T. S. Eliot’s period of active literary production covers over forty-five years. During this period he write poems, plays, literary and social essays, as well as worked as a journalist and editor. He achieved distinction and wielded considerable influence in each of the fields he worked. No other English poet of the 20th century has shown such versatility and originality.
Despite the complexity of his poetry which initially excited great bewilderment, the impact of his art and technique on the younger writers has been wider and more comprehensive than that of any other writer of his time.
Here is a list of the best T. S. Eliot poems:
1. The Waste Land
The Waste Land is an important landmark in the history of English poetry. It is a long poem in five sections: The Burial of the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, and What the Thunder Said. It is a very difficult and complex poem, if not an obscure one. Elliot has used a complex and symbolic technique, with symbolism running from the beginning to the end of the poem, to bring out the decay and a solution of contemporary civilisation.
2. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock marks a complete break with the nineteenth-century poetic tradition. It is not really a love song though love is the underlying theme. It records the indecision, hesitation and postponement of the proposal of the lover. The poem is rather psychological, intended to dissect the suppressed feelings of the lover, especially his cowardice and resolution.
3. The Hollow Men
The Hollow Men is a recast of some of the earlier poems written by Eliot. It contains the poet’s reflection on the subject of human nature in this world, and the relationship of this world to another, in the world of death and eternity. It presents a picture of the unmitigated horror of modern life. It is a dark and gloomy poem that is in no way relieved by a ray of hope or light.
4. Four Quartets
Four Quartets is a set of four poems: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding. It is a landmark in 20th century English poetry. It derives its themes, symbolism, and resolution from religion; but the poem has been admired for its universality which goes beyond any rigid religion. There is a thematic unity between the four sections. Recurring references to places associated with the poet’s personal past, as well as contemporary events, recurring allusions and images and ideas contribute to making the sections a coherent poetic statement.
5. Portrait of a Lady
Portrait of a Lady it’s a poem in three parts, dealing with the three dramatic confrontations of the lady and young men whom she loves. It reveals the picture of an intelligent young man with his inner conflicts, fears and uncertainties, dodging an elderly woman trying to exercise her charms on him for an illicit and unequal love relationship. The poet wishes to satirise his own milieu and urban society through the story of the old woman and the young man.
6. Journey of the Magi
In Journey of the Magi one of the Magi, long after the event, gives us an account of the journey to the birthplace of Christ. The journey of the Magi is not merely an ordinary physical journey, but also symbolic of the toils and troubles of the human soul in its spiritual quest.
7. Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday is a religious poem that depicts the struggle of the human soul trying to work out its own salvation. It reflects the feeling and moods of the poet and the struggle he has to go through to rise higher on the spiritual plane. The poem is not didactic because it does not preach moral lessons; it communicates what he felt in his own person.
Gerontion, a broken and decayed old man, is the central figure and what passes through his consciousness, forms the substance of the poem. The thoughts of the old man reflect the essential barrenness of modern civilization. He is quite disillusioned about himself and about the purpose of the modern world. Modern life is vain and futile like the days passed by the old man.
Preludes is made up of a sequence of descriptions of details of urban experience. The first two preludes are objective presentations of the city in the evening and morning. In the third and fourth preludes, Eliot makes clear the mind’s yearning for significance beyond the random details of consciousness. Preludes contains some striking pictures of the dreariness and anonymity of the urban scene.
10. Sweeney Among the Nightingales
Sweeney Among the Nightingales is a short poem in which two ladies try to seduce Sweeney, and there is a plot against his life. Elliot satirises the sexual jealousy and trivialities of modern society which lead to crime and violence.