(born Sept. 26, 1888, St. Louis, Mo., U.S.—died Jan. 4, 1965, London, Eng.) U.S.-British poet, playwright, and critic. Eliot studied at Harvard University before moving to England in 1914, where he would work as an editor from the early 1920s until his death. His first important poem, and the first modernist masterpiece in English, was the radically experimental “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915). The Waste Land (1922), which expresses with startling power the disillusionment of the postwar years, made his international reputation. His first critical volume, The Sacred Wood (1920), introduced concepts much discussed in later critical theory. He married in 1915; his wife was mentally unstable, and they separated in 1933. (He married again, happily, in 1957.) His conversion to Anglicanism in 1927 shaped all his subsequent works. His last great work was Four Quartets (1936–42), four poems on spiritual renewal and the connections of the personal and historical past and present. Influential later essays include “The Idea of a Christian Society” (1939) and “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture” (1948). His play Murder in the Cathedral (1935) is a verse treatment of St. Thomas Becket's martyrdom; his other plays, including The Cocktail Party (1950), are lesser works. From the 1920s on he was the most influential English-language modernist poet. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948; from then until his death he achieved public admiration unequaled by any other 20th-century poet.
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