I read T.S. Eliot very young. Excited at the prospect of studying about modernism from the best of the best and wishing to implement his philosophy of fragmentation into my adolescent writing, I wasn’t quite prepared for the whirlpool of candescent emotions that his words would instil in me. Reading Eliot’s work leaves you beautifully resigned, parched and reflective. Be it the beautifully scripted heady symbolism and glorified decadence of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock or the blatant and colossal examination of power disillusionment and its necessary evil, Eliot managed to strike a resonant chord with all his readers, making them double-check his lines for hidden meanings and solicited advice.
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Thomas Stearns Eliot, an American-turned-Englishman, was born in St. Louis, Missouri into an affluent family who realised the importance of education. The youngest of seven children, Eliot was always under the watchful eye of the maternal characters in his life – his mother and five older sisters – resulting in a dynamic feminine influence that impacted a lot of his work later. Eliot had always been a nomadic writer, travelling from place to place and weaving his experiences into his stories. This began with his stories on primitive life, which he wrote for his High School publication, Record, after attending the 1904 St. Louis Fair.
Eliot went on to earn a degree from Harvard in 1906 and managed to make quite the impression with his batch-mates, teachers and student body representatives. He tried his hand at all kinds of activities and made the most of his well-paid time there. Then, one day he ventured into the Harvard Union Library and found the book that would change his life forever. This was Arthur Symons's The Symbolist Movement in Literature, which introduced him to the poetry of Jules Laforgue for the first time, and it was Laforgue's combination of ironic elegance and psychological nuance, which gave his juvenile literary efforts a voice.
Graduating from Harvard, Eliot stuck on to the institution as a Philosophy assistant for a year before deciding that his true passion resided across oceans. Thus, he soon took off for France and the Sorbonne to study Philosophy, marking the beginning of a new chapter. Although he was beginning to receive much critical acclaim for his work in the field, Eliot’s luck turned into honey when he bolstered up the courage to have a meeting with Ezra Pound and show him his work. Pound, who was ordinarily very hard to impress, didn’t need to take a second look at Eliot’s work to see his genius. It was under his mentorship that Eliot was introduced to the court of many noted and diverse poets, going on to speak politics and philosophy with the likes of W.B. Yeats and Wyndham Lewis.
Although Eliot’s life was far from stable, what with battling two subsequent nervous breakdowns, taking care of his neurotic wife, bearing a strained relationship with his parents and enduring the overall disillusionment and hopelessness in the aftermath of the First World War. But his work remained unperturbed, one striking better than the last and eventually winning him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
Today, on his 128th Birthday, we’d like to share some of his most soul-stirring quotes that will change the way you think about life and learning.
- “To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man's life.”
- “Do I dareDisturb the universe?
- In a minute there is time
- For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
- “There will be time, there will be timeTo prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”
- “You are the music while the music lasts.”
- “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
- “For last year's words belong to last year's languageAnd next year's words await another voice.”
- “Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.”
- “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
- “And would it have been worth it, after all,Would it have been worthwhile,
- After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
- After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor -
- And this, and so much more? -”
- “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, and I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, and in short, I was afraid.”
- “We don't actually fear death, we fear that no one will notice our absence, that we will disappear without a trace.”
- “We do not pass through the same door twiceOr return to the door through which we did not pass”
- “At the still point, there the dance is.”
- “Success is relative. It is what we make of the mess we have made of things.”
- “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.”
Happy birthday, T.S Eliot!
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