History

Thomas Stearns Eliot

On 4 January 1967 a memorial stone for the American-born poet T.S.Eliot was unveiled by his widow in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The floor slab is by sculptor Reynolds Stone and adjoins memorials to Henry James and poets of the First World War, and the grave of Lord Tennyson. The inscription reads:

“THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT O.M. BORN 26 SEPTEMBER 1888 DIED 4 JANUARY 1965 ‘the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living’”

The quote comes from Little Gidding and a depiction of a rose surrounded by flames appears above his name. He was the second American-born poet to be commemorated in Poets’ Corner, the first being Henry Longfellow. (Henry James’s stone was added in 1976).

Thomas was born in St Louis, Missouri, a son of Henry Eliot and his wife Charlotte (Stearns) and was educated at Harvard, the Sorbonne and Oxford. In 1915 he married Vivien Haigh-Wood and in 1927 became a British subject. He was author of The Waste Land and wrote many religious poems and plays. His children’s book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was made into a popular stage musical. Four Quartets is one of the great philosophical poems. In 1948 Eliot was awarded the Order of Merit and the Nobel prize for literature. In 1957 he married his second wife Valerie Fletcher. He died in London and his ashes were buried at St Michael’s church, East Coker, Somerset. It was from this village that his ancestor had set out for America in the 1660s.

A photograph of the stone can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.