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Whiteside, G. (1976). T. S. Eliot's Dans Le Restaurant. Am. Imago, 33(2):155-173.

(1976). American Imago, 33(2):155-173

T. S. Eliot's Dans Le Restaurant

George Whiteside, Ph.D.

T. S. Eliot was an extremely reserved, even secretive man, but it is becoming more and more evident that his poetry was intensely personal. He thus experienced that familiar conflict between the need to reveal oneself and the need to avoid revealing oneself. He once said, “A poet['s] lines may be for him only a means of talking about himself without giving himself away,” and I believe that he resolved the conflict by learning to do just that: write of himself in such a way as would not “give away” the personal meaning. A relatively little-known poem that he wrote in French, “Dans Le Restaurant,” demonstrates this technique better than any other, and for that reason I think it well worth examining. It is not a trivial poem; on the contrary, it deals, I believe, with two experiences he had had that very much troubled him when he thought about them during his adult years. Nor has the poem been wholly neglected by the literary critics. In a justly celebrated essay of thirty-five years ago, the critic Leonard Unger dealt with one of the experiences in the poem. He did not, however, penetrate the disguise thrown over the other experience and consequently missed the relation between the two. That relation—and “Dans Le Restaurant”—teaches us a great deal about Eliot's personality: his emotional preoccupations and methods of handling them. It also teaches us much about his art: his subject matter and methods of treating it.

To begin with, I believe that “Dans Le Restaurant” is two separate poems put together. One is about a diner in a restaurant; the other is an epitaph for a seafarer named Phlébas. Both poems appear to have been written in 1917, when Eliot was twenty-eight years old.


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