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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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#1 27th January 2007, 09:47 AM



I read this poem a few times first:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, TS Eliot


S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse

A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo

Non tornò 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 windowpanes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes

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



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.

but much better is the poet's own reading of it here courtesy of salon.com.


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


I'm loving the audio, as I had the pauses and the emphases on totally different syllables to the poet. The poem doesn't follow a set rhythmical pattern and so when reading it I found it difficult to know when to read through to the next line and when to pause. Now I've listened to it I can "auralise" the written words as I read it again.


As an aside, why there isn't more poetry on audiobooks I don't know. Maybe Poetry on the Underground should have been through the loudspeakers rather than on the posters. And I'd also like waterproof poetry books so I can read aloud con gusto in the bath or shower.


Perhaps the best review I've seen is this poster on poemhunter.com. Step forward Fred Carter you magnificent bastard:

Fred Carter (1/4/2007 3:29:00 AM)

i'm not a perticularly literate, so i'll just say that this poem is ****in good. It's message and the mood he sets with both images and the words he chooses is incredible. if anobody can top that (except Kerouac possibly) please let me know.

Damn, i wish i could tell him in person.




(does anyone know what the first part means? ? ?)

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#2 27th January 2007, 10:18 AM



I must admit that I've never been that impressed with this poem. That Italian stuff at the beginning - what's the point of it - apart from Eliot's usual desire to show that he's cleverer than most people. Some of the lines are clever but I can't help thinking that he hasn't really put that much thought into many of them - you get the feeling that he's just chosen the first word that comes to mind that rhymes with the previous line eg "In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo." is "cat sat on the mat" type stuff. Having said that, he does get across that sense of nostalgic sadness and disappointment with himself. I love the lines:


I have measured out my life with coffee spoons




I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.


I do not think that they will sing to me.


Thanks for posting Eliots reading. I will listen to it and see if it changes my opinion! (Worth noting by the way that he wrote this just after the 1st world war, I think, and during his crisis-ridden marriage to Vivien. This was probably around the time when she was seduced by Bertrand Russell. Seems strangely trivial to be worrying about how to part his hair).


#3 27th January 2007, 11:34 AM



I have always taken to this poem. What I lke is the admixture of the mundanities of life combined with the evocations of the foggy, dirty city of the inter-war years. There is more to it, of course, some of which I don't fully understand but that for me doesn't seem to matter too much: it's haunting.


I appreciate the download which I will listen to later.


#4 27th January 2007, 11:56 AM



Sometimes this is my favourite poem of all. I think it's sublime.


In a way it encapsulates so much of what poetry was attempting to articulate about the human condition in the first half of the twentieth century - what Auden summed up as the 'age of anxiety'. I love the ordinariness of Prufrock and the extraordinary poeticisation of hum-drum life. It's the tragedy with which so many of us can empathise: seeing everything that's wrong with yourself, and indeed with the world around you, yet not having the confidence or energy to do anything about it. In the juxtaposition of day-to-day existence with more classical, vast themes I think Eliot finds huge resonance and power - which is what Joyce was also doing with Ulysses.


Eliot is, of course, a bit showy with his erudition, but one of the reasons I prefer Prufrock is that he keeps it relatively restrained, whereas by the time he gets to The Waste Land it's way over the top. I suppose we need to remember that back then schooling ensured people were well versed in many of the classics to which he alludes. The opening, by the way, is from Dante's Inferno; it's explained by B.C. Southam's A Student's Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot:


"Epigraph: These lines are taken from Dante's "Inferno", and are spoken by the character of Count Guido da Montefelltro. Dante meets the punished Guido in the Eighth chasm of Hell. Guido explains that he is speaking freely to Dante only because he believes Dante is one of the dead who could never return to earth to report what he says. Translated from the original Italian, the lines are as follows: 'If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy.' "


For me the poem is chock-full of the most remarkable lines and extraordinary imagery, whilst the conclusion is haunting and unsettling. This is one of the few poems that I believe captures completely something fundamental in the human condition and interweaves it beautifully with the wealth of literary precedent in that exploration. There is just so much that could be said about it I'm not going to try; you'll have to make do with infatuated burblings!


"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,"


Burble, burble.


(Couldn't get the audio to work, Adrian. Clicking on streaming the page wouldn't load.)


#5 28th January 2007, 09:40 AM



Thanks all for the great analysis. Now I can actually start reading it.


Part II of Terry Eagleton's How to read a poem series in The Times mentions this poem, but is worth following anyway.

(Couldn't get the audio to work, Adrian. Clicking on streaming the page wouldn't load.)

I usually go for the download option rather than streaming, so I didn't try that. Usually a right-click on the link and a save-link does the trick.


#6 28th January 2007, 12:31 PM



It's these lines that get me:


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?


By the way, if we're recommending Eliot, I think the most beautiful poem he ever wrote is the dedication to his wife which closes the 1909-62 Faber Anthology.


I like Eliot's showiness: to me it's pretty clear that he could have been a very good orthodox poet, in the same way that many painters of the time could have been more traditional in their styles. He chose not to write that way because he didn't think it was appropriate to his life and times. Except this. Enjoy:


A Dedication to my Wife


To whom I owe the leaping delight

That quickens my senses in our walkingtime

And the rhythm that governs the repose of our sleepingtime,

The breathing in unison.


Of lovers whose bodies smell of each other

Who think the same thoughts without need of speech

And babble the same speech without need of meaning.


No peevish winter wind shall chill

No sullen tropic sun shall wither

The roses in the rose-garden which is ours and ours only


But this dedication is for others to read:

These are my private words addressed to you in public.


#7 30th January 2007, 05:35 PM



That is a lovely poem, Artegall, one of my favourites. [Warning soppy moment ahead:] Every year I write a poem in my wife's valentines card. A few years ago, it was that one. It is nice to think that after the horrors of his first marriage that Eliot achieved such peace and happiness in his second. I think by the 1950s, Eliot was a much more stable and conventional sort of person whereas in the 1910s and 20s he really was quite weird eg I remember reading in an autobiography that he used to put a green tinge on his face so that people would think he was sick and grant him some sympathy!


David, thanks for explaining the Italian. Also, I agree that


""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"


are superb lines

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It was good of you to recover this thread, David, but it makes me wonder why it never occurred to me to recover it myself.


Obviously the poem itself never stuck in my brain enough for me to remember it was one I originally posted. Why did I ever post it in the first place? Though I did post a few poems purely as an "online reminder," knowing they would be there forever...

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it makes me wonder why it never occurred to me to recover it myself.


Obviously the poem itself never stuck in my brain enough for me to remember it was one I originally posted. Why did I ever post it in the first place?


I grow old . . . I grow old . . .


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  • 1 year later...

Browsing through these threads this morning as the sun comes up over the distant hills, I found this. Okay, so I am feeling very poetic (hopefully to some) this morning, please forgive me.


I have picked this thread because Prufrock is one of my favourite poems. I would be the first to agree that Eliot does try and make his work inaccessible to a degree. His seemingly obscure references sometimes need unravelling in order for a deeper understanding of his work.


Having said that, I always find this piece can be enjoyed, if that is the right word, without too much of that deep analysis. For me this is such a sad poem. This is a lament for a lost love and a man who is taking his pleasure elsewhere, for which he is paying, seemingly a high price in terms of his emotions.


I love the reference to the 'yellow fog' personified as a cat stealing through the evening city streets. It is so beautifully descriptive.


Also the repeated phrase 'In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo',which surely is his reference to prostitutes going about their business.


When he describes the 'I' of the poem as 'Like a patient, etherised upon a table' I see the 'I' as a man buying the services of a prostitute. The same as the later reference to 'sprawling on a pin' (presumably his tie pin but perhaps the pin used to display a captured butterfly) but then goes on 'When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall' - a graphic description for me of something collected but not yet dead.


If I am correct in my personal reading, then at the end the price is high. He is becoming less of a man because of his activities - he refers to parts of the body 'arms' and clothing 'dress;, ;shawl', 'skirts' rather than a person as a whole being. For him people no longer exist - his focus is shrinking as does his self-esteem. He sinks within himself in his sorrow and the last line 'Till human voices wake us, and we drown.' for me says that he can cope or perhaps swim in his poetic thoughs but once a human voice brings him out of reverie he will die because he cannot cope or swim in the real world.


I realise there is much more within this poem that I do not understand and other aspects I could mention but I am conscious of not writing too much and being boring.

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I admire this poem too although there are passages I don't fully understand (that's a surprise with Eliot - I don't think). I like the way he points up the seeming trivialities of Pufrock's everyday urban life, in a certain milieu it must be said, as if there is a yearning for something more substantial.


Reading it aloud the rhythm and tone seem to enmesh you into world wearniness.

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  • 11 months later...

Reading it aloud makes all the difference to the poem. The poem repeats the same refrains over and over and the circling pattern gets almost dizzy at times. But Eliot was a master of manipulation and his reader is taken only so far and drawn back into the circle once again. In addition, the simple rhymes work in distracting us from the intent of the speaker. Eliot was a genius and this poem; I feel proves the point better than others.

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Not really my kind of poem at all, but that's probably because I don't really understand it :o.


I've just listened to the audio version to try and get a different perspective on it, but I found the guy's voice really grating. It reminded me of a particular school teacher who would read passages from various texts walking up and down in the class room with one eye on the book and one eye ready to make a pre-emptive strike on any kid who might step out of line.

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