“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” ~ T. S. Eliot

There is something magical and mysterious about the work of T.S. Eliot. His poem “The Love Song” has been one that has lead me to wonder about the mysteries of life and the small instanced throughout the day that go by unnoticed. His work is truly amazing with a view of the strange reality that we all live in. Our mind are strange things that ultimately control who we are. What is it that causes us to notice certain point and yet miss others? Are they simply not important or do we selfishly select what we feel is significant in our lives? And what is it about our minds that cause us to hesitate? Why do we feel such discomfort in situations that others feel to be a breeze? We are all faced with obstacles that cause us to second guess our decisions, a point that Eliot touches on in this piece.

Normally I post poems or short stories and I go through my interpretations of the piece, but for this one I don’t even know where to begin. J. Alfred Prufrock has a question for us that is life altering, but he’ll get to that later. He moves through his piece with metaphors after metaphor, comparing himself to Hamlet and Lazarus. He mentions women talking to Michelangelo, but what about? He causes many cruxes in this piece and yet he has a message for us at the end.

We navigate through this poem, trying to uncover the meaning of every part as if Prufrock has come up with the meaning of life. His question eventually never was asked. He felt insecure and decided that it was no longer important. We all have the opportunity to interpret this piece differently. I’ve heard many different possible meanings for this particular work, feel free to comment your ideas!

The poem has a clear path set in the beginning where we are told about a question that will eventually be asked (so we think). Prufrock seems to go through these ideas in his mind as he decides if her will intimately ask this question. He asks himself his own set of questions, testing where he stands with himself and with feeling comfortable. He asks “Should I part my hair behind?” and mentions that he sees mermaids singing but they won’t sing to him. He goes back and forth in many point of this poem putting himself down where the mermaids don’t sing to him and explaining that he can’t say exactly what he means. He has a clear fear and hesitates to get his point across. At the end he writes:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Prufrock mentions his death by drowning, the sinking into one’s own self-doubt. His question was never asked, he couldn’t stand another judgment. Drowning, being that of a slow and painful death, creates an image of Prufrock’s hesitation to explain himself and refuses to let himself out for all to see and judge. This poem may have been one on the struggle of opening yourself up to judgments, and yet, the answer to this poem is not clear. We are led to believe what we wish.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” ~ T. S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —

(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I then presume?

And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


Poem found: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/173476?gclid=CMrx9qTfwsgCFUKRHwod5wgDRQ

Cover Image: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/rebeccataborarmstrong/popular-interesting/

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