TS Eliot

The American poet TS Eliot arrived in Britain in August 1914. Life was quickly moving away from austere Victorian values, and Europe was embarking on a war which would change it fundamentally. Eliot became a key member of the revolutionary artistic movement known as “Modernism” – and he has been called the greatest poet of the 20th Century. His poems – notably, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (1915) and The Waste Land (1922) – explored the feelings of confusion and isolation that came with this new age. Although the poems can be difficult and their meanings elusive, they captured the spirit of a difficult and volatile time.


Eliot’s iconic works were written at the beginning of the 20th Century, as Europe dealt with the trauma of a devastating world war, and came to grips with a rapidly changing society. Gender, class and technology were all transformed. One hundred years later, society is once again asking the question: what does this new century have in store?


Just as 20th-Century society was finding its new identity, so too were its citizens. Traditional Victorian ideas and standards were evaporating – so where did that leave the individual? Isolated, detached and lonely, some see Eliot’s poetry as a self-conscious meditation on what it means to be an “I”. The rise of online identities has made this question more relevant than ever.


Eliot watched women progress from the confinement of Victorian social norms to the freedom of bold and independent-minded individuals, well on their way to equality with men. His poems consider the emotional effects of this dramatic shift in gender roles, which is still being felt and explored today.


Eliot was writing during and after the horrors of World War One and, like many of his generation, he was no less horrified by the atrocities of WW2. The trauma that follows conflict can have a lasting and damaging effects on a population – sadly, not limited to Eliot’s era.


In 1927, Eliot converted to strict Anglo-Catholicism. Although his new belief was mocked by his fellow Modernist writer Virginia Woolf – “Did he go to church? Did he hand round the plate? Oh really!” – he seemed to find comfort in the traditions and structure of religion.