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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

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About the Author
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen is a writer, editor, and community builder based in Seattle, Washington.
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