Friday, March 14, 2008

An Excerpt from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

Many poets and critics think Prufrock is the great poem of the 20th Century. I think it's as good a choice as any. People often champion the work's content and overlook its style and beauty.

This excerpt is one of my favorite parts. Notice the conflation of cosmic thoughts and a lonely and suffocating insecurity.

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?

You can read the whole poem here.

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in Missouri in 1888, but spent most of his life in London. Arguably the most influential poet of the 20th Century, he won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1948. Eliot died in London in 1965.


Blogger Tødd X. said...

I know he's not fashionable, but I love Mr. Eliot's poetry.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

These poems are wonderful...even if your profile picture is a little creepy...

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is one of my favourite poem. glad to see it here!

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Do I dare disturb the universe?" is one of my favorite poem quotes. And Eliot's Waste land was for a long time my favorite poem.
Wonderful blog.

11:43 AM  
Blogger MANDA said...

Absolutely my favorite poem ever. This and "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke. I would love it if you posted that one. hint, hint.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Chandini said...

I never liked poems in my literary classes. But the moment my eyes fell on T.S.Eliot as we began reading 'The Waste Land' my interest in poetry bloomed.

Dear readers
Here is a poem of mine, you are sure to like.

Self Immolation

Seasons change
I go on
As I lie on this makeshift cross
Nailed with words
Under the mango tree
With a scorching sun above
And bird droppings for company

Was it night
That left in a huff
Or a plaintive day
As soundless as a coffin
Night and day
Day and night
Passing in stealth

I am but a dead weight
On this cross
It cannot sustain me
Drunk as I am on an elixir of past

Let me remind you
Of a promise you made
A journey into the unknown
On a boat with no oars
And very still water beneath
From continent to continent
Where no echoes may reach
On this exquisite journey
In a tesselated world

If you have not yet bought
The ticket to eternity
Let us just sit on this boat
And wait for the whisper of a wind

Better still
Let me immolate myself on you
In a mystic rite
Crucified as I am

This convulsive moment
Comes once in alifetime
And I would not
Trade i for a life
On the ground.

My blog ID is

2:41 AM  
Blogger Ross&Jenny said...

This is my favourite poem ever. I like "Shall I part my hair behind, Do I dare to eat a peach" I love how the language builds up to create a kind of crescendo of the mundane.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Chez said...

My absolute favorite. So much so that I have tattoos running down the length of my forearms that say "Murder" on one side and "Create" on the other.

You should've seen the look on my high school English teacher's face when she wrote Prufrock up on the board and I just froze because I got it.

Thanks for this.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Ukivillage said...

Great Poem Gloria said

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's "Nobel," not "Noble"

3:35 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I agree that too often people attend to the meaning instead of the structure and music of the poem. (Perhaps because just getting the sense of it is hard enough for many readers?) Even looking at the stanzas you quote, one can see repetition working with rhyme to speed the reader through one line to the next. The way the rhyme begins to pile up in the third stanza you quote, only to be interrupted with "Do I dare / Disturb the universe?" reminds me of the racing, circular, pressured speech of mania, a thought process that requires an intensity to any pause. What is more haunting, perhaps, is the switch from rhyme to compact alliteration and assonance, kinds of repetition that turn in on themselves. Even though the sense of the lines suggests negative self-aggrandizement (an aspect of dysphoric mania), the repetition of soft consonants and vowels indicate implosion.

Incidentally, Eliot's work enjoys considerable regard, at least among American scholars. If you want to see unpopular modernism, take a look at Wyndham Lewis.

11:54 PM  
Blogger firebird said...

..."the conflation of cosmic thoughts and a lonely and suffocating insecurity..."
hey, you just put your finger on WHY this was the first poem I ever fell in love with!
Thank you so much, I thought I was the only one to feel that way...

1:06 AM  
Blogger Raffy Jay said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Raffy Jay said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Raffy Jay said...

His style in poetry makes the readers wander!
While the substance his poems contain makes the readers wonder!

1:22 AM  
Blogger ABG said...

The older I get, the more I like this poem. It seems to change for me every five years or so.

BTW, if you teach The Waste Land, pair it up with a viewing of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Students get/understand/appreciate the whole thing in one swallow.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Marc said...

I am also much enamored with his lines.

6:05 AM  
Blogger Tapas Bandyopadhyaya said...

Your comment about Eliot's style is shocking to me. Eliot was a true pioneer in form, again my views but I don't think it would be uncommon.

You quote something from the middle but I am haunted by the opening lines (I am risking it, though, I know how bad my memory is)

"Let us go then you and I
When the evening is stretched out against the sky,
Like a patient etherised upon a table..."

8:15 AM  
Blogger The Dandelion Tamer said...

You know, you might really do some unknown and obscure poets a great service by publishing them on your blog in addition to the tried-and- true classics; how about mine?!

There is a lot of great poetry out there in the ether...

Please don't post this for the rabble to tear apart! I just wanted to convey the frustrations of a lonely and unread poet blogger.


5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Robert Cormier draws upon the "Do I dare disturb the universe?" question in The Chocolate War. Could be a great way to introduce younger kids to Eliot.

2:31 PM  
Blogger That Girl said...

I love the line about how Prufrock measures out his life with coffee spoons.... This is the first poem I ever really loved and felt really moved by. I'm so fond of it.

8:32 PM  
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