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The Proof is in The Prufrock

… 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? …

~An excerpt from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,

T. S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is...
“Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky…”
(Photo credit: harold.lloyd)

I was taking a poetry class in 2004 to satisfy the requirements of an English minor when I first fell in love with Prufrock.  I love Prufrock for so many different reasons and I know that it has changed my life.  I don’t remember what exactly it is about Prufrock that touches me so deeply, and I remember not knowing at the time why it caught my attention in the first place.  I have come back to read Prufrock countless times over the years and each time I take something different away from it.

What is Prufrock talking about?  What is it not talking about?  Prufrock is everything and nothing all at the same time.  Despite my inability to characterize Prufrock, I feel like it knows me.  Deeply.  Like no one else (not even myself) knows me.  Some parts of Prufrock move fast; they feel rushed, but they immediately slow.  Some phrases are random and feel out of place, but they aren’t.  Prufrock doesn’t make sense, literally.  However, it makes sense when you don’t think too much about it…. or maybe if you do think too much about it.  It sounds all too much like my life…

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. …

Poetry is beautiful in a way that nothing else can ever compare.  Poetry is raw and fresh; it is simple yet powerful; it is emotion in a tangible form.  Prufrock takes every thought out of the head of humans, it takes every emotion, it takes every insecurity, and it puts them in black and white, for all of us to see.  Prufrock is not easy to read… life is not easy to endure.

Maybe that is Prufrock is trying to say.

Prufrock knows our vulnerability and it knows the solution we crave:

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

Prufrock knows that scuttling through life, awkward and unnoticed, is what we want to do.  It also knows, however, that we don’t want to scuttle through life unnoticed.  Prufrock is omniscient – there is no escaping the reality that it presents.  Like reading the poem, time and again, over years and years; we ebb and flow, we come and go, we observe, we talk, we experience, then we leave.

What do we leave? What do we take?  What is it about Prufrock that changed my life?  Only Prufrock really knows…

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

10 thoughts on “The Proof is in The Prufrock

  1. One of my favorite poems! No matter what I am going through at any given time in my life, there seems to be a part of Prufrock that speaks to that particular situation. And really, who hasn’t muttered an occasional “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons” while preparing the morning coffee?

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Late to commenting on this, but I love Prufrock! I feel like the older I get, the more I know and understand him. English major here BTW 🙂 Super impressed you have an English minor & are in med school. Not that it means you can’t love lit, but usually those seem like very different brains!


    1. I also have come to appreciate Prufrock more as I get older! I also have a major in English, which I got when I went back to school in preparation for med school. I am so very happy that I have such diverse interests and education; I feel like it makes me a more well rounded person!


      1. I agree 100%. I work in IT/marketing as a web developer, so I like being able to confound people w/ my well-roundedness 🙂 The liberal arts education is very useful!


  3. I never read it, which is a shame, because it sounds amazing. I’m more of Robert Frost gal, but I’m definitely gonna go out and try to find it now.


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