Ts Eliot Essay 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 towards 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 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.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is in part a satire. Its character is not the hero of romance but an antihero, one constrained by fear. He spends much of the poem contemplating what to him is to be a daring act, but is in fact only the effort to talk to women at a social event. The very name Prufrock is suggestive; the first syllable suggests the word “prude” without the final consonant, while a “frock” is a garment that would have been considered overly formal by young people of Eliot’s generation.

The urban setting for the poem is itself also the object of satire. The sunset at the beginning of the evening is not inspiring but instead is dormant, “like a patient etherized upon a table.” The streets through which the two will pass is full of cheap, sordid hotels and filthy restaurants. The twentieth century city is not a place of dreams.

The description of the social event suggests something shallow and superficial, where people show off their knowledge of art. The only details given are the women’s bare arms and long dresses, talk of Michelangelo and perhaps unnamed novels, and refreshments. Prufrock is vaguely aware of the contrast between the superficial, perhaps privileged world he is about to enter and the bleak, urban landscape outside: In the former, people have the leisure for superficial talk, while in the latter, “lonely men in shirtsleeves” are perhaps tired from work. Prufrock is too self-centered, too concerned with how he might impress the women he will see, to reflect on the desperation of the “muttering retreats”; the “yellow smoke” (clearly smog) might well be toxic to many, but to Prufrock it is vaguely something like a friendly cat.

Prufrock exaggerates his dilemma. He wishes to speak to women, he is vaguely attracted to them sexually, but he is afraid. This might be a “crisis” for a young man looking for a prom date, but Prufrock is old enough to have a bald spot in his hair and to fear growing “old.” Part of the poem’s irony comes from its allusions to the poetic and literary traditions that Eliot knows. The preface from Dante’s Inferno quotes a false counselor in Hell who will tell his crime only to those he thinks will keep it a secret. Prufrock, too, would not want his story known—he wants to create “a face to meet the faces that you meet”—but what he has to hide is trivial. A topic he might raise in conversation is an “overwhelming question.”

Prufrock momentarily compares himself to John the Baptist, the prophet who announces the good news of Christ’s coming and who is finally killed, with his head brought on a platter. Later, he compares himself to Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Christ. He also briefly thinks of Hamlet, whose “overwhelming question” involves taking the word of what seems to be his father’s ghost and avenging his murder by killing a king. Prufrock realizes that the best he can do in Shakespeare’s play is to be Polonius, who talks too much, annoys everyone, and is finally killed by accident when he is eavesdropping on Hamlet and his mother.

In the final lines of the poem, Prufrock is tempted to compare himself to Ulysses, since the mermaids “singing each to each” suggest the sirens Ulysses hears in Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), but he quickly reflects that “I do not think that they will sing to me.”

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