ELIOT, T.S., O.M. (1888-1965)
Plaque erected in 1986 by English Heritage at 3 Kensington Court Gardens, Kensington, London, W8 5QE, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Journalism and Publishing, Literature
T.S. ELIOT, O.M. 1888-1965 Poet lived and died here
TS Eliot was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century and a central figure in London’s literary scene. Best remembered for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land, Eliot is commemorated with a blue plaque at 3 Kensington Court Gardens, where he lived from 1957 until his death.
Born in St Louis, Missouri, USA, Thomas Stearns Eliot married his first wife Vivien Haigh-Wood and settled in London in 1915. He had already written The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock four years before, but it was the English poet Ezra Pound who pushed for its publication. He wrote to Harriet Monroe, editor of the magazine Poetry:
I was jolly well right about Eliot. He has sent in the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American. PRAY GOD IT BE NOT A SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS... He has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.
In London Eliot and Pound formed a friendship and literary partnership that was to change the direction of modern poetry. Eliot dedicated The Waste Land (1922) to Pound, calling him ‘Il miglior fabbro’ (the greater craftsman) due to his skilful editing of the epic poem. Pound’s blue plaque can be found a few streets away from Eliot’s, at 10 Kensington Church Walk.
Eliot became a naturalised Briton – and an enthusiastic Anglican convert – in 1927. His literary reputation was later reinforced by the drama Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and the poetry collection Four Quartets (1943).
KENSINGTON COURT GARDENS
Eliot lived at a number of addresses in west London and Regent’s Park before moving to Kensington Court Gardens in April 1957, shortly after he had wed his former secretary Valerie Fletcher (1926–2012).
In his later years Eliot wrote almost no poetry, but did complete the play The Elder Statesman (1958) while living here, and continued to work for three afternoons a week as an editor at Faber & Faber in Russell Square. In this capacity Eliot introduced the work of many up and coming poets to the public, among them Ted Hughes, later Poet Laureate, who unveiled Eliot’s plaque in 1992.
Less expected was his association with Groucho Marx, the comic. Marx had dinner with the Eliots at Kensington Court Gardens in June 1964. Seeking to impress ‘my celebrated pen pal’ with his literary erudition, Groucho had read and re-read a couple of Eliot classics. He found, however, that the poet – ‘tall, lean and rather stooped over’ – was far more interested in discussing Marx Brothers films, of which he was a devotee.