...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky

Saturday afternoons are good for reading and thinking and other literary pursuits.

To my delight I recently unearthed a slightly crumpled handout from tenth grade with this poem on it; I was entranced by it from the first time I slid into this world and let the words rush over me (plus it was my first exposure that I can recall to the mellifluous language that would become a great love in my life, trying to decode the Italian opening lines from Dante's Inferno). There are passages here that never fail to make chills run up my spine in their eviscerating perfection.

This poem resonates with razor-sharp imagery, beautiful self-doubt, and uneasy melancholy. It makes me ache inside and feel a sense of deep beauty all at once, so vivid I can almost taste and smell it. Good poems are like good lyrics and vice versa -- it's amazing what can be done with words in the hands of a true master. If I were a musician and could write a single lyric half as good as this poem, I would hang up my guitar and die a happy woman.

If you've never really read it, you must.

The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock - read by T.S. Eliot
from Prufrock and Other Observations. 1917
by T.S. Eliot (1888–1965)

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

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 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!]
It is 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 toward 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.



At March 31, 2007 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great stuff Heather! It takes a lot of guts to put this out for people. Even though Eliot isn't my favorite (among the moderns I prefer Yeats), it's wonderful to hear any poet recite his or her work. Thanks for posting!

Curt Shannon

At March 31, 2007 6:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is one of my favorite poems. as curt said, it takes guts to post this stuff. thanks.

At March 31, 2007 7:11 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Beautiful. I always remember Eliot's work (this piece in particular) because my father always loved it so much. Great stuff. I love your taste.

At March 31, 2007 7:38 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This is awesome. One of my favorites.

At March 31, 2007 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is also one of my favorite poems. I love T.S. Eliot's voice reading his own poem. Fantastic. Thanks!

At April 01, 2007 6:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather, sticking with the TSE theme on today's post I think you should check out Sarah Slean's song 'Eliot'. Great song, great artist!

- C

At April 01, 2007 7:34 PM, Blogger Rand said...

Eliot is amazing. "Burnt Norton" from The Four Quartets is also quite stunning.

At April 02, 2007 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

April is the cruelest month.........

At April 02, 2007 11:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...breeding lilacs in the dead lands

At April 03, 2007 8:48 AM, Blogger Greg said...

"I should have been a pair of ragges claws...."

A most excellent selection to begin National Poetry Month! I'm posting poems old and new(ish) on my blog thruout April; drop by!

At April 03, 2007 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone passed this spoof of the poem on to me recently: http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/spoofs_satire/the_closest_jay_comes_to_a_love_song.php

I think it made me laugh so hard because it could be in the voice of at least a third of my students on any given semester.

At April 03, 2007 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blogger chopped off the link...here's the whole thing. Just take the spaces out.


At April 04, 2007 12:58 PM, Blogger Chad said...

This is probably my favorite poem of all time. Wonderful post! :)

At March 09, 2008 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting! It's my favorite peace of english literature. I've been looked for oral version, but I never expected to hear Eliot's voice :)


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