Born on September 26, 1888, modernist poet and playwright Thomas Stearns (TS) Eliot is best known for writing “The Waste Land”. The 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature was also a joker who coined an extremely popular swear word and created the characters that were brought to life in the Broadway musical “Cats”. In honor of Eliot’s birthday, here are some things you might not know about the writer.
1. TS Eliot enjoyed holding “real” jobs.
Eliot lived his life as a teacher, banker and editor. In his spare time he could only write poetry, but he preferred it that way. In a 1959 interview with The Paris ReviewEliot noticed that his banking and publishing jobs actually helped him be a better poet. “I̵
2. Thanks to TS Eliot, there is one of the longest running Broadway shows of all time.
In 1939 Eliot published a book of poetry, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which contained cat-related verses that he probably wrote for his godson. In stark contrast to most of Eliot’s other works – which are complex and often nihilistic – the poems here were downright playful. For Eliot, there was never a tension between these two modes: “You want to keep your hand in any kind of poem, serious and frivolous and right and inappropriate. You don’t want to lose your skills, ”he explained in his Paris Review Interview. A fan of Eliot Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats Since childhood, In the late 1970s, Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to set many of Eliot’s poems to music. The result: the hugely successful stage production “Cats”, which opened in London in 1981 and after its NYC debut in 1982 became one of the longest running Broadway shows of all time.
3. Three hours a day was the writing limit of his TS Eliot.
Eliot wrote poetry and played partly on a typewriter, partly with pencil and paper. But no matter which method he used, he always tried to keep to a writing limit of three hours. “Sometimes I found myself wanting to go longer at first, but when I looked at this stuff the next day, what I did after the three hours were never satisfactory,” he explained. “It’s much better to stop and think about something completely different. “
4. TS Eliot considered “Four Quartets” to be his best work.
In 1927 Eliot converted to Anglicanism and became a British citizen. His poems and plays in the 1930s and 1940s – including “Ash Wednesday”, “Murder in the Cathedral” and “Four Quartets” – reveal topics such as religion, belief and divinity. He considered “Four Quartets,” a series of four poems dealing with philosophy and spirituality, to be his best writing. Of the four, the last is his favorite.
5. TS Eliot was pen pals with Groucho Marx.
Eliot wrote a fan letter to comedian Groucho Marx in 1961. Marx replied, gave Eliot a photo of himself and began correspondence with the poet. After writing back and forth for a number of years, they met in real life in 1964 when Eliot hosted Marx and his wife for dinner at his home in London. Unfortunately, the two men didn’t understand each other. The main topic, according to a letter Marx wrote to his brother: The comedian had hoped he would have a “literary evening” and tried to discuss King Lear. All Eliot wanted to talk about was Marx’s 1933 comedy Duck soup. (In a 2014 piece for The New YorkerLee Siegel suspects that there has been “simmering tension” throughout her early correspondence.)
6. Ezra Pound tried to fund TS Eliot’s writing.
In 1921, Eliot took a few months off from his banking job after a nervous breakdown. During this time he wrote The Waste Land, edited by his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound. Pound, with the help of other Bohemian writers, started Bel Esprit, a fund to raise money for Eliot so he could quit his banking job and focus on full-time writing. Pound managed to get several subscribers to pawn Eliot money, but Eliot didn’t want to give up his career, which is what he really liked. The Liverpool Post, Chicago Daily Tribune, and the New York Tribune reported on Pound’s crowdfunding campaign, falsely claiming that Eliot had taken the money but was still working at the bank. After Eliot protested, the papers printed a retraction.
7. Writing in French helped TS Eliot overcome writer’s block.
After studying at Harvard, Eliot spent a year in Paris dreaming of writing in French rather than English. Although this fantasy never came to be, Eliot managed to write some poems in French during a period of writer’s block. “That was a very strange thing that I can’t fully explain. At the time I thought I was completely dehydrated. I hadn’t written anything in a while and was pretty desperate, ”he said The Paris Review. “I started writing a few things in French and found that I could at that time … Then suddenly I started writing in English again and lost any desire to continue with French. I think it was just something that helped me start again. “
8. TS Eliot set off stink bombs with his nephew in London.
Eliot, whose friends and family called him Tom, was reportedly kidding. When his nephew was young, Eliot took him to a London joke shop to buy stink bombs, which they immediately fired in the lobby of a nearby hotel. Eliot was also known for handing out exploding cigars and placing whoopee pillows on his guests’ chairs.
9. TS Eliot may have been the first person to write the word “bulls ** t”.
In the early 1910s, Eliot wrote a poem called “The Triumph of the Bulls ** t”. Like an early 20th-century Taylor Swift tune, Eliot’s poem was Eliot’s way of dissecting his haters. In 1915 he submitted the poem to a London magazine, which refused to publish it. The word Cops ** t is not included in the poem itself, only in the poem’s title, but the Oxford English Dictionary credits the poem for being the first time the swear word was ever printed.
10. TS Eliot coined the phrase “April is the cruelest month”.
Thanks to Eliot, the phrase “April is the cruelest month” has become an often-quoted, well-known phrase. It comes from the opening lines of “The Waste Land”: “April is the cruelest month, brood / lilacs from the dead land, mingling / memory and desire, stirring / blunt roots with spring rain.”
11. TS Eliot had some troubling ideas about religion.
Over the years Eliot made some incredibly problematic remarks about the Jewish people, including arguing that members of a society should share a common religious background and that large numbers of Jews create an undesirably heterogeneous culture. Many of his early writings also contained offensive depictions of Jewish characters. (As pointed out by a reviewer, Joseph Black, in a 2010 edition of “The Waste Land” and other poems“Few published works have shown the consistency of association found in Eliot’s early poetry between the Jewish and the wretched and repulsive.”) Eliot’s defenders argue that the poet’s relationship with the Jewish people was much more nuanced than his early poems suggest to let. and point to his close relationships with a number of Jewish writers and artists.
12. You can watch a movie based on TS Eliot’s (really bad) marriage.
Tom & Viv, a 1994 film with Willem Dafoe, explores Eliot’s tumultuous marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a dancer and celebrity. The couple married in 1915, a few months after they met, but the relationship quickly deteriorated. Haigh-Wood had constant physical ailments, mental health problems, and was addicted to ether. The couple spent much time apart and separated in the 1930s; She died in a psychiatric hospital in 1947. Eliot remarried at the age of 68 – his 30-year-old secretary Esmé Valerie Fletcher – and later revealed that his state of desperation during his first marriage was the catalyst for “The Waste Land”.
This story has been updated for 2020.