'Young Eliot' Examines Early Years of World's Great Poet

By Wilson, Calvin | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 26, 2015 | Go to article overview

'Young Eliot' Examines Early Years of World's Great Poet


Wilson, Calvin, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


T.S. Eliot was among the greatest poets of the 20th century an innovative stylist whose works include "The Hollow Men," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Land."

A philosopher, Francophile, Harvard man and native St. Louisan, Eliot has been the subject of numerous biographies. But according to author Robert Crawford, those books have tended to skip past Eliot's formative years, in part because Eliot's career as a mature artist was better documented and therefore much easier to research.

"Young Eliot: From St. Louis to 'The Waste Land'" is Crawford's attempt to convince readers that Eliot's early years are every bit as worthy of consideration.

The biography which marks the 50th anniversary of Eliot's death and is presented as the first volume in a comprehensive look at his life and art is dense with information about the poet who became as much an Englishman as an American. Drawing on archives, previously undisclosed memoirs and new interviews, Crawford offers a perspective on the poet that takes into account his personal life, his academic career and his literary influences.

Born Sept. 26, 1888, Thomas Stearns Eliot grew up in a wealthy family that still lived on Locust Street after others of that class had decamped to the suburbs. Concerns about his delicate heath forced him to wear a truss, which only contributed to his shyness.

But among those with whom he was comfortable, he had a quick and occasionally bawdy wit that was reflected in his writing.

In the book's early chapters, Crawford (who refers to Eliot as "Tom") does an impressive job of inserting snippets of St. …

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