Thursday, August 13, 2009

T.S. Eliot by Peter Ackroyd (1984)

I found this meaty biography on a cottage bookshelf and decided to dip in to remind myself why Eliot was considered such a great poet, albeit a supremely emotionally damaged man.

The youngest in the St. Louis-based Eliot family, Tom was educated at Harvard and moved to London where he became a banker and then an editor of The Criterion (where he published Ezra Pound)and at Faber and Faber where he published the esteemed American poet W.H. Auden among other notables of their generation.

Eliot spent fractious years with his first wife Vivienne who was institutionalized repeatedly for mental instability. They split with the encouragement of their common friends the Woolfs and Ottoline Morrel. In 1939, inheriting the lyric cloak of W.B. Yeats, Eliot gave the first speech in Dublin and in 1948 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, an honour and a burden since he would no longer enjoy the privacy he so coveted.

It will turn me back to his great pieces including "The Waste Land," "The Four Quartets," "Sweeney Agonistes," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and his plays Murder in the Cathedral, The Cocktail Party and The Elder Statesman (the only one written when he was admittedly happy in his marriage to his second wife Valerie Fletcher in the decade before his death in 1965).

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