This Day In Literary History
On November 4th, 1948, the famous American poet and playwright T.S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize in literature. Born in St. Louis, he emigrated to England in 1914 at the age of 25. He would later become a naturalized British subject.
Eliot is probably most famous today for his whimsical poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, (1939) which was adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber as the hit Broadway musical, Cats.
By the time he'd written that book, Eliot had already established himself as one of the most profound poets of his time. His classic poems The Waste Land (1922), Ariel Poems (1927-31), and Ash Wednesday (1930) were steeped deep in spirituality and philosophy.
Eliot's first major work, The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock, (1917) introduced his poetic style, which combined blank verse with long, fragmented images, a style that still influences poetic voice to this day.
Although some scholars consider The Waste Land to be Eliot's masterpiece, most believe that Four Quartets (1945) was his greatest work and what led him to win the Nobel Prize.
Four Quartets was a collection of four long poems (Burn Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding) inspired by Eliot's considerable knowledge of mysticism and philosophy.
T.S. Eliot's winning the Nobel Prize award came as quite a shock, as he was a controversial figure. A devout Anglican and staunch conservative, Eliot had voiced support for fascism and praised Italian dictator Benito Mussolini before the outbreak of World War II.
He had also been accused of anti-Semitism, an idea that is still hotly debated to this day. In a series of lectures he gave at the University of Virginia in 1933, which were published a year later as After Strange Gods, Eliot had said:
What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.
He would later disavow After Strange Gods and prevent any part of it from being reprinted.
Eliot would later be defended by his friends, poet Stephen Spender and writer Leonard Woolf, (the husband of Virginia Woolf) who were both Jewish. Woolf said that Eliot was "slightly anti-Semitic in the sort of vague way which is not uncommon. He would have denied it quite genuinely."
In 2003, Professor Ronald Schuchard of Emory University published the details of a previously unknown series of letters written by T.S. Eliot to Horace Kallen, a Jewish American philosopher.
The letters revealed that during World War II, Eliot helped German and Austrian Jewish refugees settle in England and the United States. In letters he wrote after the war, Eliot voiced support for Israel as a Jewish state.
Despite the controversy surrounding his personal and political beliefs, T.S. Eliot still remains a strong influence on modern poetic voice.
Quote Of The Day
"Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." - T.S. Eliot
Today's video features a rare recording of T.S. Eliot reading his classic epic poem, The Waste Land. Enjoy!