A Weakness for Poetry

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Literary Blog Hop

I am weak, guys... I told myself, I cannot post on my blog today until I have done aaaaalll my homework. With finals week around the corner, I am swamped in "midterms" (whoever thought to call them midterms at the tail-end of the semester...) and final papers. But when I did my morning email-checking/blog-reading, I just couldn't resist this hop any longer. Because I love poetry.

(The literary blog hop is hosted by The Blue Bookcase, who are fabulous. This week's question is by Parrish Lantern - likewise fabulous.)

The question, as you can guess, is about poetry -

What is your favorite poem and why?

I don't know much about poetry, about the techniques and forms etc etc. But I love the flow of a poem, especially the way it concentrates emotions into tiny images that last in your brain because the words are more like a song than everyday prose. With that said, I can only handle poetry in small doses. I like short(ish) poems, and I can't read a volume of poetry at once. That is why I try to read just one poem a day - then I can savor it and remember it if I loved it.

I like many different poems for different reasons, but the poem that stands out in my mind the most is "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot. My first exposure to the poem was before I ever read it, in the novel Salt and Saffron by my favorite author, Kamila Shamsie. The main character of the book meets a mysterious, estranged relative, and the first words this relative speaks are "Cigarettes are to me what coffee spoons were to Prufrock." (pg. 27) The character, and I, wondered who Prufrock was. I figured it was some cultured thing I would eventually learn in college. Yup. In Humanities 202 I was finally exposed to Prufrock - the sad, self-conscious, lovesick, balding man who spends his love song moaning about himself, not expounding on his beloved.

In the class discussion on this poem, most people, including the professor, expressed annoyance with Prufrock because he was self-centered, annoying, and whiny. However, I think if we get past that image of this bald, whining man, we get to a person who wants love desperately and doesn't know how to deserve it. I think we have all been that person at some point in our lives, whether we were balding, lonely old man or an angsty high school girl crushing on the boy who won't look her direction. It is hard to learn that the mermaids will not sing for you.

But Prufrock wants to sing now, so I'll let him take over:

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, 20
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? 60
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 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 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.

One more thing - I wonder who J. Alfred Prufrock really was. I wonder how T.S. Eliot really knew him. And (cue Dashboard Confessional lyrics right now) does he ever get the girl?


  1. I hadn't read this in a long time. Thanks for reminding me how much I like this one :)

  2. There will be time, there will be time
    To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet

    Best lines in the poem. At least, I've always thought so.

    I love Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" (all of Frost is gorgeous though) and I also really liked "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge. It's not a happy poem in any way, but the writing is just so good...

  3. Preludes

    The winter evening settles down
    with smells of steak in passageways
    six o'clock.
    The burnt-out ends of smoky days
    And now a gusty shower wraps
    The grimy scraps
    of withered leaves about your feet
    And newspapers from vacant lots;
    The showers beat
    on broken blinds and chimney-pots
    And at the corner of the street
    A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

    And then the lighting of the lamps.

    This is from prufrock & like you I love it & T.S. Eliot, so fantastic choice & another one I could/should have added.

  4. gosh, I love prufrock. so tragic.

    'I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker'

    that, and the part about the mermaids, always gets me. dude needs a hug :p

  5. You have to read Wasteland too!

    Being a poet, I can’t imagine my life without poetry. I live and breath it. I have loved to read a lot of poets and poetry over the years and still find something new every day. I have gone through phases liking, poets, and moving over to the the next. So many yet to read.

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

  6. I can still remember hearing this poem read by my twelfth grade English teacher in high school and feeling the sadness of the poem sweep over me.

    Here's my post: http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2010/12/literary-blog-hop-favorite-poem.html

  7. @Red - No problem! I'm glad you like it too. :)

    @A. Mitton - I really like that Frost poem too. I have heard a lot about Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it is featured in one of my favorite books but I have never taken the time to read it. I'll have to get on that!

    @parrish lantern - Oh I loved that! I have enjoyed all the little poems you've left for people in the hop, you must know a lot about poetry. "Burnt out end of smoky days" is from that song from Cats as well, they must have borrowed it from the poem (hopefully legally!)

    @ toni - exactly. I wish that girl would love him.

    @gautami tripathy - I'll have to read that one soon. I love finding new poems!

    @ readerbuzz - I loved your post!


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