10 Great Quotes from T. S. Eliot on His Birthday

T. S. Eliot could be as witty as Wilde and as thought-provoking as Einstein with his one-liners, and so here are some choice quotes from this leading twentieth-century poet and all-round literary giant. Eliot’s life was a fascinating one: he was born on 26 September 1888 in Missouri, studied at Harvard, then transferred to Oxford, before moving to London during WWI to make his way on the literary scene. Below we’ve compiled ten of our favourite quotes from the great poet, playwright, critic, editor, and publisher. All of them are prose quotes. Eliot’s poetry is rightly praised as being among the greatest achievements of twentieth-century literature, but he was a fine prose writer too, with some wicked one-liners, as these fine Eliot quotations demonstrate…

To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life. – The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)

We read many books, because we cannot know enough people. Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948)

Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it. – Hugh Kenner, The Invisible Poet (1959)

People to whom nothing has ever happened cannot understand the unimportance of events. – The Family Reunion (1939)

I am glad you have a Cat, but I do not believe it is So remarkable a cat as My Cat. – Letter to his godson (1931)

East Coker 6

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? – The Rock (1934)

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. – ‘Dante’ (1929)

From one point of view, the poet aspires to the condition of the music-hall comedian. – The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)

The years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always being asked to do more, and you are not yet decrepit enough to turn them down. – Time magazine (1950)

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. – Preface to Harry Crosby, Transit of Venus (1931)

If you enjoyed these Eliot quotations, check out our short history of T. S. Eliot’s life and our post detailing the interesting story behind ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Image: Plaque commemorating T. S. Eliot, St Michael’s Church, East Coker; © Oliver Tearle 2014.


  1. Pingback: Scurte #278 | Assassin CG

  2. I read somewhere that Eliot and Pound had a good laugh over the footnotes to The Waste Land, which — if you read them in the right light — are actually very funny.

  3. Great collection of quotes. And the funny ones got a chuckle out of me! My favorite two is the one about the cat and this one:

    “To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.”

    Very wise words…

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love the funny quotes especially (like the one about the cheese, and turning down things between 50 & 70…so often I forget these iconic figures from history were really people with a sense of humor too. A great reminder.

  5. Wonderful words to ponder on this great poet’s birthday!

  6. You always have the best things to contribute!

  7. Wonderful quotes from a wonderful poet.