Eliot’s Daily Grind


Every writer is different. Each has his or her own way of working, a method for getting words down on paper. Some are procrastinators, some are methodical, some write in between juggling a daytime job and caring for a family.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965), commonly known as T.S. Eliot, was an essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and is thought by many to have been the most influential poet of the twentieth century. He was born into a high-ranking family in Boston and after a childhood fraught with physical weakness and isolation found himself in Oxford, England, on a scholarship in 1914. He married the following year and from then on was to make England his home for the rest of his life. After a brief dalliance with schoolmastering, in 1917, he took a position at Lloyds Bank in London, working on foreign accounts. He quickly made himself indispensible to the firm and proved to be a superb businessman.
It was while he was engaged in the staid world of banking that he provided some of his most trenchant poetry, criticism, and essays of the time. He worked incredibly hard and had a strict schedule to keep every day. He needed the extra money in order to make ends meet, so after putting in a full day’s work at the office he would return home to write essays, lectures and book reviews. In his “spare” time he also founded and edited the Criterion literary magazine and produced several volumes of groundbreaking poetry.
Eventually, after a long career with Lloyds, he moved to the publishers Faber and Gwyer (later to become Faber and Faber) as poetry editor where he was responsible for seeking out hidden talent and published poets such as W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Ted Hughes and Dylan Thomas.
But in his later years, even when he was rather comfortably off and did not need to worry about money he still kept to a punishing schedule. He would rise early and leave the house at 6.30 to attend mass, returned home and, after a full English breakfast, write until about noon. Then after lunch he would take a bus to his office at the publishing house (completing the infamous Times cryptic crossword on the way) and work all afternoon having meetings with other editors, reading manuscripts that had been submitted and dictating letters to his secretary. In the evenings he was often called upon to deliver lectures at various venues, so he also spent time in meticulous preparation.
Needless to say, long years of unremitting hard graft took its toll on his health, so periodically he would need to take time off work because of nervous exhaustion. It was during one of these extended breaks, first in Switzerland and then in the seaside resort of Margate on the English coast, that he composed most of The Wasteland, his poetic masterpiece that was to rock the literary world to its foundations.
Eliot was the exact opposite of the dreamy-eyed romantic who pens nature haikus and love sonnets in a flood of emotion and cant. He was a shrewd businessman, and incisive critic, a brilliant poet who articulated the spirit of the times and an inveterate workaholic.

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