Spin Title: Prufrock and Other Observations

First publication of Prufrock
Prufrock and Other Observations, by T. S. Eliot

For the Classics Club Spin, I drew a single poem: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T. S. Eliot.  This poem was written around 1910 when Eliot was only about 22, and it's all about alienation and massive feelings of inadequacy around women.  Prufrock wants to find love (the carnal sort), but he can't even decide to talk to the women he meets.  He misses every opportunity and just ends up sad and frustrated, thinking about his own inertia and about getting old.  He says, "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons," tiny little smidgens of experience, and he'll probably never dare to do anything as exciting and sensual as eating a peach.  He also prefaces the poem with a quotation from Dante's Inferno, intimating that he's speaking from his own personal hell.

It's a poem that feels squalid.  There's a lot of physical detail, but most of it is...kind of like a dirty London fog.  There's a feeling of going downward into decay, rather than up into anything happy.  Prufrock starts right off with:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
The first two lines are sing-songy and sound like they're going to lead into a romantic, downright soppy sort of poem, but then he whaps you right between the eyes with an unconscious surgery patient, probably pale and clammy with blood trickling and doctors in surgical masks.  Life is unpleasant and squalid, but also sterile and numb. 

I also read the rest of the poems in this book; there are about 12 of them and they're all quite a bit shorter, all very modern and full of jarring images.

Critics apparently didn't think much of Eliot's poetry at first, but then he was part of a new group of writers who were doing stream-of-consciousness and all sorts of outlandish things.  Before long, Prufrock had established Eliot's career as one of the vanguard, and became a landmark of modernist poetry. 

Now I just need to tackle the Four Quartets...


  1. Well, your interpretation of Eliot's poem intrigues me. I'm not sure that I agree with some of your points, but I do agree generally about the alienation. However, I'm relying upon my reading of several decades ago, so I might be misreading my memory. Now, thanks to your posting, I need to revisit Eliot's poem. Good reading awaits you with Eliot's other poetry.

  2. Well, I could very easily be wrong. That's more probable than my being right, I bet...

  3. I was surprised to find that almost all of the remaining poems could be in Prufrock's voice, too. Those are easily his aunts and cousins. The Prufrock-world extends throughout the pamphlet.

  4. Good for you, trying poetry.

  5. Oh Four Quartets is good! You'll like it, I think. I got it for my birthday, along with a bunch of other TS Eliot works, when I turned twenty, and it felt absolutely prescient. He starts out by saying "Here I am in the middle way, having had twenty years / Twenty years largely wasted." It seemed positively eerie, when I was twenty. And just awfully awfully good poetry, in general.


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