I don't normally like sending in large excerpts from books but, after a
lot of consideration, I thought that this was too good and covered so
much in a few paragraphs that I simply had to. It might help out someone's
The material is from pages 170-3 from:
Poets in their Youth
Eileen Simpson (was married to John Berryman, the John mentioned below)
The speech in Stockholm that is mentioned was for Eliot's acceptance
of the Nobel Prize.
T. S. Eliot, although in the country at the time, was not in the
Gotham photograph, nor was he at the party. He was in Princeton. The
previous year, when he had been in New York, Bob Giroux, his friend
and editor, invited John to join them for tea. On the train to the city,
John was only a little less nervous than he had been before meeting
Yeats. But once the three of them were talking about poetry and
publishing, he was far more self-possessed than he had been in the days
when he had been "a monk of Yeatsian order" meeting the High Priest.
At Bob's apartment:
The poet hunched, so, whom the worlds admire,
Rising as I came in; greeted me mildly,
Folded again, and our discourse was easy,
While he hid in his skin taut as a wire,
Considerate as grace, a candid pyre
Flaring some midday shore; he took more tea,
I lit his cigarette. . .
John was impressed with Eliot's gravity and honesty. About each
writer whose name came up, Eliot said neither more nor less than he
thought. Cal's work he felt "had the real punch." While staying with
Bob, Eliot had been working on two lectures he was going to give
in Princeton. For days before his arrival the academic community was
in a state of excitement that reached fever pitch when word went
through the campus, into the Balt, down Nassau Street, through the
students' clubs that T.S.tststststs was arriving on the 12:10. Alexander
Hall was packed and aquiver that evening--not, however, as John said
drily, because of the speaker's subject: poetic diction. Unlike other
famous writers from England who had come to Princeton and, patronizing
an American audience, delivered what John called "kindergarten
lectures on poetry," Eliot aimed what he had to say at the listeners
with the keenest interest and the widest knowledge of his subject.
In November of 1948, when Eliot returned for a two-month stay
at the joint invitation of the University and the Institute, he was at
first left so much on his own, no one daring to invite him to dinner,
that he ate at the Nassau Club every evening. It was when Richard,
who was seeing him frequently for lunch at the Institute, caught on
to this that he had proposed to Helen that they invite Eliot for dinner
and she had said, "Let him bring his own chop." Other women didn't
feel the same way. When word got out that one hostess had invited
the year's Nobel Prize winner for Literature, others hurriedly followed.
Once Eliot began to be lionized John was reluctant to invite him,
and he might never have done so but for the Macdonalds' visit.
Dwight had been one of the people in the United States whom Eliot had
been most eager to meet. He had become a fan of politics during the war
years, when he felt that its reporting on the war was uniquely free of
cant. Bob had taken him down to the Macdonalds' apartment, where
the conversation had gone so well that Eliot was eager to continue it.
When John called to invite him for a drink, and to see the Macdonalds
again, he said he would be delighted to come. To avoid any resemblance
to a cocktail party, we invited only one other person, Paul Goodman,
who happened to be in town for the day.
Mr. Eliot gave the impression of being so tall he had to stoop to
get through the doorway of our apartment. The changes in his face
brought about by age, the deep creases around his eyes, nose and
mouth, were so much in the direction of its original character that at
sixty he was recognizably the good-looking man with the slicked-down
black hair (now graying) of the early photographs. His manner was
as formal as his dress, the conservative dress of an English banker.
Shyness had been disciplined into courtesy. On being introduced he
made an effort not to avert his eyes, as one felt he would have done
as a young man. Instead he faced one directly, and took a moment
longer over the exchange of greetings than was usual even with people
whose graciousness is studied.
When John congratulated him on the prize, and added, "High time!"
Eliot said, "Rather too soon. The Nobel is a ticket to one's own funeral.
No one has ever done anything after he got it." John protested: It was not
so. "All of Yeats's great poetry was written after he received the award.
Can't one therefore look on the prize as a recognition of promise?"
Eliot was delighted and said, "That's how I shall try to look on it."
With Dwight, whose manner remained unchanged no matter to whom he was
speaking, Eliot seemed at ease. When the talk turned to poetry readings,
he said that although he was willing to lecture, he looked
upon a man's reading his own verse in public as "indecent exposure."
With no effect that we could see, he drank off five martinis. ("Did
you count five, too?" John asked afterward. "If I hadn't seen it, I
wouldn't have believed it.") When Paul Goodman, a premature hippie,
arrived--his hair flying in all directions, his clothes ripped and
stained, his shoes muddy--and John made the introductions, Paul leaned
toward the guest of honor and said, "I didn't get it. What's the name?"
"Eliot. Tom Eliot." He seemed amused rather than offended, as he
was amused by the noisy verbal cross fire that Dwight and Paul and
John fell into whenever they were together.
(After Eliot left, Dwight remonstrated with Paul, "Goodman, my God!
What manners! You knew damn well who he was." Paul, all innocence,
blamed his myopia.)
Eliot excused himself for having to leave early. His acceptance speech
was not yet finished and he was flying to Stockholm in a few days.
At the door he asked John how he had found Pound on his last visit to
St. Elizabeth's. John, who talked with Mrs. Pound whenever she was
there about what one could do for her husband, said to Eliot,
"Won't you try to get him back to writing verse?" Eliot shook his head.
"If one could get a word in . . . Do you?" Rarely, John responded,
sad to think that these two old and close friends could not communicate.
Seeing his guest to the taxi, John asked, "Do you think Pound will ever
finish the Cantos?" "If he does," Eliot said enigmatically, with a farewell
wave, "he will die."