Sunday, 11 October 2009

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 etherised upon a table;

I watched a TV documentary on T.S. Eliot last night. I had quite forgotten the impact this poem had on me when I first read it. I was seventeen; it was a few months after my father's death.

According to the documentary, the third line of 'Prufrock' marked the beginning of modern poetry. Funny that, because to me, the word "etherised" sound hugely old fashioned. I guess that's the problem of trying to be modern: the word that signals that a work of art belongs to today's world is the one that gets out of date very quickly.

Prufrock is a monologue, of two men walking through town at night, one telling the other the tale of his life. It hardly seems to be a "Love Song" but I intuitively understood that was the whole point.

It tells the story of a young man who leaves a party, where the women are talking, and goes for a walk with his friend on a foggy night, and tries to talk about what the hell is going inside him.

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.
As I said, I had completely forgotten how much this poem mattered to me when I found it. I was a man-child full of overwhelming questions.

Not that different from how I am today, really.

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