National Poetry Day on Premier 2013

Focus on T.S. Eliot

Premier’s T. S. Eliot week celebrated National Poetry Day 

Readings from ‘Four Quartets’ and an Eliot panel debate

A series of special readings from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets set of four poems were broadcast by Premier Christian Radio from 30 September to 3 October to mark National Poetry Day on 3 October 2013. 

Premier linked with the T. S. Eliot Society - which celebrates  the 70th anniversary  of Four Quartets this year - to present four daily readings, including Little Gidding which were read by Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Patron of the T. S. Eliot Society. 

Other readings were by Society chairman Hugh Black-Hawkins, with East Coker, broadcaster, author and poet Mike Read, reading Burnt Norton, and rising music star Frank Turner, reading The Dry Salvages.

Premier also organised a panel discussion which examined the man, his life, and work and questioned whether his Christian faith was a help or hindrance to the creation of his masterpieces. 

Award-winning author Lyndall Gordon, well known for her biographies of T. S. Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Virginia Woolf, was joined on the panel by the Rev John Valentine, of St George’s Church, Holborn, who has written about Eliot for the Cambridge Papers, and Eliot-fan Lord Harries, former Bishop of Oxford.

“Eliot’s spiritual life is clearly reflected in his work, making him a natural subject for a near week-long series of broadcasts which we have produced with the blessing of Faber and Faber, the T.S. Eliot Society, and Eliot’s Estate” says Premier producer Chris Byland.

The Four Quartets set of poems were published individually over a six year period but were not collected until Eliot’s publisher printed them together in 1943. The works are meditations with a common theme of man’s relationship with time, the universe, and God.

What was on air?

Discussion programme // Lord Harries, Rev John Valentine, Lyndall Gordon


T.S. Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1888. He was educated at Harvard, at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at Merton College, Oxford. His early poetry was profoundly influenced by the French symbolists, especially Baudelaire and Laforgue. In his academic studies he specialised in philosophy and logic. His doctoral thesis was on F. H. Bradley.

He settled in England in 1915, the year in which he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and also met his contemporary Ezra Pound for the first time. After teaching for a year or so he joined Lloyds Bank in the City of London in 1917, the year in which he published his first volume, Prufrock and Other Observations.

In 1919 Poems was hand-printed by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. His first collection of essays, The Sacred Wood, appeared in 1920. His most famous work, The Waste Land, was published in 1922, the same year as James Joyce's Ulysses. The poem was included in the first issue of his journal The Criterion, which he founded and edited.

Three years later he left the bank to become a director of Faber and Gwyer, later Faber and Faber. His Poems 1909-25 was one of the original titles published by Geoffrey Faber's new firm, and the basis of his standard Collected Poems 1909-1962. In 1927 he was received into the Church of England and also became a British citizen. Ash Wednesday was published at Easter 1930.

His masterpiece Four Quartets began with Burnt Norton in 1936, continued with East Coker in 1940, The Dry Salvages in 1941 and Little Gidding in 1942. The separate poems were gathered together as one work in 1943. Eliot's writing for the theatre began with the satirical Sweeney Agonistes fragments.

Eliot died in January 1965. There is a memorial to him in Westminster Abbey, beside those to Tennyson and Browning. His ashes are in St Michael's Church, East Coker, the Somerset village from which his ancestor Andrew Eliot emigrated to America in 1667.

You can find out more about Eliot here.


Lyndall Gordon grew up in Cape Town where she studied history and English, then nineteenth-century American literature at Columbia in New York. In 1973 she came to England through the Rhodes Trust. For many years she was a tutor and lecturer in English at Oxford where she is now Senior Research Fellow at St Hilda’s College. 

The first of her biographies, Eliot's Early Years (1977), began as a student thesis. The British Academy awarded it the Rose Mary Crawshay prize. A sequel, Eliot's New Life, was published at the time of the poet’s centenary (1988). The two books have been rewritten as one, The Imperfect Life of T.S.Eliot, and published by Virago. Henry James: His Women and His Art is updated and reissued at the same time. Virago has also brought out revised editions of Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life (awarded the James Tait Black prize for biography) and Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life (Cheltenham prize for literature). Lyndall is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and member of PEN. She is married to Professor of Cellular Pathology, Siamon Gordon; they live in Oxford and have two grown-up daughters.

Professor the Rt Revd Lord Harries was the Bishop of Oxford from 1987 to 2006. He was previously the Dean of King's College London, where he is now a Fellow and an Honorary Professor of Theology. He is an Honorary Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge and of St Anne's College, Oxford. He also holds a number of other prestigious positions in other top British Universities. In 2006 he was made a Life Peer as Lord Harries of Pentregarth of Ceinewydd in the County of Dyfed and sits on the crossbenches.

Professor Harries is greatly concerned with social, political and inter-faith issues. As Bishop of Oxford, he was the Chairman of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility between 1996 and 2001, and the Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews between 1992 and 2001. He chaired the House of Bishops' Working Parties on issues surrounding Sexuality and Terrorism. He has been a board member of Christain Aid, a member of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords (The Wakeman Commission), and a founder member of the Abrahamic Group in Oxford. He is currently The Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London.

John Valentine is married to Catherine and is the Rector of St George's, Holborn, a church plant from Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). After training for the law, he served in churches in Norwich and London, and then joined the staff at HTB with a view to planting. Whilst there, he founded the School of Theology. He and Catherine planted St George's in 2002. 

John has degrees in English literature and theology, and has an abiding interest in how the two disciplines might fruitfully belong together. He has a particular interest in modernism, especially the work of T. S. Eliot and James Joyce.

John supports Arsenal Football Club. He and Catherine have two lovely girls.


Helpful links

T.S. Eliot Society 

National Poetry Day

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