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.
I came across your Raining Acorns website and was attracted to your sweet Christmas cookie story. I couldn’t find an email to contact you and your other site doesn’t allow comments so I figured I’d try here.
I’m a huge genealogy nerd and had to look up if there was a Mrs. Laura Schweer in the recently released 1940 census. Sure enough – she was 55, with her 13 year old granddaughter in her home. I’m sure by 1946 when your mother met her the granddaughter was moved away (she’d have been 19).
Here’s a link to the page on ancestry. You’ll find her at line 47. Her address appears to be 252 W 16th Place. http://search.ancestry.com/Browse/view.aspx?dbid=2442&iid=M-T0627-00773-00902&pid=143007378&email=&o_xid=&o_sch=&o_lid=
I hope that link works or the address matches your former neighbors. If the link doesn’t work I can email you a version for sure. Please let me know if you think it’s her! Maybe that granddaughter of hers inherited her recipe! And if not, it sure is a neat addition to the story. You’ll have confirmed her name and address.
(my email is angelabeth(dot)cantido(at)gmail(dot)com should you wish to contact me.)
Thanks for entertaining my searching. Have a great day!
You are all inspiring! The music, poetry and your wit . . . it is a joy to visit here. Lovely to have discovered you through those I now call dear friends ~ the Hattatts.
Carol: Welcome aboard! So glad to cyber-meet you, and I hope you find things here to enjoy.
Susan, I wanted to let you know I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. Thank you for all the inspiration!
The Order of Merit is really the top award in the United Kingdom, certainly for authors. There cannot be more than 24 members. When T S Eliot’s name was being considered for the honour, the Secretary of the Order queried the matter with the King’s Private Secretary. “Who is this man Eliot? The only thing I can find out about him is that he wrote a book about cats.”
David Damant: That I have received a comment from you that offers up a delightful morsel of British history I take as an Order of Merit of the highest sort. Welcome to Prufrock’s, and I look forward to meeting you one day at a convening of the Nicean League. Did they ever find out what else Mr. Eliot wrote?
I think it was only a clerky clerk who knew only about the libretto for “Cats”. Eliot received the OM in 1948. It is in the gift of the Queen ( not her ministers, though no doubt she has some consultations with them)
Ah, those “clerky clerks!” Reminds me of Yes, Minister, somehow. You know, the funny thing is, notwithstanding the name of my blog, Eliot isn’t my favorite poet. (That would be, neck and neck, Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery. Depends on the poem I’ve read last . . .)
Very inspiring blog with great reading, Susan!
Best regards, Dina
Hi Susan, Some months back we exchanged notes about TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (which I perform from memory) and you asked if I would let you know if I had a performance near you. But I don’t know where you are! In any case, I have a performance at the Poetry Center at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, on December 2, 2014, and I am writing to let you know about it. Here’s a link to the Poetry Center schedule: http://www.smith.edu/poetrycenter/New%20Site/Gallery/Smith%20PoetryFall2014.pdf All best regards, John Farrell PS: If you want to reach me directly (I am not much of a blogger/follower), my email is email@example.com.
Lost touch after November as we were only connected on social media. Have been a bit bummed that there was no other way to connect back with you. But then I realized I could perhaps contact you this way via your blog. My email should be visible to you as I am entering it here in filling the details below to enter this comment.
Hope to get back in touch.
P.S. I’ve just started a Wallace Stevens mini-session in SloPo. Not sure if you have time but since you were registered in ModPo, you should have access to all the forums and so to the Stevens threads and discussions within the Coursera platform too. Perhaps you will stop by for a tete-a-tete?
Pleased to make your acquaintance. May we all dare to “eat a peach”!
As I get older, I hardly ask. Don’t know much about Elliot, so don’t mind me hanging around to know more. Besides, I would like to read more of Umbria.