Even if you have never read a poem by T.S. Eliot you will have read something influenced by him. He is perhaps the most influential poet of the last century. The innovations that Elliot brought to poetry caused a dramatic change to virtually every art form. This includes novels, films, and poetry.
T.S. Eliot worked for his entire adult life at a publishing house. He wrote his poems in his spare time. He also wrote plays and literary criticism. In fact, for a figure that is one of the giants of 20th century poetry, he did not write very much. His entire poetic works can be contained in a small book. However, though he did not write much, what he did write has everlasting appeal.
Eliot is often considered to be a poet who emerged fully formed. This is to say that he did not have a young period where his poems lacked focus or power. His first major poem was The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. This poem still stands as one of the greats poems of the 20th century.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is concerned with a fragmented worldview that came to embody Eliot’s entire body of work. The poem is written in a stream of consciousness style that was a hallmark of Eliot’s work. The title character laments his mental and spiritual problems in a most unusual way. The poem breaks from the tradition of strict form, meter, and coherent thought.
Eliot did not choose to write in a fragmented way simply because it was easier. Rather, he chose a medium and a style that would look to replicate what he saw in the world around him. The spiritual decline after World War I was something that Eliot was very concerned with. The tragic deaths and the subsequent emotional strife that fell across Europe became the subject and theme for Elliot’s next great work: The Waste Land
The Waste Land is perhaps the most famous poem of the 20th century. It completely changed the way fiction was written. It also created a school of philosophy and interpretative study that would later influence filmmakers and politicians.
The Waste Land is a hallmark of modern literature. It influenced such authors as James Joyce, William Falukner and Virginia Woolf. The poem was epic in scale and theme. It also touched on Eastern Religion, Greek Mythology, and various other disciples. This was all used to detail the great vision of moral despair that Elliot was trying to describe.
It should be noted that Eliot also wrote light verse. His collection, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, is the basis for the popular Broadway play Cats. It was a whimsical book about feline nature that was illustrated with imaginative drawings.
People continue to read T.S. Eliot today because his poems are so pleasing. They are not only important, but they are pleasurable to read. You can read Eliot’s poems here: http://www.gutenberg.org/author/T._S._Eliot.