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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Poets > T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot
Modernist poet
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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Eliot believed his finest achievement was writing the broadly religious poem "Four Quartets" (1943). It deals with the themes of incarnation, time and eternity, spiritual insight and revelation, culminating in an allusion to Pentecost:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

In The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), as well as other works, Eliot argued that the humanist attempt to form a non-Christian, "rational" civilization was doomed. "The experiment will fail," he wrote, "but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide."

He didn't believe society should be ruled by the church, only by Christian principles, with Christians being "the conscious mind and the conscience of the nation."

Eliot turned to writing plays in the 1930s and '40s because he believed drama attracts people who unconsciously seek a religion. The year 1935 saw the premiere of Murder in the Cathedral, a play based on the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, in which Eliot reiterates that faith can live only if the faithful are ready to die for it. It was followed by The Family Reunion (1939) and The Cocktail Party (1949), his greatest theatrical success. In his plays, he managed to handle complex moral and religious themes while entertaining audiences with farcical plots and keen social satire.

Verse to the postman

More personally, Eliot's first marriage was a disaster: his wife became increasingly unstable until she had to spend her last days in a mental institution. He then shared a flat with writer-critic John Hayward (who was almost completely paralyzed) until he married again in 1957.

Eliot enjoyed children, was a fan of Sherlock Holmes detective stories, addressed letters in verse ("Postman, propel thy feet / And take this note to greet / The Mrs. Hutchinson / Who lives on Charlotte Street … "), and made up rhymes about cats, which turned into his Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939). He was an Anglican of Anglo-Catholic persuasion and served for a time as church warden at his local parish.

131 Christians Everyone Should Know

131 Christians Everyone Should Know

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