… 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
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.