Thank You Very Much, Mr. Eliot.

I have always been wild for this poem and, now that I’m approaching my own Prufrocky years, it means even more to me.  There’s a recording of the author reading it, but I think Anthony Hopkins really does it the justice it’s due.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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 restaurants 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.
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?

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,
Would 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:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.” . . . . .

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 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.


Save some love for Call Me Cate over at: SHOW MY FACE.


23 thoughts on “SIX WORD SATURDAY

  1. Ron, I think I shall give up trying to write poetry. This one poem is the alpha and omega of all the verse that satisfies.

    PS You need to edit out the 100 at line 100!

  2. Spectacular! This is also my favorite of Eliot’s poems. Thanks for sharing. I’m writing today, and now I feel inspired. ☺

  3. Sweet dreams of moments never lived.
    Prufrock had me snookerd in good,
    dreaming of my Army Juarez yesteryears.
    Remembering how we saved our buddy
    he was eighteen, young in love
    with a girl he had found.

    Night after night we’d go there
    taking turns to insure his safety
    When young six-mounther’s time was up
    back home to mother he went

    Never again our visit with girls

    • Thanks for stopping by, BY.
      This poem gains relevence (for me, anyway) with ech passing year. I know it’s an antique, but antiques are valuable.

  4. It came at a great time, Ron. The “lads” are out and I was listening to music and answering 6WS. A pause arrived in the music and Hopkin stepped in. Wonderful six words. Feel free to do that again. I’m saving this one.

  5. i think you have to mature a bit to understand Eliot, and grow a bit more to ‘get’ him.
    Almost wish I wasn’t there
    and I do wish Mr. Hopkins had been in a bit less of a hurry over this but it’s still an an amazing read and reading

    • Yeah, it is kinda fast. I considered posting Eliot’s recording but, as we have both noted, poets sometimes ruin their own work. Hopkins, slower, would be better.

  6. Ahhh.. That poem is one worth reading every few years, yes. I first read it in high school and find that I get something different from it every time.
    Happy 6WS!

  7. And thank you, Mr. Lavalette, for causing me to read this, which I’ve known since high school, and read every few years. I originally heard it read by Eliot on a scratchy record in Mr. Schiff’s class. In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michaelangelo, and I have measured out my life with coffee spoons, and I grow old, I grow old,/I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, and the ragged claws and yellow smoke upon the windowpanes and I’ll stop now but you have reminded me that this poem has been a sort of background in my brain for nearly fifty years. And yes (haven’t stopped, have I) I too think I shall give up writing poetry when I read such work as this.

  8. We worked through this poem last semester (I wasn’t very familiar with English poems before that) and I was very impressed with this one 🙂

  9. Sorry, I disagree! I think Hopkins does a terrible job, galloping through it, missing the music and getting some of the emphases wrong, even though Eliot didn’t write them wrong. So often, actors don’t understand how to read poetry! I was brought up on Robert Speight’s reading of this. It was a bit grandiloquent, but at least he knew where the stresses should fall and he gave the words their full weight and beauty, while still being true to the persona of Prufrock. I couldn’t find Speight’s reading on Youtube just now, but I did find Eliot’s own, which was an absoute treat! I also listened to the Alec Guiness version, which wasn’t half bad. He was clearly outside the poem rather than entering into it, but at least he appreciated some of the music. But he too missed what I’d have thought obvious — in the first instance of ‘vision and revisions’ the first syllabe of ‘revisions’ should be (slightly) emphasised, making a contrast (even though it is technically a mispronunciation). Eliot has set the line up so that it should naturally get said that way, but these great thespians are reading it as prose and so they don’t. (Robert Speight got it right.) I do thank you, anyway, for leading me to the Eliot reading, which I had no idea existed!

    • Thanks for Wade-ing in, Rosemary (sorry). Always an interesting discussion, regardless of which poem or which author/reader is considered.

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