26 September 1888: Thomas Stearns Eliot born in St Louis, Missouri.
In its long piece on Old Possum, Poetry Foundation [https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/t-s-eliot] said: “When T. S. Eliot died, wrote Robert Giroux, “the world became a lesser place.” Certainly the most imposing poet of his time, Eliot was revered by Igor Stravinsky “not only as a great sorcerer of words but as the very key keeper of the language.” For Alfred Kazin he was “the mana known as ‘T. S. Eliot,’ the model poet of our time, the most cited poet and incarnation of literary correctness in the English-speaking world.” Northrop Frye simply states: “A thorough knowledge of Eliot is compulsory for anyone interested in contemporary literature. Whether he is liked or disliked is of no importance, but he must be read.””
You can dislike his chauvinism, his anti-Semitism, his rather unemotional religious sensibilities, and schoolboy humour, but Eliot’s poems jolt and crackle, a century later…
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.#
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.*
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.**.
‘…Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair.
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.’
The last twist of the knife.^
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rat’s feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar^^
…were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.##
————————————————-[# The Waste Land] [*The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock] [**Preludes] [^ Rhapsody on a Windy Night] [^^ The Hollow Men] [##Journey of the Magi]