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 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 resturants 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.

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,
Woud 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:

. . . . .

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.

- T.S. Eliot

There is another part to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. It is called Prufrock's Pervigilium. It appeared in a notebook of Eliot's, which he sold to benefactor John Quinn in 1922, considering the poems therein ``unpublished and unpublishable''. This poem/part of the poem is much, much darker than the rest---or, for that matter, than anything of Eliot's, with the possible exception of parts of The Waste Land. Anyway:

Prufrock's Pervigilium

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And seen the smoke which rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirtsleeves, leaning out of windows.
And when the evening woke and stared into its blindness
I heard the children whimpering in corners
Where women took the air, standing in entries --
Women, spilling out of corsets, stood in entries
Where the draughty gas-jet flickered
And the oil cloth curled up stairs.

And when the evening fought itself awake
And the world was peeling oranges and reading evening papers
And boys were smoking cigarettes, drifted helplessly together
In the fan of light spread out by the drugstore on the corner
Then I have gone at night through narrow streets,
Where evil houses leaning all together
Pointed a ribald finger at me in the darkness
Whispering all together, chuckled at me in the darkness.

And when the midnight turned and writhed in fever
I tossed the blankets back, to watch the darkness
Crawling among the papers on the table
It leapt to the floor and made a sudden hiss
And darted stealthily across the wall
Flattened itself upon the ceiling overhead
Stretched out its tentacles, prepared to leap

And when the dawn at length had realized itself
And turned with a sense of nausea, to see what it had stirred:
The eyes and feet of men --
I fumbled to the window to experience the world
And to hear my Madness singing, sitting on the kerbstone
[A blind old drunken man who sings and mutters,
With broken boot heels stained in many gutters]
And as he sang the world began to fall apart. . .

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

-- I have seen the darkness creep along the wall
I have heard my Madness chatter before day
I have seen the world roll up into a ball
Then suddenly dissolve and fall away.

-- T.S. Eliot, ca. 1912


This poem, as well as many of Eliot's early drafts and unpublished poems, may be found in Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909--1917, edited by Christopher Ricks and published by Harcourt Brace.

Not considered by some scholars as Eliot's best poem, Prufock is probably his best-known, readers enjoy it because it seems to express the anti-social angst it affects. It is not as complicated a poem as one would think, but I missed some important points and thought some explanatory notes might be of interest.

The Italian preface to the poem is from Dante's Comedia, canto 27 of the Inferno.

John Ciardi's translation of these lines is:
    If I believed that my reply were made
    to one who could ever climb to the world again,
    this flame would shake no more. But since no shade
    ever returned -- if what I am told is true --
    from this blind world into the living light
    without fear of dishonor I can answer you;

Prufrock's confession is like that of a condemned soul in hell and the reasoning behind it is that even complaining is hopeless. The poem is full of striking and meaningful lines:

In this example,when Prufrock says he should have been a crab he is speaking about moving backwards, which is just what he desires to do, but cannot. There's a line in Hamlet that this most likely refers as well where the terrible shock of his father's murder has gotten Hamlet to thinking, probably for the first time in his young and idealistic life, about the irreversible reality of death. However, rather than openly drive home the link between Hamlet's passivity and his preoccupation with death and decay toward the purpose of tragedy, to the reader, Prufrok's meaning is hidden and mysterious, having to be drawn out by critical thinking . "Nor was meant to be," calls up an association with Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be? — That is the question." Unable to decide, Prufrok is asking a question about establishing of the relationship with the woman is "not to be." Then on another level, he hazards that he is not "meant to be," implying that he is meant after all to merely exist and never really participate in life.

Allusion is present here too as a verse reference to a character in another literary work. T. S. Eliot alludes or refers to the biblical figure John the Baptist in the line,

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

Taken from Mark 6 where John the Baptist's head was presented to King Herod on a platter.

It was surprising to learn that Eliot was twenty two years old when he wrote this piece. At the the heart of the poem is the fretting of a middle aged man, the complacency of his social contacts; his own incapability, indecisiveness and decomposition; and incapable of redemption of a life that is going the wrong way and will not be turned around. And in this fashion he can be put in with other poets of decadence.

The first couple of lines earned Eliot immediate recognition as an extremely capable writer when they were published in 1917. Using older more traditional styles he worked them in combination with vers libre creating a whole new rhythm that had never before been heard and the effect of reading it aloud is quite impressive.

Sources:

Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Literary Terms & Concepts:
http://www.hbhs.k12.nh.us/tullochr/APEnglish/Literary%20Terms.html
accessed August 22, 2003.

TS Eliot - The Academy of American Poets:
www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=1
accessed August 22,2003.

A few points:

1. IMHO, the reference to Guido in the epigram is there not to suggest that Prufrock is about to embark into hell (as Eliot's various characters in The Waste Land will, for instance), but rather to draw a psychological parallel between both the pain that both characters feel in retelling their story and the hesitence that both has to retell their stories due to their fears of judgment from others. Guido is the first character in the Inferno to specifically request that his story not be retold in the world above; what Prufrock shares with him is an (undue?) sense of shame.

2. I had read that the lines about women talking about Michelangelo were there for two possible reasons, both of which are ironic: either it is I. a purposely erroneous passage meant to display how uninformed or idealizing Prufrock's character is (i.e. the women are *really* talking about something more simple and day-to-day than Michaelangelo, and the clueless Prufrock can understand neither them nor their interests) or II. These women really *are* talking about Michelangelo and are themselves totally unconscious of the raw sexuality of the painter's fleshy images.

3. The yellow fog is, I believe, inspired by Carl Sandburg's Fog, and is there in order to set atmosphere.

4. Prufrock worries about rolling up his trousers because it is I. a sign of old age and II. neccessary if he is to walk on the beach without getting them wet.

5. Finally, although Prufrock does know that he is not capable of Hamlet's final heroics, he is perhaps aware that major interpretation of the Danish prince's character find Hamlet's motive to correspond exactly with Prufrock's problem: indecision.
...

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.

...

Coincidence? Probably, but I still think that Prof. Christopher Ricks' observation is pretty damn cool.

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