And how should I begin?

You will not find me here adding to the analyses of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which range from prescient (Ezra Pound) to peculiar (any brief search of the internet will call up some of these) to insightful and intelligent (Helen Vendler comes to mind). But Prufrock is one of the earliest “serious” poems to which I was introduced, and it has stayed with me since. As Vendler wrote in her introduction to The Waste Land and Other Poems:

The more famous poems of T. S. Eliot have already left behind well-known memory tracks: their famous tag lines

April is the cruelest month (The Waste Land)

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled
(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

We are the hollow men
(The Hollow Men)

have come to stand for the whole of the poems in which they appear, and those poems—even to Eliot’s severest critics—simply remain unforgettable.

The lines Vendler quotes from Prufrock have certainly set down tracks in my memory. But what I love most are the questions Prufrock asks. Who among us has not held a peach (or its figurative equivalent) in an outstretched hand and asked, “Do I dare?”

As I began to set down an introduction to this new edition of Prufrock’s Dilemma, I thought, okay, maybe I’d better find out what the Best Minds think Prufrock’s dilemma was. So, from my recliner (I grow old . . . I grow old . . .), I looked over at the Edu-Mate, seated in another recliner nearby (we grow old . . . we grow old . . .), and asked, “So, what is Prufrock about?”

The Edu-Mate thought for a nanosecond and replied: “Well, it’s about the existential terror of being an ordinary person in a non-heroic world.” Not bad for a one-liner, right? I certainly couldn’t have said it better. Truth be told, I couldn’t have come up with that at all. Yet for me, at least, it hits the mark.

Late in the poem, before the memory-tracks Vendler quotes, Prufrock sums up his life:

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.

It’s the dilemma of my life, too, and that of most of us, I’d venture. But what I hope is to be of use, exploring the arts and celebrating those who make it, with bits of the natural world and other miscellany offered up along the way.

I thought of writing solely about music. But what about that poem I read or that art exhibit I saw? And what about scenes from the wider world I run across that others might enjoy? I also contemplated the idea of writing within a structure. I thought it might be helpful to offer some semblance of predictability about the topics I would take on, so readers might have a better idea what to expect from post to post.

Narrowing down to a single topic or predictable sequence of topics, though, felt antithetical to open exploration. I’m continuing to think on that, but, for now, what seemed most feasible was to write about what strikes me and manages to get itself down on “paper” and out the door.

I hope you’ll join me on these explorations, even if I’m not able to tell you what’s coming next. Or, as Prufrock said (in a poem full of questions, it’s the one time he resists):

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.


T. S. Eliot reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


Credits: The quotation from Vendler can be found here.  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock can be found here.

15 thoughts on “And how should I begin?

  1. Jane and Lance Hattatt

    Hello Susan:
    This IS so very exciting and what a wonderful, interesting and thought provoking start you have made to the new, revised ‘Prufrock’s Dilemma’. And, please, do not be too concerned with a regular structure, nor indeed topic, for the delight comes in the discovery as each new post is posted.

    Oh, would that we could have responded as the Edu-Mate! Frightening!!

    The clip is so marvellous – such a voice! Did we ever say to you that a great friend of ours, Mary Bland, now sadly dead, was secretary to T.S. Eliot?

  2. The Solitary Walker

    I like the new format, Susan, and wish you luck in this new venture. I, for one, hope to join you along the way. I’m sure we can expect many luscious peaches here, and flickering moments of greatness. Just don’t roll up the bottoms of your trousers, that’s all!

  3. wanderer

    That you share the journey (and I so agree that terror, and fear, is ours) and take us with you and help us too to meet ‘it’ head on is our good fortune.

  4. Suze

    “Well, it’s about the existential terror of being an ordinary person in a non-heroic world.” Not bad for a one-liner, right?

    This winded me, Sue.

  5. friko

    Being an extremely ordinary person left behind even in the non-heroic world I have only one question: If I found Prufrock on a number of occasions hard to follow at the old address, how am I supposed to cope if you get even more literary? Help, I need an edu-mate, not necessarily in a recliner, and ever on tap, of course. Greetings to the wise one.

    As Jane and Lance said, variety will be the spice of blog fare, I am looking forward to supping in style. I’ll bring the wine.

  6. shoreacres

    But isn’t it true that life itself gives no warning of “what comes next” – the twisted ankle, the frail, fearless butterfly, the perfect sunset or that imperfect roast chicken? I’ve always thought the unpredictability of life, its resistance to control, lay at the very heart of Prufrock’s dilemma – every effort to exert power over life, to stuff it into categories as if they are cupboard drawers, ends in boredom or death (of one sort or another).

    I think it’s interesting that I rarely read “The Hollow Men”, “The Wasteland” or Prufrock any more. The “Four Quartets” are my go-to Eliot these days. And here’s something else that tickles me. Your Edu-mate’s comment about “the existential terror of being an ordinary person” nearly made me laugh aloud. I can tell you the exact time and place, years ago, that someone said to me (with some impatience), “So – what do you want?” And I said, “I want to be ordinary.”

    I think I’m almost there. And I’m delighted you’re here, in your new digs. So away we go, pondering, perhaps, those other words of the good Mr. Eliot:

    So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
    Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres-
    Trying to use words, and every attempt
    Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
    Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
    For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
    One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
    Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate…”

    Congrats on your new beginning!

  7. Mark Kerstetter

    I’m afraid to listen for very long to Mr. Eliot’s reading; his cadences are too mesmerizing; a poet could get stuck in there and never get out.

    Thank god you will be unpredictable! Someone should write a parody on the things the experts tell us successful blogs & blogposts are made of. Something like absolute predictability is required: hammering away day after day (yes, you must post nearly every day) on the same theme so that you will become known as an expert, the strategic use of key words so that the crawlers can find you and find you and find you, utter simplicity, total avoidance of ambiguity and above all brevity. But amongst those who eschew these rules a lack of imagination prevails (the words “random” and “rambling” come to mind). Rare are those who have found a metaphor or model that will allow them to blog at length and leisure.

    On second thought, I think I’ll listen to Mr. Eliot to the end, for its his music after all that answers all the questions.

  8. David

    Long live the unpredictable blogger. With TSE’s shifting sands as your basis, and your wonderful, eloquent enthusiasms as your guide, how can you go wrong?

    Now I’m going to fill in the details and hope that’s the last time this WordPress asks me.

  9. Britta

    Dear Sue,
    I was able now to come to your blog: beautiful! It starts with this wonderful, wonderful photograph of the swallows (you should do a photo-blog!), and goes on with these interesting questions – and that marvelous one-liner from your friend. I am glad that you will tackle many subjects, not ‘only’ music.
    So: congratulation!

  10. Scott

    We have a little island in our kitchen. A couple of barstools. The latop. We listened to the reading. Jerilyn preparing. Me looking into T.S’.s eyes. Both of us kind of spellbound by the voice. Nodding and smiling at the lines. “Time for you and time for me…And time yet for a hundred indecisions”
    The new format is nice .Bright. I say just go for it. Our ears are here ready to listen.

  11. MILLY

    I rolled my trousers up last Saturday! I paddled in the chilly sea and walked up the beach. It wasn’t planned, somehow found our way to the beach after my eye appointment .
    Listening to the poem has been a thought provoking start to my day. Most days I ask the question how should I begin, it just happened to be visiting you to leave a comment. So glad I did, now so many thoughts in my head. I often think what is ordinary to me often holds such fascination to others, we all have such different experiences and lives. It is wonderful to share our ordinary with others in the form of our blogs.
    So keep posting, it is fascinating stuff.
    Thank you for visiting, I appreciate your comments.

  12. Susan Scheid

    Jane and Lance: I remember your post about Mary Bland. She must have had such stories to tell!

    Solitary Walker: All, right, no rolled trousers, I promise! I am so very pleased that you might on occasion choose to walk with me.

    wanderer: Ah, terror and fear, we would not be human without them, now, would we? I will do my best to make “eschew predictability and its false securities” my motto in all things.

    Suze: I do hope you have recovered by now!

    Friko: we will definitely need the wine, so thank you for offering it, and for being game, as you always are, to keep on. Greetings to Beloved, in return. We miss you both!

    Shoreacres: The words you’ve chosen from East Coker are gorgeous, gorgeous (as are your own, ah, the imperfect roasted chicken). As to Eliot, how is it that such a very peculiar human being could be such a font of wisdom?

    Mark: Eliot is one poet who reads his work well, isn’t he? As to the path to a “successful blog,” very funny and IMHO, as they say, so right.

    David: Oh, I can think of just about a thousand ways I can go wrong, but your support means more than I can say, and I will try my best to live up to it! (PS re WordPress: it’s supposed to prefill after the first time, and I hope it’s true. If not, I do hope you’ll tell me. I’ll definitely try to chase it down.)

    Britta: I just loved seeing those swallows. They did seem to me as if poised to go on a visit, but a bit skeptical. (Of course, in “real life,” they are just wondering when the food is coming!)

    Scott: I love to think of you both in your kitchen listening to the poem.

    Milly: Ah, the real experience of “trousers rolled,” just as it should be. And you are wise to say, “I often think what is ordinary to me often holds such fascination to others, we all have such different experiences and lives.” The ordinary made extraordinary, no?

  13. Suburban Soliloquist

    “Well, it’s about the existential terror of being an ordinary person in a non-heroic world.” Ha! That’s quite a strap line. It may very well apply to us all, eh? Well, because I can’t say it any better I’m going to slightly echo what Mr. Kerstetter said. Write about what you love (which no doubt, includes the arts), when and as you want. Forget formulas and rules.

    Someone once told me (when I first decided to venture forth, and write in the cyberworld) that I needed to create a niche–have my own strap line. I fought that at first. I still do, yet I think we all (bloggers) end up creating some kind of niche. Funny, when people ask me what SS is all about I often don’t know how to answer. Seriously. My mind numbs. What the hell is it I write and what’s the point? (That’s a rhetorical question.) In any event, to me, blogging is not about building readership or selling. It’s about creating a community in which we share our desires and passions. It is to fill hearts and minds. As you, dear Susan, do.

  14. Rubye Jack

    So lucky for me that you’re not limiting yourself to writing on music nor any particular one topic. You have so much to offer with your thinking in all areas Susan.

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