In addition to being a successful liturgical dramatist, T. S. Eliot was an editor, an essayist, and a poet of great distinction. He became assistant editor of The Egoist in 1917 and founded The Criterion in 1922, serving as editor of the latter from then until its demise in 1939. As an essayist, Eliot explored the place of modern literature with regard to tradition, discussed the relationship between literature and ethics, and emphasized the need for a modern idiom. Among his extremely influential collections of essays are The Sacred Wood (1920) and After Strange Gods (1934), both dealing with the individual’s debt to tradition, the latter propounding a moral standpoint; The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933); and On Poetry and Poets (1957). In For Lancelot Andrewes (1928) and The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), the impact of his 1927 confirmation in the Church of England on his life and letters is particularly evident.
Eliot’s poetry has had a greater influence, not only in England and the United States but also in world literature, than that of any of his contemporaries. Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), Poems (1919; printed by Leonard and Virginia Woolf), and The Waste Land (1922) illustrate his growing despair over personal problems as well as modern social trends. Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1943), produced following his confirmation, are meditations concerning spiritual illumination. In Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), Eliot demonstrated his talent for writing comic verse with equal success. That work has been reprinted widely in many formats and even, in 1983, provided the basis for a Tony Award winning musical, Cats.