Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Yes, Poetry Too...

When reading a poem, I no longer have to analyze its imagery, symbolism, etc. I might choose to but I can also read poetry simply for pleasure. And it’s great to read a poem without being told by a professor that you got the meaning all wrong. That always slayed me. How can you get the meaning wrong? Perhaps the poet meant something else but once the poem’s out there for human consumption, it’s fair game as to interpretation.

While I still read poems in their entirety, occasionally I choose excerpts that strike a chord with me and write them down. (And with no professor looking over my shoulder saying, “Why that particular verse?”) Sometimes I even “cut and paste” with the various lines and stanzas. I can do that now. I’m a big girl. I just did it with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot. (See below.) I haven’t destroyed the poem — I’ve used it. There are certain lines and stanzas I’m able to relate to far more now than when I was (young) and in university.


“There will be time, there will be time…

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…”

I don’t think T. S. Eliot intended these lines to be “used” when having to attend a business/social function with the hubby, but I do. I “prepare my face” — my polite, interested, party face — for these occasions.

If you like poetry, check out some of the poems you studied in school. You may be pleasantly surprised as to the meaning they have for you now. If you’re brave and/or interested check out the (mangled?) poem below. And keep in mind — while it may seem a somewhat depressing poem to you, it doesn’t strike me that way. I relate to it — in my middle-aged “coffee spoons” and “teacups” life.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T. S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

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.

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?"

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?

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…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,

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


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."

I grow old…I grow old…

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.


Lyn Cash said...

omg - how lovely! I've always been a fan but haven't read this in ages - thanks for posting it.

I heard something once that reminded me of certain family members, that they tend to creep up to death's door safely. I know in my heart of hearts, though, that some of them wonder what it might have been like to test the sea, to ride the foam, and to sing with mermaids. I've buried something like a half-dozen friends and family members since March, so... This just brought it home in a nice way.

Beth said...

Lyn - I'm so sorry for your losses. That's a huge number...

Glad the poem was a bit of a comfort.