Tuesday, 19 June 2012

In praise of Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
I wonder if all book lovers have a moment of epiphany, when something moves or excites them to say 'yes, this is why I read!'  I've had a few such moments over the years, where something I've read has spoken to me about what it means to be human.

I'm not a poetry buff, but one of my first such moments was reading T.S. Eliot's poem 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'. I was seventeen at the time, studying English Literature in a rather uninspiring comprehensive school in a very ordinary northern town. Certainly as a teenager I could identify with the frustration, angst and excruciating self-consciousness of poor Prufrock. Haven't we all, at some point, experienced 'The eyes that fix you  in a formulated phrase', leaving you 'pinned and wriggling on the wall'?

I still love the musicality of the poem, the repetition and the imagery.  For me, it begs to be read aloud, like an incantation.  And despite the clever literary illusions, I think it's incredibly accessible.
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.

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