T.S. Eliot Timeline
How It All Went Down
T.S. Eliot Born
Thomas Stearns Eliot is born in St. Louis, Missouri, the sixth and last surviving child of Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte Stearns Eliot.
Enrolls in Smith Academy
Eliot begins school at Smith Academy, an all-boys preparatory school for Washington University in St. Louis. His grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, was founder and chancellor of Washington University.
Graduates from Smith
Eliot graduates from Smith Academy, where he studied Latin, French, Greek, and German. Rather than head straight to college, Eliot first spends a preparatory year at Milton Academy, near Boston, Massachusetts.
A Harvard Advocate
Eliot enrolls at Harvard University. Amid his rigorous studies (he finishes his undergraduate work in just three years and completes his master's work in a fourth), Eliot finds time to write poems for the Harvard Advocate.
Harvard to Sorbonne
Eliot graduates from Harvard with bachelor's and master's degrees. He then travels to Paris to study at the Sorbonne for a year, and to see the continent.
Back to Harvard
Eliot returns to Harvard and begins work on a doctorate in philosophy.
Merton College, Oxford
Publishes, Marries, Teaches
His first major poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," is published in the journal Poetry. On June 26th, Eliot marries his first wife, a governess named Vivienne Haigh-Wood, in a quiet civil ceremony. He takes a teaching job at Highgate School. What a year!
Dissertation But No Conferral
Eliot submits his doctoral dissertation, "Experience and Objects of Knowledge in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley." But because he does not defend it in person, Harvard does not confer his doctorate.
Prufrock and Other Observations
T.S. Eliot's first collection of poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations, is published. Eliot starts work as a foreign account manager at Lloyds Bank in London, his employer for the next decade. He also becomes assistant editor of the literary journal Egoist.
Tradition Over Emotion
Egoist publishes "Tradition and the Individual Talent," an essay by Eliot. In it, he argues that a poet is obligated to serve poetic traditions rather than his personal emotions.
The Sacred Wood
Eliot publishes The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, his seminal collection of literary criticism.
Eliot suffers a nervous breakdown and is forced to take a leave of absence from Lloyds.
Criterion and The Waste Land
Eliot launches Criterion, a quarterly literary journal. In its seventeen years of existence—all with Eliot as editor—the journal becomes a respected and influential source of literature and criticism. Its first issue carries Eliot's poem The Waste Land, a 434-line epic about the alienation of post-World War I life. Criticized by the poetic establishment at first, the poem is now thought of as a modernist classic.
Moves to Faber & Faber
Eliot publishes Poems 1909-1925, a collection that includes "The Hollow Men" (the famous poem that ends, "This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang, but a whimper"). He leaves his job at Lloyds and goes to work as an editor for the publishing house Faber & Faber, a position that he holds until his retirement in the 1960s.
Eliot becomes a British subject and a member of the Anglican Church at age 39. He first moved to the United Kingdom, though, in 1914 at the age of 25.
"Ash Wednesday," a poem about Eliot's religious awakening, is published.
A Year at Harvard
Eliot accepts a yearlong teaching position at Harvard, his alma mater. The professional opportunity also gives him a break from his failing marriage to Vivienne, who remains in England while Eliot travels to Massachusetts. Eliot is instantly a well-liked professor, frequently inviting students over for tea.
Separation from Vivienne
Eliot returns to England and officially separates from Vivienne. Not long after their separation, Vivienne is committed to a mental hospital north of London, where she remains for the rest of her life.
Murder in the Cathedral
Collected Poems 1909-1935
Collected Poems 1909-1935 appears. The collection contains "Burnt Norton," a poem inspired by material that Eliot had to cut from Murder in the Cathedral. "Burnt Norton" and the later poems "East Coker," "The Dry Salvages," and "Little Gidding" eventually become known as the Four Quartets, a series of poems that echoes the four elements and the four seasons.
Germany invades Poland, prompting Britain and other countries to declare war.
"East Coker," Night Watchman
The poem "East Coker" is published, named after the village from which Eliot's ancestors had immigrated to the United States. Meanwhile, the Germans begin bombing London, and Eliot serves as a night watchman at his office building to look out for German planes.
"The Dry Salvages"
"Little Gidding," the fourth poem of the Four Quartets, is published.
Moves in with John Davy Hayward
Eliot moves into an apartment with a friend, editor and critic John Davy Hayward. Hayward takes it upon himself to archive Eliot's papers and poems, amassing a huge collection of the poet's works.
Vivienne Haigh-Wood, Eliot's first wife, dies at her mental hospital in Northumberland. Though the couple was still legally married at the time of her death, they had not seen each other for years, and Eliot never visited her at the hospital.
Eliot is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. In his presentation speech, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Anders Osterling says that Eliot's verse possessed the "capacity to cut into the consciousness of our generation with the sharpness of a diamond."31
A Tony for The Cocktail Party
Marries Valerie Fletcher
Eliot marries his secretary, Esmé Valerie Fletcher (who then went by "Valerie Eliot"), a woman 37 years his junior. As with his first marriage, the couple weds in a small, private civil ceremony.