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Biography of T.S. Eliot

Photo of T S Eliot

T.S. Eliot was a twentieth century modernist poet and playwright.

When and Where was he Born?

26th September 1888, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America.

Family Background:

Thomas Stearns Eliot was the youngest of six children and son of Henry Ware Eliot, a brick manufacturer and wealthy businessman and Charlotte Champe Stearns, a teacher.


The Smith Academy Preparatory School, Mrs Lockwood’s Academy, St. Louis, Missouri. Milton College, near Boston, Massachusetts, Harvard University, USA, Sorbonne, Paris, France and Merton College,Oxford.

Timeline of T.S. Eliot:

1899: Eliot brings out eight issues of his own magazine “The Fireside” whilst still at School.

1905: His poems for the “Smith Academy Record” are the earliest poems of his still surviving.

1906: He attends Harvard University.

1908: He becomes interested in the Symbolists in literature and is particularly influenced by Laforgue.

1909: He studies in his final year at Harvard University under George Santayana and Irving Babbitt.

1910: He writes “Portrait of a Lady” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“. In October he goes to Paris after graduating, where he studies French literature at the Sorbonne. He is inspired by the work of Charles Maurras.

1911: Eliot returns to Harvard as a post graduate and studies Sanskrit and Indian Religious thought. He attends lectures given by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell.

1913: Eliot starts work on a thesis about the work of the philosopher F. H. Bradley.

1914: He arrives in Britain at the outbreak of the First World War on a traveling fellowship from Harvard. He meets fellow student Ezra Pound in London during September then goes to study at Merton College Oxford. Pound and Eliot reman lifelong friends. His studies in Germany are curtailed by the First World War.

1915: At Pound’s suggestion “Prufrock” is published by Harriet Munroe in “Poetry” a magazine based in Chicago. Pound also encourages Eliot to stay in England. After a whirlwind romance, in which Eliot marries Vivienne Haigh-Wood a governess on 26th June at Hampstead Registry Office, the couple go to stay for a while with Bertrand Russell, who introduces them to the Bloomsbury Group. Eliot takes up a number of positions teaching in schools including Highgate school and starts to write reviews for the “New Statesman” magazine in London.

1916: Though he finally finishes his Harvard Doctoral thesis on “Experience and Objects of Knowledge in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley”  he decides not to return to the U.S.A and therefore is not awarded his degree. Instead he begins working as an extra-mural lecturer part-time for the University of London.

1917: In March he joins Lloyd’s Bank (Colonial and Foreign department). He becomes Assistant Editor of Harriet Shaw Weaver’s “Egoist” in June. “Prufrock and other Observations” is published in this Journal.

1918: T.S. Eliot tries to join the U.S. forces, who have now entered the war, but fails to enlist before the armistice in November.

1919: His father dies. Eliot begins to write for the “Athenaeum” magazine. Some of his poems are published by the Woolf’s-Hogarth press in June. He begins writing articles for the Times Literary Supplement in London. In October he begins work on “He Do the Police in Different Voices” which is the forerunner of “The Waste Land”.

1920: All Eliot’s collected verse in print is published as “Ara Vos Prec” in Britain by John Rodker, and “Poems” in the U.S. by Knopf. He visits France and meets James Joyce. Publication of his collection of essays called “The Sacred Wood” in November.

1921: He becomes London correspondent for “The Dial” and founder and editor of “The Criterion”. He becomes ill with the stress of his marriage and begins overworking and is told by his doctor to have an extended holiday. He goes briefly to Margate and then to Lausanne in Switzerland for therapy under Doctor Roger Vittoz.

1922: Eliot shows “The Waste Land” to Ezra Pound in Paris on his way back to London. It is published in the “Criterion” magazine in London with the backing of Lady Rothermere and in the U.S. in “The Dial”. In December it is published in book form by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s publishing house. He becomes London correspondent for “Revue Française”.

1923: He begins working on “Sweeney Agonistes”.

1924: He completes “The Hollow Men”.

1925: Eliot leaves Lloyd’s Bank to become a director at Faber and Gwyer (later to become Faber and Faber). Faber’s publish “Poems 1909-1925”. He in turn encourages other new poets including Spender and W. H. Auden.

1926: He gives a series of Clark Lectures at Cambridge University and begins training to enter the Church of England.

1927: On 29th June he is confirmed as a member of the Church of England in secret. In November he becomes a British Citizen. “Journey of the Magi” is published at Christmas, the first of his Ariel Poems.

1929: Death of his mother.

1930: Publication of “Ash Wednesday”.

1933: He gives the Page-Barbour lectures at the University of Virginia afterwards published as “After Strange Gods“.

1933: Eliot separates from his wife Vivienne after his return from a year working as a lecturer at Harvard University, U.S.A. and settles in Kensington, London with Father Cheetham, the Vicar of St. Stephens.

1934: He becomes a Church Warden at St. Stephens. His play “The Rock” is performed in London by an amateur cast. He joins the editorial board of the magazine “New English Weekly”.

1935: His play “Murder in the Cathedral” is performed at Canterbury. First appearance of “Burnt Norton”. In June Vivienne is committed to Northumberland House mental hospital in Woodberry Down, London. Eliot never visits her.

1938: Publication of “Essays Ancient and Modern” and collected Poems 1909-1935″. Vivien Eliot is sent to Northumberland House private mental hospital, in Finsbury Park, London amid controversial circumstances.

1939: First performance of “A Family Reunion” in London. Eliot gives the Boutwood Foundation lecture series at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge which are published in book form as “The Ideas of a Christian Society”. Publication of “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. which was influenced by Edward Lear and showed an entirely different side to his character. In September at the beginning of the Second World War he becomes an Air Raid Warden in Kensington

1940: Publication of “East Coker”. He gives the Yeats Memorial Lecture in Dublin in June. He joins the Editorial Board of “Christian Newsletter”. He survives the Blitz in London during September and in October he moves out to Shamley Green in Surrey to live out the rest of the war.

1941: Publication of “Dry Salvages”.

1942: Publication of “Little Gidding”, named after the Huntingdonshire home of Nicholas Ferrar, the leader of a Seventeenth Century religious community.

1943: East Coker and the other recent poems are published in Canada as “The Four Quartets” and then later in Britain.

1945: End of the Second World War.

1946: He moves to a flat with John Hayward in Carlyle Mansions on the Chelsea Embankment and begins to make frequent trips to the continent and the U.S.A. Hayward collects his papers and poetry together.

1947: Death of Vivienne Eliot in her mental hospital after a long illness.

1948: He is awarded the Order of Merit in January. In November he receives the Nobel Prize for Literature.

1949: Publication of his play “The Cocktail Party” and it is given it’s premiere at the Edinburgh Festival.

1950: The play is successful in London and then New York and Eliot appears on the cover of Time Magazine. His play “The Cocktail Party” wins a Tony Award in New York.

1952: A televised performance of “The Cocktail Party” draws a huge audience.

1953: “The Confidential Clerk” is first produced at the Edinburgh Festival.

1956: Eliot lectures to 14,000 people in the baseball stadium of the University of Minnesota on “The Frontiers of Criticism”.

1957: On 10th January he marries Valerie Fletcher, his secretary, at St. Barnabas’s Church Kensingston, London. Valerie is thirty seven years younger than him.

1958: The play “The Elder Statesman” is first produced at the Edinburgh Festival.

1959: Eliot gives up being a Church Warden at St. Stephen’s Church, Kensington.

When and Where did he Die?

4th January 1965 at his home in Kensington, London, England of emphysema.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1917: “Gerontion”. “Prufrock and Other Observations”.
1920: “The Sacred Wood”. “Poems”.
1922: “The Waste Land”.
1924: “Homage to John Dryden”.
1925: “Poems 1909-25”.
1926: “Fragment of a Prologue”. “Fragment of an Agon”. Essays on Seneca.
1927: “Ariel Poems” (including “Journey of the Magi”).
1928: “For Lancelot Andrews”.
1929: “Dante”.
1930: “Ash Wednesday”.
1932: “Selected Essays 1917-32”. “Sweeney Agonistes”.
1933: “The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism”.
1934: “After Strange Gods”. “The Rock”.
1935: “Murder in the Cathedral”. (Play) “Poems, 1909-1935”.
1936: “Essays Ancient and Modern”.
1939: “The Idea of a Christian Society”. “The Family Reunion”. (Play) “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
1940: “East Coker”.
1941: “Burnt Norton”. “The Dry Salvages”.
1942: “Little Gidding”.
1943: “Four Quartets” published (Contains East Coker, Burnt Norton, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding)
1948: “Notes towards the Definition of Culture”.
1949: “The Cocktail Party”. (Play)
1953: “The Confidential Clerk”. (Play)
1958: “The Elder Statesman”. (Play)


1. 26th June 1915 to Vivien Haigh-Wood, the daughter of a painter and landowner, at Hampstead Registry Office.
2. 10th January 1957 to Valerie Fletcher, his secretary, at St. Barnabas’s Church Kensingston, London.

Site of Grave:

He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes were interred at St. Michael’s Church, East Coker, Somerset, England.

Places of Interest:


St Stephen’s Church, Kensington where Eliot was Church Warden.
British Library.


East Coker.