The Cocktail Party
T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

This page:

The Cocktail Party




index pages:

The Cocktail Party

Copyright © 1950 by T. S. Eliot

Act I, Scene 1

Unidentified Guest:

I know you as well as I know your wife;

And I knew that all you wanted was the luxury

Of an intimate disclosure to a stranger.

Let me, therefore, remain the stranger.

But let me tell you, that to approach the stranger

Is to invite the unexpected, release a new force,

Or let the genie out of the bottle.

It is to start a train of events

Beyond your control.

Unidentified Guest:

[...] You no longer feel quite human.

You’re suddenly reduced to the status of an object—

A living object, but no longer a person.

It’s always happening, because one is an object

As well as a person. But we forget about it

As quickly as we can.



Unidentified Guest:

There is certainly no purpose in remaining in the dark

Except long enough to clear from the mind

The illusion of having ever been in the light.


I was saying, what is the reality

Of experience between two unreal people?

If I can only hold to the memory

I can bear any future. But I must find out

The truth about the past, for the sake of the memory.


There’s no memory you can wrap in camphor

But the moths will get in.

Act I, Scene 3

Unidentified Guest:


I have come to remind you—you have made a decision.


Are you thinking that I may have changed my mind?

Unidentified Guest:

No. You will not be ready to change your mind

Until you recover from having made a decision.

No. I have come to tell you that you will change your mind.

But that it will not matter. It will be too late.


I have half a mind to change my mind now

To show you that I am free to change it.

Unidentified Guest:

You will change your mind, but you are not free.

Your moment of freedom was yesterday.

You made a decision. You set in motion

Forces in your life and in the lives of others

Which cannot be reversed.



Unidentified Guest:

Ah, but we die to each other daily.

What we know of other people

Is only our memory of the moments

During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.

To pretend that they and we are the same

Is a useful and convenient social convention

Which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember

That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.

Compare to:

Graham Greene


I never complained.


No; and it was perfectly infuriating

The way you didn’t complain . . .



I seemed always on the verge of some wonderful experience

And then it never happened. I wonder now

How you could have thought you were in love with me.


Everybody told me that I was;

And they told me how well suited we were.


It’s a pity that you had no opinion of your own.





What is hell? Hell is oneself,

Hell is alone, the other figures in it

Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from

And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.

Compare to:

Terry Pratchett

Act Two


A delusion is something we must return from

There are other states of mind, which we take to be delusion,

But which we have to accept and go on from.



I can see now, it was all a mistake:

But I don’t see why mistakes should make one feel sinful!

And yet I can’t find any other word for it.


Disillusion can become itself an illusion

If we rest in it.

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

top of page

Graphics copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen