Hollow Men", and Four Quartets, are considered defining achievements of twentieth century Modernist poetry. The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, he is considered one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 (at age 25) and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.
Life
Early life and education
Eliot was born into a prominent family from St. Louis, Missouri. Later, he said that "having passed one's childhood beside the big river" (the Mississippi) influenced his poetry. His father, Henry Ware Eliot (18431919), was a successful businessman, president and treasurer of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis; his mother, born Charlotte Champe Stearns (18431929), taught school before her marriage and wrote poems. He was their last child of a family of seven; his parents were 44 years old when he was born. His four surviving sisters were between 11 and 19 years older than he, and his brother eight years older.
William Greenleaf Eliot, Eliot's grandfather, was a Unitarian minister, who moved to St. Louis when it was still on the frontier. He was instrumental in founding many of the city's institutions, including Washington University in St. Louis. One distant cousin was Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard University from 1869 to 1909, and a fifth cousin, another Thomas Eliot, was chancellor of Washington University. Eliot's works often allude to his youth in St. Louis (there was a Prufrock furniture store in town) and to New England. His family had Massachusetts ties and summered at a large cottage they had built in Gloucester, MA. The cottage, near the shore at Eastern Point, had a view of the sea and the young Eliot would often go sailing.
From 1898 to 1905, Eliot was a day student at St Louis' Smith Academy, a preparatory school for Washington University. At the academy, Eliot studied Latin, Greek, French and German. Although, upon graduation, he could have gone to Harvard University, his parents sent him, for a preparatory year, to Milton Academy, in Milton, Massachusetts, near Boston. There, he met Scofield Thayer, who would later publish The Waste Land. He studied at Harvard from 1906 to 1909, where he was awarded a B.A.. The Harvard Advocate published some of his poems and he became lifelong friends with Conrad Aiken. The next year, he earned a master's degree at Harvard. In the 191011 school year, Eliot lived in Paris, studying at the Sorbonne and touring the continent.
Returning to Harvard in 1911 as a doctoral student in philosophy, Eliot studied the writings of F.H. Bradley, Buddhism and Indic philology, (learning Sanskrit and Pli to read some of the religious texts.) He was awarded a scholarship to attend Merton College, Oxford in 1914, and before settling there, he visited Marburg, Germany, where he planned to take a summer programme in philosophy. When the First World War broke out, however, he went to London and then to Oxford. Eliot was not happy at Merton and declined a second year there. Instead, in the summer of 1915, he married, and, after a short visit to the US to see his family (not taking his wife), he took a few teaching jobs. He continued to work on his dissertation and, in the spring of 1916, sent it to Harvard, which accepted it. Because he did not appear in person to defend his thesis, however, he was not awarded his PhD. (In 1964, the dissertation was published as Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley.) During Eliot's university career, he studied with George Santayana, Irving Babbitt, Henri Bergson, C. R. Lanman, Josiah Royce, Bertrand Russell and Harold Joachim.
Later life in England
In a letter to Aiken late in December 1914, Eliot, aged 26, complained that he was still a virgin, adding: "I am very dependent upon women. I mean female society." Less than four months later, he was introduced by a fellow American at Oxford, Scofield Thayer[1], to Vivienne Haigh-Wood (May 28, 1888  January 22, 1947), a Cambridge governess. On 26 June 1915, Eliot and Vivien (the name she preferred), respectively aged 26 and 27 years old, were married in a register office.
Bertrand Russell took an interest in Vivienne while the newlyweds were staying with Russell in his flat. Some critics have suggested that Vivien and Russell had an affair (see Carole Seymour-Jones, Painted Shadow), but these allegations have never been confirmed. In the 1960s, Eliot would write: "I came to persuade myself that I was in love with [Vivienne] simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her the marriage brought no happiness. To me it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land."
After leaving Merton, Eliot worked as a school teacher, most notably at Highgate School, where he taught the young poet Sir John Betjeman and at The Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, where he taught in room 26, and, to earn extra money, wrote book reviews and lectured at evening extension courses. In 1917, he took a position at Lloyds Bank in London, where he worked on foreign accounts. In 1925, he left Lloyds to become a director of the publishing firm of Faber and Gwyer (later Faber and Faber), where he remained for the rest of his career.
In 1927, Eliot took British citizenship and converted to Anglicanism (on June 29). Eliot separated from Vivienne in 1933, and in 1938, Vivienne was committed to Northumberland House, a mental hospital north of London, where she died in 1947 without ever having been visited by Eliot, who was still her husband.
From 1946 to 1957, Eliot shared a house with his friend, the editor and critic John Davy Hayward, who gathered and archived Eliot's papers and styled himself Keeper of the Eliot Archive. He also edited a book of Eliot's verse called Poems Written in Early Youth. When they separated their household in 1957 Hayward retained his collection of Eliot's papers, which he bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge in 1965.
Eliot's second marriage was happy, but short. On January 10, 1957 he married Esme Valerie Fletcher, to whom he was introduced by Collin Brooks. In sharp contrast to his first marriage, Eliot knew Valerie well, as she had been his secretary at Faber and Faber since August, 1949. As was his marriage to Vivienne, the wedding was kept a secret to preserve his privacy. The ceremony was held in a church at 6.15am with virtually no one other than his wife's parents in attendance. Valerie was 38 years younger than her husband, and the years of her widowhood have been spent preserving his legacy; she has edited and annotated The Letters of T S Eliot and a facsimile of the draft of The Waste Land.
Eliot died of emphysema in London on January 4, 1965. For many years he had health problems owing to the combination of London air and his heavy smoking, often being laid low with bronchitis or tachycardia. His body was cremated and, according to Eliot's wishes, the ashes taken to St Michael's Church in East Coker, the village from which Eliot's ancestors emigrated to America. There, a simple plaque commemorates him. On the second anniversary of his death a large stone placed on the floor of Poets' Corner in London's Westminster Abbey was dedicated to Eliot. This commemoration contains his name, an indication that he had received the Order of Merit, dates, and a quotation from Little Gidding: "the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond / the language of the living.


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