The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems by T.S. EliotQuestion: Why oh why do they make children read Prufrock in school? How can a kid, having run in from recess with pink perfect cheeks and years to go before hairs start sprouting out of weird places, have any idea what T.S. Eliot is talking about? How can someone who thinks 21-year-olds are ancient, possibly get Prufrock? I remember being asked to read this poem in fourth grade, and it is touching in an odd way to think back on the scene in the classroom - my 40-ish, balding teacher, bent almost double over his desk with his passion for this poem, begging, pleading with us callow, bright-eyed children, to get it - his desk might as well have been the Great Wall of China. We just stared and blinked our big anime eyes and thought he was a crazy old fart. Time didnt touch us yet. Like all kids, we thought it never would, that we had been spared by dint of our superiority. Poor Mr. Bull; he must have gone home, shaved his bunions and wept into his tea.
Years and years later, I took a class at San Francisco City College, which focused on three readings: Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I had not re-read Prufrock since that 4th grade incident. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I was inculcated in the theory that if a poem scans, rhymes, tells a cohesive story, or otherwise makes sense, it sucks. Ginsberg, Snyder, Diane DePrima, and anyone who wrote stream-of-consciousness, explosive, expressive id-based barbaric yawps = good; Shakespeare, St. Vincent Millay, Eliot, and essentially anyone whose work appeared in the reviled, rejected, Lackeys-of-the-Imperialist-Bourgeoisie-classical canon = bad.
At 11, I read it and couldnt believe how stupid it was. What the hell was this guy Eliot even talking about? I liked mermaids and peaches, but the rest of the poem might as well have been in a dead language.
At 30, I read it and every line sank into my soul and shook me. I had spent enough time on earth to feel the first stirrings of fear of mortality. I wasnt in my twenties anymore and I thought, this is the best damn poem I have ever read.
Maybe you have to get a bit older before this poem resonates with you - maybe you have to have felt the first stirrings of existential despair and the chill of mortality. Probably you have to have heard the eternal footman hold your coat, and snicker, and in short, be afraid.
There are so many parts of Prufrock that I love - that sum up the so-called human condition so perfectly:
Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky, like a patient etherised upon a table..
I have measured out my life in coffee-spoons..
Do I dare to eat a peach?
I grow old, I grow old..I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled...
I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas..
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's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
Analysis of Poem: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot
Alfred Prufrock Tanner Randell. Prufrock struggles in revealing his emotions to his lover. He comforts himself by saying "there will be time". As well as fearing the possibility of misinterpretation; "That is not what I meant at all. He asks him self; "do I dare" and "would it have been worthwhile". This reveals to the reader what Prufrocks tragic flaw is, that he is a coward. As the poem concludes, the reality of age sets into Prufrock's mind.
Paralysis, the incapacity to act, has been the Achilles heel of many famous, mostly male, literary characters. Shakespeare's Hamlet is the paragon of paralysis; unable to sort through his waffling, anxious mind, Hamlet makes a decisive action only at the end of "Hamlet. Alfred Prufrock. Indeed, Prufrock's paralysis revolves around his social and sexual anxieties, the two usually tied together. Eliot intended Prufrock's name to resound of a "prude" in a "frock," and the hero's emasculation shows up in a number of physical areas: "his arms and legs are thin" 44 and, notably, "his hair is growing thin" The original title of the poem was "Prufrock Among the Women," and Prufrock, as a balding, weak, neurotic, effete intellectual, is both baffled and intimidated by women. Perhaps the central image of his anxiety is his being "pinned and wriggling on the wall" 58 under the unflinching gaze of women exacerbated since the women's eyes, much like their "Arms that are braceleted and white and bare" , seem eerily disconnected from their bodies.
T.S.Eliot and A Summary of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock