Born Thomas Stearns Eliot on this day in 1888, Eliot was an essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and one of the 20th century's major poets. He started life as an American and ended it 76 years later as an English citizen and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry." The award came in 1948 and he lamented that he was almost sad to have the award because “No one has ever done anything after he got it.”
Having said that, he promptly wrote his 1949 award-winning play The Cocktail Party, then went on to author two more plays, dozens of poems, and several highly regarded works of nonfiction before his death in 1965.
Eliot first attracted widespread attention for his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915), which is seen as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement. It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930), and Four Quartets (1945).
“Poetry should help, not only to refine the language of the time, but to prevent it from changing too rapidly,” he said. “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
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