The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

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April is the National Poetry Month in the US. “Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.”

The 2009 poster for the event, “Do I dare disturb the universe”, is from T S Eliot’s “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock.” It’s been a long-time favorite poem and I often quote the first line when departing some place.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, . . .

The poem is full of quotable quotes. Consider these lines:

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.

Lots of books and movies have received their titles from the poem. Freeman Dyson’s book “Disturbing the Universe” is one such. Or the movie, “Eat a Peach,” which is from here:

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.

The world-weariness expressed in the “I grow old . . . I grow old . . .” is so delicious. And then the admission that one has been a witness to amazing things but not been important in the greater scheme of things — have heard the mermaids but they will only sing to each other and not to him.

I can recite that poem from memory, having read it and heard it many times. (I have a wonderful recording of that poem read by Richard Burton.) I end up inserting bits of it in casual conversation or in writing, and I like it when someone recognizes the source. For instance, I may say, “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all,” quoting from it.

Here’s a nice bit:

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, . . .

Well, let us go then you and I, and listen to the poem read by Tom O’Bedlam:

{This is a recycled post from 2009.}

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

2 thoughts on “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”

  1. What a beautiful poem! I had not come across it before. If you can find a web link of Richard Burton reciting it, please post it. My favorite American poet is e. e. cummings. A few lines in his love poems I can never forget: “nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility”, “since feeling is first who pays any attention to the syntax of things”, “kisses are a better fate than wisdom”, “the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelids’ flutter”. And the simple erotic masterpiece “may I feel said he”.

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    1. I have not come across Burton’s reading of the poem. I used to have Burton’s reading of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” which I have not been able to located. However his masterful reading of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is awesome. I know the poem by heart simply because I have heard that recitation about a hundred times over the years.

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