From today's Poetry Daily:
Groucho and Tom
— In June 1964 T. S. Eliot hosted dinner for Groucho Marx
at Eliot's London flat.
Tom, with a bitter twist
of lemon, puts a closure on the shaken
martinis. Groucho wants to know about
"These fragments I have shored against my ruin."
But Tom, primed with a sip of gin, recites
a gag from Animal Crackers, and waits.
"Did I say that?" says Groucho.
Weeks ago he had resolved to make
a "literary evening" of it; studied
The Waste Land and Murder in the Cathedral,
tossing in King Lear as a backup
in case the conversation ran thin.
Eliot, meanwhile, had taken his young wife
to a revival of The Marx Brothers Go West.
No wonder, then, midway into a tender roast,
the talk comes down to an aged Lear's
"is man no more than this"
contending with crosstalk and malaprops
of the trial scene in Duck Soup . . . .
It was three years earlier that Eliot wrote
to request an autographed photo,
which he set in his office, between Valéry
and Yeats. But no one recognized the comedian
"without the cigar and rolling eyes,"
as Eliot phrased the delicate point
to Groucho, who gladly sent another,
this time in character, with trademark
cigar, greasepaint brows and moustache.
Likewise, T. S. — "Just how do I address you?"
wrote Groucho — sent a favorite photo,
of a smartly dressed, younger man;
but thinking better of it, later sent
a portrait that revealed himself
closer to his present age.
What a brilliant and rollicking dinner —
had only J. Alfred Prufrock and Rufus T. Firefly
arrived. But now, the after-dinner cheese
removed, only two old men are here, to face
each other, across a table. Time
for the living room, to linger
over a vintage port. They talk
of weather, and cats, and good cigars . . .
well into the pleasing night.
The Southern Review
Volume 42, Number 2