The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock

S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.



Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised 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!]
It is 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 toward 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.

by Thomas Stearns Eliot

Comments (5)

The poem offers a fine example of the use of human psychology. The behaviour of Mr Prufrock shows his mental agony, inferiority complex and suppressed desire. Mr Prufrock has been presented by Eliot as a tragic figure with the classical flaw and timidity. This timidity of his forces him not to take any action. He is intensely self-conscious and always thinks what the lady might say when he would present himself before the lady. He thinks she will comment 'How his hair is growing thin? ' And again 'But how his arms and legs are thin? ' Prufrock is quite aware of his tragic flaw hence to attain required courage and strength he takes shelter of fasting and praying and tries to compare himself to John the Baptist but all ends in smoke as he suffers bitterly from this tragic flaw. I liked the poem for its strong structure and vivid imagery.
Eliot’s reputation as a poet has waxed and waned somewhat over the course of the past century. At the moment it appears to be undergoing a period of rather prolonged waning, along with that of poetry in general. There is much to criticize in Eliot’s writing. It is frequently highbrow and esoteric and staunchly resistant to any form of populism, which he detested. He is for the most part self-absorbed, right-wing, and occasionally anti-Semitic, although he later repudiated this latter aspect of his earlier work. Notwithstanding, however, no other writer in the English language of the past century has addressed with such persistence what may be the central themes of 20th century literature, namely, the failure of western culture, man’s increasing sense of alienation from society and the loss of God. In this early poem Eliot creates a kind of icon of this sense of angst in the figure of the poem’s eponymous hero. Prufrock has come to stand as a sort of emblem of 20th century man, but it is chiefly the negative aspects that Eliot dwells on. He seems to be quite literally ‘the man in the street” that mythical being so beloved of mid-century politicians. Indecisive, purposeless, cowardly and self-serving, overwhelmed by a sense of nameless guilt – original sin, as Eliot himself might have described it later after his conversion - the very name suggests a sort of feminized man, impotent to deal with any of the genuine problems that face him. Smothered by social convention, he occasionally has a crazy vision of some other sort of existence. “I should have bee a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floor of silent seas”. But the image seems absurd and incapable of significance. The prosody of the poem too is odd, there is a lot of rhyme but it seems broken and dysfunctional; basically it is free verse. What saves this poem and makes it good deal more readable than some of Eliot’s later work, are the thin wisps of humor and self-irony, with which Eliot lightens up his theme. If there is a strong sense in the later writing of taking oneself too seriously, then that is not the case here and there are some delightful bits of self-observation. “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” At the time it was written the poem was regarded as extremely modern and makes extensive use of the technique of symbolism, developed by French writers at the turn of the century to imbue relatively commonplace description with a variety of emotional overtones. “The evening is spread out….like a patient etherized upon a table.” How high up my list of the Top 50 do I put Eliot? Well he’s one of the writers I admire, occasionally despise, rather than love, so not at the top, but there’s no doubt that he’s a major writer so in the end about midway I suppose.
there is this rustling in Eliot's poems, the sound of wanting to be unmasked.-rena silverman
I don't know anything about poetry. I write and I read and if I like it then it's good. What I DO know is when I read this to my true love it works beautifully. Job done Ez.
I like TS Eliot; he is an intellectual who distrusts intellectuals, a complex man who dislikes complex people. Who is JA Prufrock? ? ? A man of indecision, a man who has experienced much of Life, but a man who is a passive observer; his love song is frustrating because he is too cautious. He looks forward to Death because it will end his empty love-song.