Article image
12 Pearls of Wisdom From T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot was one of the most brilliant poets of the 20th century. Born Thomas Stearns Eliot in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1888, he created an incredible oeuvre in his lifetime, spanning poetry, plays, literary criticism, and philosophy. His most famous works include “The Waste Land” and “Four Quartets,” the latter of which is a meditation on time and history. He graduated from Harvard, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. His work has influenced generations of writers: Stephen King is among his many famous fans, incorporating lines and references from Eliot’s work into his films. Eliot’s 1939 poem collection, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, also inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 hit musical Cats.

What makes Eliot’s writing so poignant even now, decades after publication, is not necessarily his accolades or prestige, but the timelessness of his observations. Eliot understood how to balance tradition and modernity, and how to skillfully wield his outsider status to create a trademark ethereal quality to his work. As he wrote in a letter to his friend Herbert Read, he saw himself as an American born in the South but educated in New England, who never fully fit in either place, “and who so was never anything anywhere.” Readers have found solace in and drawn deep inspiration from Eliot’s writing thanks in part to his relatable, nomadic core. Here, we’ve rounded up 12 quotes that best illustrate the timeless wisdom that this game-changing poet imparted on the world.

Where is the Life we have lost in living? / Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
— “The Rock,” 1934

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
— Preface to "Transit of Venus: Poems by Harry Crosby," 1931

In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
— “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 1915

To make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.
— "Four Quartets," 1943

Success is relative. It is what we make of the mess we have made of things.
— "The Family Reunion," 1939

Whatever you think, be sure it is what you think; whatever you want, be sure that is what you want; whatever you feel, be sure that is what you feel.
— "Four Quartets," 1943

For last year's words belong to last year's language / And next year's words await another voice.
— "Four Quartets," 1943

Fortunate the man who, at the right moment meets the right friend
— "Notes Towards the Definition of Culture," 1948

Love is most nearly itself / When here and now cease to matter.
— “East Coker,” 1943

We do not pass through the same door twice / Or return to the door through which we did not pass.
— “Little Gidding,” 1942

Music heard so deeply / That is not heard at all, but you are / The music / While the music lasts.
— “The Dry Salvages,” 1941

The end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.
— “Little Gidding,” 1942

Photo credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Author image
About the Author
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen is a writer, editor, and community builder based in Seattle, Washington.
Play more header background
Play more icon
Daily Question
What poet wrote, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"?

More Inspiration

happiness theme icon

The older I get, the more I want to be authentically myself.

separator icon
Julianne Moore
motivation theme icon

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.

separator icon
Hafiz
hope theme icon

Pay attention to what you pay attention to.

separator icon
Amy Krouse Rosenthal
love theme icon

Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

separator icon
Martin Luther King Jr.
wisdom theme icon

Only love can heal the wounds of the past.

separator icon
bell hooks
happiness theme icon

Find the thing you do well and do it again and again for the rest of your life.

separator icon
Jóhann Jóhannsson
motivation theme icon

The choice to love is the choice to connect — to find ourselves in the other.

separator icon
bell hooks
hope theme icon

Music is one of the healthiest forms of transcendence and magic.

separator icon
Moby
love theme icon

Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.

separator icon
Oprah Winfrey
wisdom theme icon

All you have to do is take a close look at yourself and you will understand everyone else.

separator icon
Isaac Asimov
happiness theme icon

The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.

separator icon
Frederick Douglass