Prufrock and I

T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was the first poem that really resonated with me.

We were forced to read and analyze poetry in English class for years. Generally when you’re made to read something, you won’t like it. Years after we read Hugh MacLennan’s “Barometer Rising” in school, I picked it up and read it on my own volition. It turned out to be a pretty decent book, but I hated it when I first read it.

John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” is still awful.

In grade 8, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was on our lesson plan for English class. The first few lines grabbed me and the poem never let go after that.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot

As far as poetry goes, it is quite readable. The themes of loneliness, hesitation and self-doubt resonated with 12-year-old me. I was a weird, nerdy, anxious kid, wanting connection but dreadfully worried about being rejected. It felt like Prufrock was me, thirty years older.

Full credit to my grade 8 English teacher, whose name escapes me. She picked up on my enthusiasm for the poem and encouraged me to read more. Emboldened, I shared a few of my poems with her and, to her credit, she said some encouraging words and didn’t dismiss them out of hand.

I wrote a couple of really awful poems immediately after I read “Prufrock”. They did not make it into my poetry book, Dances and Daydreams. You’re welcome.

More than any other poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” inspired me to write my own poetry. Over time my writing improved and I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve written.

Thank you, Mr. Eliot.

Just One More Thing

I was listening to the 1970s band Ambrosia, and their epic song “Time Waits for No One” features the lyrics “So why must we continually disturb the universe / with decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse”. My ears perked up when I heard that, because it is a reference to:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T.S. Eliot

There are references to “Prufrock” in many songs:

  • The song “Dover Beach” by the Bangles features the line “Or we could come and go, oh, and talk of Michaelangelo” which is a pretty direct copy of a recurring line from the poem.
  • The Allman Brothers Band named their 1972 album “Eat a Peach”, which is a reference to the line “Do I dare to eat a peach?”
  • Canada’s Crash Test Dummies wrote a song called “Afternoons and Coffee Spoons“, name-dropping T.S. Eliot. The song’s lyrics are very much in the same rhythm as the poem.
  • Tori Amos sang “Heard the eternal footman bought himself a bike to race” at the start of “Pretty Good Year“, a reference to the line “I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker”.
  • Mumford & Sons “There Will Be Time” takes its title from a recurring phrase from “Prufrock”.

An entire Wikipedia article is dedicated to Prufrock references!