Study Guide

T.S. Eliot Timeline

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Sep 26, 1888

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.

Dec 19, 1898

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

Back to Harvard

Eliot returns to Harvard and begins work on a doctorate in philosophy.

Dec 19, 2019

Merton College, Oxford

Eliot receives a fellowship to study at Merton College, at Oxford University. While there, he meets another young poet and fellow student named Ezra Pound. The two become lifelong friends.

Dec 19, 2019

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!

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

The Sacred Wood

Eliot publishes The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, his seminal collection of literary criticism.

Dec 19, 2019

Nervous Breakdown

Eliot suffers a nervous breakdown and is forced to take a leave of absence from Lloyds.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

British Subject

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.

Dec 19, 2019

"Ash Wednesday"

"Ash Wednesday," a poem about Eliot's religious awakening, is published.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Jun 15, 1935

Murder in the Cathedral

Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral, a drama about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket, premieres at Canterbury Cathedral.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Sep 1, 1939

WWII Begins

Germany invades Poland, prompting Britain and other countries to declare war.

Dec 19, 2019

"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.

Dec 19, 2019

"The Dry Salvages"

"The Dry Salvages," a poem written during the London air-raid drills, is published.

Dec 19, 2019

"Little Gidding"

"Little Gidding," the fourth poem of the Four Quartets, is published.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

Vivienne Dies

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.

Dec 19, 2019

Nobel Prize

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."

Dec 19, 2019

A Tony for The Cocktail Party

Eliot's play The Cocktail Party, a drama about a floundering marriage, wins the Tony Award for Best Play. It became Eliot's most popular of his seven plays during his lifetime.

Jan 10, 1957

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.

Jan 4, 1965

T.S. Eliot Dies

T.S. Eliot dies of emphysema at age 76, and is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. His ashes are interred at St. Michael's Church in East Coker, England.

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