1948 : T.S. Eliot

1948 : T.S. Eliot

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“for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”



September 26, 1888

Place of birth


St. Louis, Missouri, United States



January 4, 1965

Place of death


London, England, United Kingdom



Poet, Dramatist, Literary critic



Great Britain

Notable award(s)


Nobel Prize in Literature 1948


Born in St. Louis, Missouri, USA on September 26, 1888. His father, Henry Ware Eliot, was an important businessman, president and treasurer of the Hydraulic Press Brick Company of that city. His mother, Charlotte Champ Stearns, had literary interests, to publish a book. Smith studied at the Academy of St. Louis from 1898 until 1905. Soon emphasized in all subjects, from Latin to physics. In 1906 entered Harvard University, where he studied Greek, English literature, German, medieval history and art history. Poetry published in the journal of college, interest in the French symbolist poets (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Corbieres, Laforgue, etc.).. Under this influence, march to Paris in 1909, where he attends classes and Henri Bergson Alain-Fournier. Also studied in depth to Dante and John Donne, English metaphysical poet. In his 1961 essay criticizing the critic, declared: I’ve written, yes, on Baudelaire, but not on Jules Laforgue, to which I more than any other poet in any language, nor on Tristan Corbieres, which I have something (…) There is, however, a poet who caused me deep impression (…) twenty-two years when he was a poet who remains consolation and amazement of my age today (…) the poet Dante is that I speak. Later he traveled to Munich and Italy. Returned to Harvard in 1911 and doctorate in philosophy with a thesis on F. H. Bradley and his “knowledge and experience.” Throughout his studies, Eliot studied with George Santayana, Irving Babbitt, Henri Bergson, C. R. Lanman, Josiah Royce, Bertrand Russell and Harold Joachim. It also favors the philosophy and philology by Hindu and Buddhism, whose effects studied Sanskrit and Pali. At Harvard he was appointed assistant professor of philosophy. Meet Bertrand Russell, who has come as a visitor to this university, and he deems it his best student. March scholarship to the University of Marburg (Germany), but before the start of the war, flees the country, moving to London, where he met Ezra Pound, it introduces in the English literary scene. In those years also locking relationship with Virginia Woolf and her husband, and with the novelist James Joyce, who confesses to admire. In 1915 teaches French, German and history at a secondary school, but soon abandoned: it is not going to school. He married Vivien Haigh-Wood, who years later would suffer a mental illness. In 1930 will be severed permanently. On this sad phase in the life of both were filmed in 1994 the film Tom & Viv, the director Brian Gilbert, starring Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson. [6] Like his wife, over the years Eliot suffer different nervous disorders. Would not marry until many years later. In 1917 Eliot starts working at the bank Lloyd’s of London, where it will remain for several years. Collaborates regularly in the magazine The selfish. It will also work Gwyer the publisher Faber and, later, Faber and Faber, the firm that became manager. That same year he first displayed his great poem: The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The play, probably the most quoted Eliot, evidence and the intense experimental vocation of the author. It is structured as a dramatic monologue, in the manner of Robert Browning, using the technique of interior monologue or “stream of consciousness”, which a few years later would very fashionable James Joyce. As in later works, Prufrock is replete with quotations and allusions of all kinds, with a special focus on Dante and Shakespeare (Hamlet). Come on then, you and I, when the sun stretches against the sky as an anesthetized patient on a table; we, for some half deserted streets, mascullantes the retreats of restless nights in cheap hotels for a night and restaurants with sawdust and oyster shells. Poems published in 1920 and the collection of critical essays The Sacred Wood. In 1922 (annus mirabilis of the literature of the twentieth century, with the appearance of Ulysses, by James Joyce, the Duino Elegies, RM Rilke (released a year later), logical-Philosophical Tractatus, of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Trilce of Cesar Vallejo , An important part of In Search of Lost Time, Proust, and so on. is the poem that would make him world famous, The Badlands (The Waste Land), whose final design had spoken his friend Ezra Pound. The book was composed in a time of serious personal difficulties for the author because of nerve problems that plagued his wife and himself. It is said to be great exponent of disappointment and pain of the generation that had experienced the First World War. Composed in the form of collage, and replete, as Prufrock, citations and references of the most heterogeneous, in general what critics described as dark, deep and visionary, for his oscillation between the prophetic and satire, its continuous and sudden changes Voice of place and time, its vast and elegiac look in distorted form of multiple elements of the literature and culture universal. In his time was the epitome of modernity, along with the already mentioned Joyce novel, Ulysses. A rat is gently slipped between vegetation dragging its belly on the muddy shore while I was fishing in the murky canal a winter sunset behind the gasometer meditating on the ruin of my brother the king and on the death of my father the king before him.Also in 1922, founded the influential magazine that it would be Criterion. Other important books of that period are: The Hollow Men (1925) and Ash Wednesday (1930). In 1927, Eliot gave his life changed very striking, taking British citizenship and becoming the Anglicanism: “It’s a phrase in a foreword to a small collection of essays entitled For Lancelot Andrews: I told you we were in classical literature, royalist in anglocatolico in politics and religion. I should have expected that such a sentence for advocates cited would be pursued throughout life. ” In 1943 the book will appear that he, as well as much of the criticism, considers his masterpiece: “Four Quartets” (Four Quartets). Four Quartets is the name given by the poet to four separate poems linked . Eliot the republic together in book form in 1943. Had been published separately from 1935 to 1942. Their titles are: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvage and Little Gidding. The book, part of the study of Eliot, which spanned 30 years, philosophy and mysticism. The Christian imagery and symbolism abound in the poems. Eliot converted to Anglicanism in 1927, and was a practicing Christian. In the poems, as in previous works, there are also abundant references to the symbols and traditions Hindus, with whom he was very familiar since his student days. The four poems, several hundred verses each, are divided into five sections. Although they resist easy characterization, show some similarities. Each begins with a lyrical reasoning located in the location that gives you the title (always places with religious significance); all meditate on the nature of time in some aspect, theological, historical, physical, and in its relationship with human beings. Finally, each of the poems is associated with one of the classic elements of nature: air, land, water and fire. Essays appear in verse that addresses the same ideas through variations, without reaching any definite conclusion. Time present and time past are perhaps in the future tense and the future tense in the past tense. If all time is eternally present All weather is irredeemable. What could have been pure abstraction as being eternal possibility Only in the world of speculation. What could have been and what it was point to a single purpose, which is always present. Burnt Norton His poetry is not going to reach such heights of quality. Until the’50s will be shown several pieces of theatrical content primarily moralistic or religious: Murder in the Cathedral, Family Reunion, The cocktail … Eliot also highlighted as an essayist with various works of literary criticism and social issues: The art of poetry and art criticism, criticize the critic, notes for a definition of culture … The maximum recognition comes with the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Order of Merit, both in 1948. In 1957 contract marriage to Valerie Fletcher, his secretary. He died in London on January 4, 1965, of pulmonary emphysema, generated, it seems, by his severe smoking and continued exposure to pollution in London, very intense at the time. His remains were cremated and, according to his wishes, his ashes buried in East Coker, the village from which their ancestors departed bound for the United States, and that gives its name to one of his greatest poems. The literary historian Hugh Haughton, of York University, received in 2006 the commissioning of the publisher Faber to work on the extensive correspondence of the poet and Nobel laureate. Until now only has published a volume of his letters, covering the years 1898-1921, in an edition to the care of his widow, Valerie Eliot. For years, this has been a jealous guardian of correspondence and other documents of the author of Four Quartets, to the exasperation of biographers and analysts of his work. One of the possible causes of restrictions on access to the papers of Eliot, may be the fear of revelations about his alleged homosexual tendencies and anti-Semitic views.Leaving aside the “intellectualism” which often is accused (often as a way to contrast his figure to his contemporaries Dylan Thomas and WH Auden, more distinctly lyrical poets), the poetry of TS Eliot has three key strands, seemingly contradictory facets with each other, but the great artist aligned wisely. The first, a very humorous vein sui generis. He was very fond of bagatelle satirical and ironic chascarrillo (visible in books as the first published in 1917, Prufrock and other observations, or The Book of Cats skillful (1939) which is based on the famous comedy musical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Weber). The second, snatched the avant-garde experimentalism or literary, not in vain, along with Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound, was the great representative of English Modernism (see modernism Anglo-Saxon), which has nothing to do with our “modernism”: The Badlands. Her third facet is undoubtedly the religious and meditative. The tone and transcendent penitential acquires a huge presence throughout his work, and the gathering of such disparate elements (the tradition and novelty, jokes and really, the sacred and the profane, or we could say, as we shall see later , Faith and nihilism) stem, in short, for some more poetry of the twentieth century, “an intense attraction to the beauty next to an equally intense fascination with ugliness, which contrasts with her and just destroying it,” said one of his essays. [14] Damaso Garcia Lopez trace very well a synthesis of these striking contrasts in his introduction to Inventions of the March Hare, the first collection of poems by Eliot, published after his death. As has been said, Eliot, already well into maturity, he became unannounced and dramatically to Anglicanism, that explains the importance of religious sentiment in his life, which spontaneously shifted to his poetry. This shift is reflected, firstly through the incorporation, here and there, of innumerable quotations taken from the Bible, works of saints, of Dante, as well as sacred texts East. They are also frequent references to events or locations with strong religious significance, as in many judged his masterpiece, Four Quartets (1943). But Eliot reached farther. At a time convulsed, and cynical infidel like the one he lived, [16] also marked by two world wars, not refrained from directly exposing a bunch of poems “religious”, almost in imitation of the medieval clergy: Journey of the Magi (1927), Ash Wednesday (1930, dedicated to the Virgin Mary), the choirs of Stone (1934, in favor of building new temples) and so on. But the fervor devoted to it-artist imbued through and through in the spirit, we say, cynical and hollow of his century-often seems to be only apparent. Like the Spanish Miguel de Unamuno, Eliot reveals a mystical mood at least hesitant, in which faith has been greatly tempered or cooled, if not replaced, disappointed by the sound meditation, always turns with a metaphysical question of substance In the case of Eliot, the incomprehensible future time (Four Quartets). Indeed, we see the beginning of one of the poems purely “religious” and cited, Ash Wednesday: Because I have no hope of returning again Because I have no hope Because I have no hope of return Section concludes that very canonically: Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. These verses do not know if it transpires faith or despair, while the poetic effect of contrasts like this, coupled with the daring resources formal employees, far from restricting the lyrical intensity, amplifies considerably. His original compositions provide resonance imaging, deep and unexpected semblance spiritual richness and variety of rare records in the poetry of the past century, if obvious to one of his great contemporaries, the Portuguese Fernando Pessoa. It’s hard to imagine a vanguard of the Spanish era devote jaez verses from Ash Wednesday to the Virgin Mary. The same can be said of the poets of the Generation of 50, great readers of Eliot. One of the most important, Claudio Rodriguez, came to meet him in person, and translated his poetry full of English, but later distanced itself from its widely figure and his poetic, closest to the ways of Dylan Thomas, in the sense that it has been noted above. Poet latest in the line of Eliot, is the Salamanca Francisco Castano (Salamanca, 1951). Concern about the transcendence is very much present in two major Spanish poets earlier in the first half of the century: the aforementioned Unamuno and that other great meditative, the youngest, called Luis Cernuda. In the first philosopher “professional” as Eliot would have been able to do so (let’s not forget who won the title of “Master of Philosophy”, to become a gifted pupil of Bertrand Russell), the essential question, devotion translates into serious problems frustration, human pain, in the “tragic sense of life,” as seen in his poem The Cristo de Velazquez (1920). By contrast, Cernuda-assiduous taster of the English poet, Octavio Paz as he recalled in his essay cernudiano The word-edifying, [17] merely cold disdain divine, as reflected in its membership, which seems inspired by the already cited for Eliot, The Adoration of the Magi (1940). This poem ends:

And we wanted to be men without worship any god. Eliot, years before, had finished his own way no less pessimistic: We returned to our sites, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here in the old state of affairs, with a strange people clinging to their gods. I am glad of another death. (Trad. Jose Maria Valverde). Pessimism, we say, but let us not forget that the contemporary James Joyce, trained at Trinity College, came to this effect until satire (see top of Ulysses). Cernuda himself, in his essay of 1959 and Mr Goethe. Eliot, described the English one of the greatest poets alive today … an exceptional critic, whose acuity should be new points of view on the art of poetry in general and on the history of English poetry in particular. Between Eliot and Cernuda are other significant differences than those exposed. The contents orientalizantes are very much present in the first and by their absence in Cernuda. This, moreover, are often left carrying in his veins sensuality and “historical” in the very antithesis of the ascetic and poetry, so to speak, of circumstances (or synchronous, in the words of his translator Castilian Jose Maria Valverde) Eliot. And although both an as yet another show a marked tendency discursive (even argumentative in some cases, without this they would lose an inch of elegance and inspiration), the poetics of Eliot enabled a more varied inventory of records, visible in techniques such as the collage, and in the so-called “objective correlative”, which sought to show, reflect a very graphic images or certain realities in order to arouse the reader emotion and the idea elected. It was, in short, the original religious images, such intermittently penitential litany, peppered with ironic intelligence, which enhanced to maximize their visions of the absurd and appalling uprooting spiritual so characteristic of the modern world.


Selected Works:

  • Prufrock and Other Observations – London : Egoist, 1917

  • Ezra Pound : His Metric and Poetry – New York : Knopf, 1918

  • Poems – Richmond, Surrey : The Hogarth Press, 1919

  • Ara Vos Prec. – London : Ovid Press, 1920 – Revised as Poems – New York : Knopf, 1920

  • The Sacred Wood : Essays on Poetry and Criticism – London : Methuen, 1920

  • The Waste Land – New York : Boni & Liveright, 1922

  • Homage to John Dryden : Three Essays on Poetry of the Seventeenth Century – London : The Hogarth Press, 1924

  • Poems 1909–1925 – London : Faber & Gwyer, 1925

  • Journey of the Magi – London : Faber & Gwyer, 1927

  • Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca – London : Oxford University Press, 1927

  • A Song for Simeon – London : Faber & Gwyer, 1928

  • For Lancelot Andrewes : Essays on Style and Order – London : Faber & Gwyer, 1928

  • Dante – London : Faber, 1929

  • Animula – London : Faber, 1929

  • Ash-Wednesday – New York : Fountain Press, 1930 ; London : Faber, 1930

  • Marina – London : Faber, 1930

  • Thoughts After Lambeth – London : Faber, 1931

  • Triumphal March – London : Faber, 1931

  • Charles Whibley : A Memoir – London : Oxford University Press, 1931

  • Selected Essays 1917–1932 – London : Faber, 1932 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1932

  • John Dryden: The Poet, The Dramatist, The Critic – New York : Terence & Elsa Holliday, 1932

  • Sweeney Agonistes : Fragments of an Aristophanic Melodrama – London : Faber, 1932

  • The Use of Poetry and The Use of Criticism : Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England – London : Faber, 1933 ; Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1933

  • After Strange Gods : A Primer of Modern Heresy – London : Faber, 1934 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1934

  • The Rock : A Pageant Play – London : Faber, 1934 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1934

  • Elizabethan Essays – London : Faber, 1934 – Revised as Essays on Elizabethan Drama – New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1956 ; republished as Elizabethan Dramatists – London : Faber, 1963

  • Words for Music – Bryn Mawr, Pa. : Privately printed, 1934

  • Murder in the Cathedral – London : Faber, 1935 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1935

  • Essays Ancient & Modern – London : Faber, 1936 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1936

  • Collected Poems 1909–1935 – London : Faber, 1936 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1936

  • The Family Reunion – London : Faber, 1939 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1939

  • Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – London : Faber, 1939 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1939

  • The Idea of a Christian Society. – London : Faber, 1939 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1940

  • East Coker – London : Faber, 1940

  • Burnt Norton – London : Faber, 1941

  • Points of View / edited by John Hayward – London : Faber, 1941

  • The Dry Salvages – London : Faber, 1941

  • The Classics and the Man of Letters – London, New York & Toronto : Oxford University Press, 1942

  • The Music of Poetry – Glasgow : Jackson, Son, Publishers to the University, 1942

  • Little Gidding – London : Faber, 1942

  • Four Quartets – New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1943 ; London : Faber, 1944

  • Reunion by Destruction – London : Pax House, 1943

  • What Is a Classic?. – London : Faber, 1945

  • A Practical Possum – Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Printing Office & Department of Graphic Arts, 1947

  • On Poetry – Concord, Mass. : Concord Academy, 1947

  • Milton – London : Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1947

  • A Sermon – Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1948

  • Selected Poems – Harmondsworth, U.K. : Penguin/Faber, 1948 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967

  • Notes Towards the Definition of Culture – London : Faber, 1948 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1949

  • From Poe to Valery – New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1948

  • The Undergraduate Poems of T. S. Eliot – Cambridge, Mass., 1949

  • The Aims of Poetic Drama – London : Poets’ Theatre Guild, 1949

  • The Cocktail Party – London : Faber, 1950 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1950

  • Poems Written in Early Youth – Stockholm : Privately printed, 1950 ; London : Faber, 1967 ; New York : Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967

  • Poetry and Drama – Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1951 ; London : Faber, 1951

  • The Film of Murder in the Cathedral / T.S. Eliot and George Hoellering – London : Faber, 1952 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1952

  • The Value and Use of Cathedrals in England Today – Chichester : Friends of Chichester Cathedral, 1952

  • An Address to Members of the London Library – London : London Library, 1952 ; Providence, R.I. : Providence Athenaeum, 1953

  • The Complete Poems and Plays – New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1952

  • American Literature and the American Language – St. Louis : Department of English, Washington University, 1953

  • The Three Voices of Poetry – Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1953 ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1954

  • The Confidential Clerk – London : Faber, 1954 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace, 1954

  • Religious Drama : Mediaeval and Modern – New York : House of Books, 1954

  • The Cultivation of Christmas Trees – London : Faber, 1954 ; New York : Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1956

  • The Literature of Politics – London : Conservative Political Centre, 1955

  • The Frontiers of Criticism – Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1956

  • On Poetry and Poets – London : Faber, 1957 ; New York : Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1957

  • The Elder Statesman – London : Faber, 1959 ; New York : Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1959

  • Geoffrey Faber 1889–1961 – London : Faber, 1961

  • Collected Plays – London : Faber, 1962

  • George Herbert – London : Longmans, 1962

  • Collected Poems 1909–1962 – London : Faber, 1963 ; New York : Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963

  • Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley – London : Faber, 1964 ; New York : Farrar, Straus, 1964

  • To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings – London : Faber, 1965 ; New York : Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965

  • The Waste Land : A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound / edited by Valerie Eliot – London : Faber, 1971 ; New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971

  • Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot / edited by Frank Kermode – London : Faber, 1975 ; New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975

  • The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry : The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926, and the Turnbull Lectures at the Johns Hopkins University, 1933 / edited by Ronald Schuchard – London : Faber, 1993 ; New York : Harcourt Brace, 1994

  • Inventions of the March Hare : Poems, 1909–1917 / edited by Christopher Ricks – London : Faber, 1996 ; New York : Harcourt Brace, 1996

  • The Waste Land : Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism – Norton Critical Edition / edited by Michael North – New York : Norton, 2001

  • The Annotated Waste Land, with T.S. Eliot’s Contemporary Prose / edited by Lawrence Rainey – New Haven : Yale University Press, 2005

Literature (a selection):

  • T.S. Eliot : a Selected Critique / ed. ny Leonard Unger – New York : Rinehart, 1948

  • Drew, Elizabeth A., T.S. Eliot : the Design of His Poetry – New York : Scribner, 1949

  • Maxwell, Desmond Ernest Stewart, The Poetry of T.S. Eliot – London : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952

  • Williamson, George, A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot : a Poem-By-Poem Analysis – New York : Noonday Press, 1953

  • Smith, Grover Cleveland, jr., T.S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays : a Study In Sources and Meaning – Chicago : Univ. Press, 1956

  • Matthiessen, Francis Otto, The Achievement of T.S. Eliot : an Essay on the Nature of Poetry – New York, 1958.

  • Jones, David E., The Plays of T.S. Eliot – Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960.

  • Bergsten, Staffan, Time and Eternity : a Study in the Structure and Symbolism of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – Stockholm : Svenska bokforlaget, 1960

  • Smidt, Kristian, Poetry and Belief in the Work of T. S. Eliot – London : Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961

  • Frye, Northrop, T.S. Eliot – Edinburgh : Oliver and Boyd, 1963

  • T. S. Eliot : the Man and His Work / ed. by Allen Tate – London : Chatto & Windus, 1967

  • Blamires, Harry, Word Unheard : a Guide Through Eliot’s Four Quartets – London : Methuen, 1969

  • Critics on T.S. Eliot : Readings in Literary Criticism / ed. by Sheila Sullivan – London : Allen and Unwin, 1973

  • Gardner, Helen, The Composition of Four Quartets – London : Faber, 1978

  • T.S. Eliot : the Critical Heritage / ed. by Michael Grant – London : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982

  • Smith, Grover Cleveland, jr., The Waste Land – London : Allen & Unwin, 1983

  • Ackroyd, Peter, T.S. Eliot – London : Hamilton, 1984

  • Mayer, John T., T.S. Eliot’s Silent Voices – New York : Oxford University Press, 1989

  • T.S. Eliot : Critical Assessments / edited by Graham Clarke. London : Helm, cop. 1990 – 4 vol.

  • Murray, Paul, T.S. Eliot and Mysticism : the Secret History of Four Quartets – Basingstoke : MacMillan, 1991

  • Cooper, John Xiros, T.S. Eliot and the Ideology of Four Quartets – Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1995

  • Gordon, Lyndall, T.S. Eliot : an Imperfect Life – London : Vintage, 1998

  • Miller, James Edwin, jr., T.S. Eliot : the Making of an American Poet, 1888–1922 – University Park, Pa. : Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005

  • Raine, Craig, T.S. Eliot – Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2006


1948: Nobel Prize in Literature.

Presentation Speech:

Presentation Speech by Anders Osterling, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy.

In the impressive succession of Nobel Prize winners in Literature, T.S. Eliot marks a departure from the type of writer that has most frequently gained that distinction. The majority have been representatives of a literature which seeks its natural contacts in the public consciousness, and which, to attain this goal, avails itself of the media lying more or less ready at hand. This year’s Prize winner has chosen to take another path. His career is remarkable in that, from an extremely exclusive and consciously isolated position, he has gradually come to exercise a very far-reaching influence. At the outset he appeared to address himself to but a small circle of initiates, but this circle slowly widened, without his appearing to will it himself. Thus in Eliot’s verse and prose there was quite a special accent, which compelled attention just in our own time, a capacity to cut into the consciousness of our generation with the sharpness of a diamond.

In one of his essays Eliot himself has advanced, as a purely objective and quite uncategorical assumption, that poets in our present civilization have to be difficult to approach. Our civilization, he says, comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning.

Against the background of such a pronouncement, we may test his results and learn to understand the importance of his contribution. The effort is worth-while. Eliot first gained his reputation as the result of his magnificent experiment in poetry, The Waste Land, which appeared in 1922 and then seemed bewildering in several ways, due to its complicated symbolic language, its mosaic-like technique, and its apparatus of erudite allusion. It may be recalled that this work appeared in the same year as another pioneer work, which had a still more sensational effect on modern literature, the much discussed Ulysses, from the hand of an Irishman, James Joyce. The parallel is by no means fortuitous, for these products of the nineteen-twenties are closely akin to one another, in both spirit and mode of composition.

The Waste Land – a title whose terrifying import no one can help feeling, when the difficult and masterly word-pattern has finally yielded up its secrets. The melancholy and sombre rhapsody aims at describing the aridity and impotence of modern civilization, in a series of sometimes realistic and sometimes mythological episodes, whose perspectives impinge on each other with an indescribable total effect. The cycle of poems consists of 436 lines, but actually it contains more than a packed novel of as many pages. The Waste Land now lies a quarter of a century back in time, but unfortunately it has proved that its catastrophic visions still have undiminished actuality in the shadow of the atomic age.

Since then Eliot has passed on to a series of poetic creations of the same brilliant concentration, in pursuance of the agonized, salvation-seeking main theme. The horror vacui of modern man in a secularized world, without order, meaning, or beauty, here stands out with poignant sincerity. In his latest work, Four Quartets (1943), Eliot has arrived at a meditative music of words, with almost liturgical refrains and fine, exact expressions of his spiritual experiences. The transcendental superstructure rises ever clearer in his world picture. At the same time a manifest striving after a positive, guiding message emerges in his dramatic art, especially in the mighty historical play about Thomas of Canterbury, Murder in the Cathedral (1935), but also in The Family Reunion (1939), which is a bold attempt to combine such different conceptions as the Christian dogma of original sin and the classical Greek myths of fate, in an entirely modern environment, with the scene laid in a country house in northern England.

The purely poetical part of Eliot’s work is not quantitatively great, but as it now stands out against the horizon, it rises from the ocean like a rocky peak and indisputably forms a landmark, sometimes assuming the mystic contours of a cathedral. It is poetry impressed with the stamp of strict responsibility and extraordinary self-discipline, remote from all emotional cliches, concentrated entirely on essential things, stark, granitic, and unadorned, but from time to time illuminated by a sudden ray from the timeless space of miracles and revelations.

Insight into Eliot must always present certain problems to be overcome, obstacles which are at the same time stimulating. It may appear to be contradictory to say that this radical pioneer of form, the initiator of a whole revolution in style within present-day poetry, is at the same time a coldly reasoning, logically subtle theorist, who never wearies of defending historical perspectives and the necessity of fixed norms for our existence. As early as the 1940’s, he had become a convinced supporter of the Anglican Church in religion and of classicism in literature. In view of this philosophy of life, which implies a consistent return to ideals standardized by age, it might seem that his modernistic practice would dash with his traditional theory. But this is hardly the case. Rather, in his capacity as an author, he has uninterruptedly and with varying success worked to bridge this chasm, the existence of which he must be fully and perhaps painfully conscious. His earliest poetry, so convulsively disintegrated, so studiously aggressive in its whole technical form, can finally also be apprehended as a negative expression of a mentality which aims at higher and purer realities and must first free itsef of abhorrence and cynicism. In other words, his revolt is that of the Christian poet. It should also be observed in this connection that, on the whole, Eliot is careful not to magnify the power of poetry in relation to that of religion. In one place, where he wishes to point out what poetry can really accomplish for our inner life, he does so with great caution and reserve: It may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.

Thus, if it can be said with some justification that Eliot’s philosophical position is based on nothing but tradition, it ought nevertheless to be borne in mind that he constantly points out how generally that word has been misused in today’s debates. The word tradition itself implies movement, something which cannot be static, something which is constantly handed on and assimilated. In the poetic tradition, too, this living principle prevails. The existing monuments of literature form an idealistic order, but this is slightly modified every time a new work is added to the series. Proportions and values are unceasingly changing. Just as the old directs the new, this in its turn directs the old, and the poet who realizes this must also realize the scope of his difficulties and his responsibility.

Externally, too, the now sixty-year-old Eliot has also returned to Europe, the ancient and storm-tossed, but still venerable, home of cultural traditions. Born an American, he comes from one of the Puritan families who emigrated from England at the end of the seventeenth century. His years of study as a young man at the Sorbonne, at Marburg, and at Oxford, clearly revealed to him that at bottom he felt akin to the historical milieu of the Old World, and since 1927 Mr. Eliot has been a British subject.

It is not possible in this presentation to indicate more than the most immediate fascinating features in the complicated multiplicity of Eliot’s characteristics as a writer. The predominating one is the high, philosophically schooled intelligence, which has succeeded in enlisting in its service both imagination and learning, both sensitivity and the analysis of ideas. His capacity for stimulating a reconsideration of pressing questions within intellectual and aesthetic opinion is also extraordinary, and however much the appraisement may vary, it can never be denied that in his period he has been an eminent poser of questions, with a masterly gift for finding the apt wording, both in the language of poetry and in the defence of ideas in essay form.

Nor is it due only to chance that he has written one of the finest studies of Dante’s work and personality. In his bitter moral pathos, in his metaphysical line of thought, and in his burning longing for a world order inspired by religion, a civitas dei, Eliot has indeed certain points of contact with the great Florentine poet. It redounds to his honour that, amidst the varied conditions of his milieu, he can be justly characterized as one of Dante’s latest-born successors. In his message we hear solemn echoes from other times, but that message does not by any means therefore become less real when it is given to our own time and to us who are now living.

Mr. Eliot – According to the diploma, the award is made chiefly in appreciation of your remarkable achievements as a pioneer within modern poetry. I have here tried to give a brief survey of this very important work of yours, which is admired by many ardent readers in this country.

Exactly twenty-five years ago, there stood where you are now standing another famous poet who wrote in the English tongue, William Butler Yeats. The honour now passes to you as being a leader and a champion of a new period in the long history of the world’s poetry.

With the felicitations of the Swedish Academy, I now ask you to receive your Prize from the hands of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince.



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