Laura Lopez on “T. S. Eliot: Changing with the Times”
T. S. Eliot, born September 26, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri, officially signed his British citizenship in November of 1927. His early childhood consisted of a privileged education. Eliot’s mother forced him to have a daily reading of Shakespeare, thus unintentionally creating a hatred towards it, and for two years, from the ages of twelve to fourteen, he recalled not having any “sort of interest in poetry at all” (Miller 32). Between the ages of fourteen through twenty-two, Eliot became fascinated and a bit obsessed with Edward Fitzgerald’s “translation” of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, later calling that period of his life “only a sentimental memory of the pleasures of youth, and is probably entwined with all our other sentimental retrospective feelings” (34). Eliot described his experience of reading Fitzgerald’s Omar as being “like a sudden conversion; the world appeared anew, painted with bright, delicious and painful colours,” and he earnestly penetrated the material of “Byron, Shelley, Keats, Rossetti, Swinburne” (32). He then radically changed his perspective during his year, 1910-1911, in Paris, coming back to America with the ideological interest in “the religion Omar rejected” (34). Eliot “described the England and America of the 1910 as ‘intellectual desert[s]‘ in contrast to the France of 1910, in which there was everywhere intellectual ferment;” however, he studied Philosophy first in America at Harvard from 1911-1914, then continued his studying in England at Merton College, Oxford from 1914-1915 (116). He quickly left after his graduation from Harvard, excited to begin his European exploration.
Eliot traveled through Paris, Munich, Germany, and London. On July 25, 1914, while in Marburg, Germany, he wrote a letter to his friend, Conrad Aiken, reporting his joyous experience with the German people, its food, and the living quarters. The Great War began ten days later, and Eliot struggled for two weeks for a way out of Germany, wanting to be in England. He rode the train to Frankfurt, taking five hours instead of one, then to Cologne, the Netherlands, Rotterdam, and Vlissingen, where he journeyed by boat to England, finally arriving in London. Eliot was lacking food and sleep. In early September of 1914, Eliot confessed to his brother, Henry, “that his liking for London had not supplanted his love of Paris: ‘I think I should love Paris now more than ever, if I could see her in these times’” (197). London had something like the “New York’s bohemian Greenwich Village” in Shady Bloomsbury, “attracting poets, novelist, painters, as well as social and sexual nonconformist,” an imitation of the Paris scene (198). Four days before Eliot’s twenty-sixth birthday, he met Ezra Pound, creating the most influential bond of his writing career.
Pound later condensed Eliot’s first draft of The Waste Land, making it almost half its original length. Leon Howard said in his Literature and the American Tradition that The Waste Land was a “declaration of independence from Pound;” Eliot kept “metrical charm to imagistic hardness,” while Pound wanted to be simplistic (284). In the Paris Review Interviews, a 1959 interview with Eliot, Hall asked “were you benefited by his [Pound] criticism of your poems?” Eliot answered, he “was a marvelous critic because he didn’t turn you into an imitation of himself. He tried to see what you were trying to do” (68). Last day in September of 1914, Eliot wrote to Aiken about how hard Pound fought for his poem, The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock, to be printed in an American magazine Poetry, taking a long eight months for it be finally published. Also writing in his letter to Aiken, Eliot wished to be in Paris, “sometimes I think-if I could only get back to Paris. But I know I never will, for long. I must learn to talk English” (Miller 202). By the spring of 1917, Eliot was firmed in England, living as a banker, lecture, assistant editor, and poet, but during the last month of 1920, he made a lonesome trip to Paris, hoping to “get started on a poem” he’s had “in mind” (363). Eliot’s duel citizenship proved to accomplish a duel recognition in his literary achievements, America claimed him because he was born there, England claimed him because he wrote and spoke like the British; nevertheless, he lived most of his life in London, being buried in Somerset, England on January 4, 1965.
Miller, James E. T.S. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet, 1888-1922. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State UP, 2005. Print.
Howard, Leon. “Tradition in the Twenties.” Literature and the American Tradition. New York: Gordian, 1960. Print.
Eliot, T. S. Interview by Donald Hall. “The Art of Poetry.” The Paris Review Interviews Vol.1. 1959. The Paris Review, New York. 2006. 62-85. Print.
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