T.S. Eliot and Shelley Offer Clues About the Meaning of Life

“What the Thunder Said” — T.S.Eliot, The Waste Land

Ed Newman
3 min readNov 26, 2019


According to the book 501 Great Writers, T. S. Eliot was one of the great ones. Poet, essayist, critic, playwright and children’s book author, his influence on the cultural landscape was extensive. I remember studying his works in high school with profound lines from at least two of his poems staying tethered to me now more than 50 years. The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock made a powerful impression as did The Hollow Men, which begins thus…

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
in our dry cellar.

What powerful images and a worthy read.

Eliot, who was St. Louis-born with strong New England roots, had three relatives who were U.S. presidents. Igor Stravinsky called him “A great sorcerer of words… the very key keeper of the language.”

One of his greatest poems was The Waste Land. The bio here describes it as “a fractured, disjointed journey through a landscape exhausted both ecologically and culturally, inhabited by fragmented, almost ghostly voices that are connected by the yearning for rebirth.”

Interestingly enough on Easter Sunday a few years back, our pastor cited another poem of Eliot’s which was also a profound commentary on the modern world. Eliot had been a protege of Bertrand Russell, the brilliant mathematician, activist and notorious atheist. But in seeing the futility of this line of thinking, he turned to another path and became a Christian. Ironically he gives credit to Russell for this profound life decision.

The lines our pastor shared were from his poem The Rock. Here is an excerpt from that poem.

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in



Ed Newman

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon