On this day in 1965 the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot died aged 76. A sickly child, born in St Louis, Missouri, he discovered poetry at an early age and travelled the world both to study (the Sorbonne and Oxford) and to gain inspiration.
Though he liked and settled in England, it was London that attracted him rather than the academic life in Oxford, which he found boring. He worked for some years in a bank before joining publishers Faber and Faber.
Eliot knew many literary figures of the time – Ezra Pound, James Joyce, WH Auden, Stephen Spender, many of whom he helped to publish.
A quiet man and a heavy smoker, he died of emphysema. Here is a poem about death and time, both themes that Eliot liked to use. This is by John Donne, What if This Present:
What if this present were the world’s last night?
Marke in my heart, O Soule, where thou dost dwell,
The picture of Christ crucified, and tell
Whether that countenance can thee affright,
Teares in his eyes quench the amazing light,
Blood fills his frownes, which from his pierc’d head fell.
And can that tongue adjudge thee into hell,
Which pray’d forgivenesse for his foes fierce spight?
No, no; but as in my Idolatrie
I said to all my profane mistresses,
Beauty, of pity, foulenesse onely is
A sign of rigour: so I say to thee,
To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assign’d,
This beauteous forme assures a piteous minde.”
Today I seek tolerance in myself for the shortcomings or insensitivities of others so that I can love the good qualities that they have.