“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon the table

When I first read T.S. Eliot’s careful words my junior year of high school, I fell in love.

Why was I drawn so strongly to this poem? Maybe it was the fact that I actually felt like it was written by a real person in language that at least tried to be understandable (unlike “The Waste Land”). Or maybe it was the fact that when I read it out loud, I could feel the emotions behind the words even when I couldn’t quite put them together logically. I honestly don’t remember what we talked about in class that day, so clearly the deeper meaning wasn’t too important to me. So…what?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

I hate most poetry. I suffered through many a unit in school, reading Plath and Dickinson and Browning and Yeats and Bryant and Shelley until I wanted to gouge my eyes out. I usually complain about how poets just talk in circles and never say what they really mean. I’m even soulless enough to dare to dislike Shakespeare. I know, I should be embarrassed to call myself a writer. But I’m just trying to illustrate my extreme level of aversion to most rhyming, metered, and free-form verse.

Something about “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is different than any other poem I’ve ever read. I don’t care that I can’t make sense of it. I just love it. I have an online copy of the poem bookmarked in my web browser so I can read it whenever I want. I also keep a Word document of it in Dropbox so I can read it offline on my computer and phone. And, to complete the accessibility suite, I have a handwritten copy in the back of my journal.

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!

For some reason, the speaker of this poem is just universally relatable. I feel his desperation so deeply that it’s physically painful. I can tell he is trying so hard to tell me how he feels – and although my brain doesn’t process his language as comprehensible sentences, the imagery he creates is powerful enough that it doesn’t matter. I think that’s what all poetry is supposed to be like, but nobody was ever able to convince me that it worked until I was introduced to Mr. Eliot here. And nobody’s been able to convince me of it since.

I want my tombstone to read, “She dared disturb the universe.”

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.

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4 comments

  1. I LOVED this prufrock in high school. Yes, our spirit ambles with the poem as it takes us through all those images and feelings. I would love to know how you process this!! Don’t tense up that it’s a Yeats. It’s short, and one of the loveliest poems in the world. I’d be so pleased if you find yourself changing your mind on him. And I’d laugh – and appreciate your time – if you don’t.

    https://aholisticjourney.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/unthreading-yeats-cloths/

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