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How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!

With his features of clerical cut.

And his brow so grim

And his mouth so prim

And his conversation, so nicely

Restricted to What Precisely

And If and Perhaps and But . . .

How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot!

(Whether his mouth be open or shut.)

­T. S. Eliot

Few Americans have had the dubious pleasure of meeting Thomas Stearns Eliot. To most of them, he is an expatriate, obscurely highbrow poet who wrote an unreadable poem called The Waste Land and fathered a catch-phrase about the world ending not with a bang but a whimper.

Thanks to a Broadway hit called The Cocktail Party (TIME, Jan. 30), his name at last was beginning to be more frequently encountered. Some of the higher-browed reviewers had called the play "esoteric." But the people who crowded to see it night after night were not predominantly highbrows (there are not enough highbrows in New York to make a play a hit), and they did not, apparently, find the play esoteric—perhaps because they did not find Christianity esoteric.

Mr. Eliot himself was, as usual, far from Broadway. Last week, just returned from a holiday in South Africa, and with a slight tan covering his bookish pallor, Mr. Eliot was back in his accustomed London haunts, primly pacing his familiar round. His day began at 8 a.m. At noon, after a man-sized breakfast of tea, porridge, bacon & eggs, he set out for his place of business, the publishing firm of Faber & Faber, in Bloomsbury. He left his flat in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (Expatriate Henry James used to live in the flat just below), wearing an impeccable dark blue suit and carrying a tightly rolled umbrella, walked one block to the No, 49 bus stop. When the bus came, he mounted to the upper deck, unfolded his London Times to the crossword puzzle, and fell to.

Before he did, he might well have shot an apprehensive glance at his fellow travelers. Not long ago, on this same bus, a large woman had sat down next to him, had peered at him, peered again, and exclaimed: "Gracious me, aren't you Mr. T. S. Eliot?" Aghast, he had looked up, admitted his identity, and at the next stop he had fled down the narrow stairs, hurried to the nearest tube station and gone underground.

Why should anybody want to meet Mr. Eliot—even halfway? More particularly, why should Americans bother about this Missouri-born American who talks like an Englishman, has not lived in the U.S. for the past 36 years, and gave up his U.S. citizenship to become a British subject?

There are many possible answers. Perhaps the simplest answer is: Because T. S. Eliot is a civilized man. He is more; he is a commentator on his age who is considered by some more important than Gabriel Heatter or Walter Winchell—or even Walter Lippmann.

There are many different Mr. Eliots—the shy and the friendly, the sad and the serene and the Mr. Eliot who expresses complex thoughts in complex (if catchy) rhythms. There is even a human Mr. Eliot who loves Bourbon and the Bible, both of which he used to keep on his night table (in austerity England he settles for pink gin).

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