Sunday, April 27, 2014

WLEM AM

Where we prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet.



And would it have been worth it, after all, 
Would it have been worth while,                                           100 
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."                                          110
        .     .     .     .     .

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 . . .                                              120 
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               130 
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let's put this baby to bed.

41 comments:

ricpic said...

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

Then shut up!

AllenS said...

What am I missing? Who is this woman and what does she have to do with the poem? I'm guessing that she lost her daughter in the picture. Is she Prufrock?

deborah said...

Allen, to me some themes of the poem are isolation, growing old, and lost chances.

While looking through Google images for a picture for this post, I came across this one. I thought it worked and relates to the growing old theme.

deborah said...

Ripic, you're losing your edge :)

AllenS said...

I understand now, deborah. I look at the picture and I see a woman who probably lost her daughter. She looks so sad. Her smiling daughter's life was probably ended much too soon.

AllenS said...

I searched Google for the picture, and I now think that the picture is of the woman who now grew old.

deborah said...

You make a very good point. If I just saw that picture with no context, I'd think the same thing. Oh me, an unforced error :)

YoungHegelian said...

Okay, I'm going to step out on a limb here.

Yeats, Eliot, and Pound all, at some time in their lives, had what could be charitably & (later) called "fascist sympathies". Not Nazi sympathies, mind you, but sympathies for Mussolinian fascism of the Italian sort. Pound's sympathies were of such strength that he later actively collaborated with the Italian regime.

Now, "Prufrock" was published in 1910, which precedes the appearance of any active political movement calling itself "fascist". But, by then, the antecedents of fascism were well underway. Georges Sorel in France, Giovanni Gentile in Italy, multiple authors in Germany. One of the issues that animated these authors was how to lift modern man out of his daily anomie, and give him a sense of communal purpose, something outside of his narrow interests worth dying for. If the New Deal promised a "chicken in every pot", (proto-)fascism promised "Every man a hero".

I read "Prufrock", published at the insistence of Ezra Pound, as a critique of bourgeois quotidian life, of a man who had inchoate wishes of heroism, but now, in old age, sees his life wasted.** Standing outside of the poem, the reader asks the question "How do we avoid the life of Prufrock?" And the answer is "A life that finds its greater purpose in the State".

**I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.


Because, Prufrock, unlike Odysseus with the Sirens, is not a hero.

Trooper York said...

I think she is said because her pussy has turned grey and white.

It happens to all of us in the end.

Entropy rules.

Sixty Grit said...

No idea what a "Prufrock" is - sounds like something one would buy in a clothing store, but Odysseus I know. He was a hero and Homer was a poet. Homer Simpson, too.

YoungHegelian said...

@Sixty,

No idea what a "Prufrock" is - sounds like something one would buy in a clothing store

Close, maybe try a furniture store (from wikipedia): It is suggested that the name "Prufrock" came from Eliot's youth in St. Louis, Missouri where the Prufrock-Litton Company, a large furniture store, occupied one city block downtown at 420–422 North Fourth Street.

Since, even Eliot in his later years couldn't remember where he got the name "Prufrock" from, I guess we'll really never know.

Sixty Grit said...

I was just riffing on the name of a woman I used to know - her given name was Prudence but she went by Pru. I could see her in a frock.

*Doing a Groucho impression "But I'd rather see her out of one!"*

Okay, I need to go back outside - the internet is harmful.

Chip Ahoy said...

Prufrock furniture store, St. Louis, whence Eliot.


Do I dare to eat a peach?
Wear white pant and walk the beach.
Hear mermaids singing each to each
What do these fish people have to teach
That is so hard a thing to reach
Their briny subjects a unique niche
From which fish-wisdom leach.

Why dare to eat a peach. Age-related, fruit-related countenance problem such as with cider perhaps? Forbidden fruit somehow? Just eat the thing.

The best peaches I've ever had are tree-ripened, overly soft, a bit off with a trace of fermentation. FACT!

Amartel said...

She's a very good looking older lady. Well maintained. Are we supposed to jump to the conclusion that she's sad or pensive about being or looking old? Apparently, since she's holding a younger her photo.
Frankly, I'm more interested in what's got the cat's attention. She's just noticing it, herself.
Is Death looking in the window?

deborah said...

Chip, not 15 minutes ago as I pondered 'we have lingered...' it occurred to me that this would be interesting to learn in ASL, and wondered if it would give me greater insight into this [sad sack] poem.

deborah said...

lol Armatel. Maybe the cat is watching the photographer's reflection in the mirror.

Unknown said...

I think everyone should dare to eat a peach - at any age.

deborah said...

YH that's interesting background. I can see Pound viewing the poem "as a critique of bourgeois quotidian life," which I think is mostly the case, but I don't see a call to the brave hero to aid society.

This is much more personal and angst-ridden than that, I think.

He speaks of Hamlet, who was not a hero, and describes himself as inferior to him.

deborah said...

Sixty, Trooper, ripic, in the corner!

deborah said...

April, Chip, I've never been fond of peaches.

Rabel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
deborah said...

Agneta Eckemyr

AllenS said...

So, this is Agneta Eckemyr?

deborah said...

It seems so. I'd never heard of her, but apparently many have :)

Rabel said...

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

T. S. Eliot

Aridog said...

Whoever that lady, on the left, in the Advanced Style photo (Lynn Dell?) is...she is wearing some fine old southwestern turquoise. That stone on the ring, way too large for a ring, would be great for a bracelet I have. I periodically check dealers and tribal traders for a good stone like that one...to replace the crappy "Tibetan Turquoise" ...e.g., Chinese wax impregnated junk the fine Hopi Bracelet came with...native artisan did beautiful silver smithing and then added a crap stone...maybe what he could afford at the time.

I bought it becasue it fit me [perfectly and was fine craftsmanship per se...but the waxy dull crap stone ruins it, so it sits in a drawer. Now if can find an old Kingman Mine piece, or a rare (today) genuine Landers Blue piece, stablized by the old quartz gas method I'd be very happy.

Still Looking.

Aridog said...

Oh, and more on topic...age is something that comes upon you...and there you are. Get up every day and act you're 12 again I say! Just don't think you can out run any 12 year olds in the city...you can be old, but try not to look silly.

William said...

The aging process which I am currently investigating is much more benign than Eliot would lead you to believe. The poem is not about growing old but what a young man imagines that growing old feels like......Is Eliot anyone's favorite poet. I recognize his genius, but there's something chilly and off putting about his verse. Although much of life sucks, it doesn't suck as much as Eliot indicates......We're not Polonius, nor were meant to be. More like Rosenkranz. A minor character fated to die without ever understanding the plot.

Aridog said...

William said...

... there's something chilly and off putting about his verse.

Yes, there is and in the 55 years since I read my first TS Eliot verses, I can't put a finger on it. Glad I am not alone in that opinion.

deborah said...

"More like Rosenkranz. A minor character fated to die without ever understanding the plot."

Well said. I like Eliot in general, and one of my top faves is by him (Little Gidding). I think he was too young to be writing about growing old, but hell, I'm sure a lot of people feel the way he envisioned. But they were probably downers at parties. Maybe he was, too.

deborah said...

Yes, Ari, it sneaks right up. I do feel lucky to be 55, it still feels relatively young.

chickelit said...

deborah said...
Ripic, you're losing your edge :)

Well, that was blunt ;)

KCFleming said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KCFleming said...

I have always loved that poem.

Sippican mused on this recently, in a stellar post:
It's Cold Again, And That's That.

One of his very best.

deborah said...

"Well, that was blunt ;)"

My claws were retracted :)

deborah said...

Pogo, what writing by Sippican. I've added him to my list. And your response was so right on.

deborah said...

Gang, thanks for staying with me through this. I gained greater insight into the poem through our exchanges.

Mitch said early on he didn't like the abrupt changes. They never bothered me except at the final stanza:

"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."

In the stanza, who is the 'we'? I have always thought he was talking to the reader, but now I'm considering who the original invitation is for: 'let us go then, you and I.' I'd always thought the invitation was to the reader, but now I wonder if he's mentally addressing the woman of 'you and me.'

'We have lingered in the chambers of the sea...' He and the woman he has been imagining and addressing are together in a secret place?

'By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown...' Mermaids deep underwater?

'Till human voices wake us, and we drown.' Does he constantly live in a fantasy world with her, which is interrupted by undesired human contact?

I always came to this last stanza feeling a sense of disappointment. Like he just threw on the ending. Or that he had suddenly switched to a sociological footing. Now I may have cracked the code :)

MamaM said...

Frankly, I'm more interested in what's got the cat's attention.

What's been happening outside the frame with this Prufrock series is what's captured my interest and attention. It's definitely been a curious experience, worth attending to for where it's led and what I've learned.

ChipA's link to the Prufrock Furniture Store brought this bit which reminded me once again of the individual invitation present in poetry:

The company printed many advertising postcards, and once they even sent up a huge helium balloon with their name emblazoned on it, with an attached letter that promised a free $50 chair for the finder of the the balloon. The balloon drifted 300 miles before it landed and was claimed by a man in Kentucky.

And on the fun co-inkydinkylinky end, the Agneta Eckemyr link that was apparently the end result of a search through images for a picture to match the poem, not only included an Eliot quote but also the mention of "Prufrock's sartorial choices". How cool is that!

As for the picture itself, what drew my attention beyond the focused cat and aging woman was the jumble of clutter and disordered life stuff situated alongside the fanciful, artificial flower draped bed. The contrast seemed an apt portrayal of the clutter and draped fancy I saw in the poem.

Thanks, deborah! For hosting this series and serving as the Prufrock poetry proctor! :)

Mitch H. said...

I read "Prufrock", published at the insistence of Ezra Pound, as a critique of bourgeois quotidian life, of a man who had inchoate wishes of heroism, but now, in old age, sees his life wasted.** Standing outside of the poem, the reader asks the question "How do we avoid the life of Prufrock?" And the answer is "A life that finds its greater purpose in the State".

Nice idea, but the text rebels at the construction, not to mention the name of the poem itself. It is about carnality, and the ironically unloved and rather unlovable J. Alfred. Not only is he not striving to be heroic, that idea doesn't even appear in the poem, not that I can see. It's all about failed peacockery, awkward display, and looking for a woman who won't laugh at his chestless nebbishy self.

Heroism not only never enters the mind of J. Alfred, the poet-narrator never even upbraids him for not having it in him. Eliot is unsparing in every other regard, I would think that he might have touched on it if that were the purpose.

Yes, J. Alfred is a petit-bourgeois, a timid joyless little clerk, and Eliot holds him out to invite despite, but is it aimed towards a proto-Fascist totality? I don't see it in the text. The poem is all problem, no proposal. Pun, sadly, intended.

He speaks of Hamlet, who was not a hero, and describes himself as inferior to him.

True! Pictures himself as Polonius, in point of fact:

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.


But it's a Romantic subordination, rather than a heroic one, I think. I would argue that the attitude of the poem is Romantic, rather than Fascist, more 1821 than 1922.

In the stanza, who is the 'we'? I have always thought he was talking to the reader, but now I'm considering who the original invitation is for: 'let us go then, you and I.' I'd always thought the invitation was to the reader, but now I wonder if he's mentally addressing the woman of 'you and me.'

I would imagine that it's his imaginary lady, who has listened to this unutterably sad recitation and is still with him - and then the moment pops like a seabottom bubble, and drowns his fantasy of connection. Or possibly a completely mis-placed Royal 'we'. Or maybe it just makes a better final stanza than another opening "I", after he used it the one before.

The colors at the end there - water white and black, seaweed red and brown - are the colors of someone who doesn't seem to have heard of the traditional color schemes of the poetic ocean. Not the ocean grey, blue or green, not the seaweed red and green, but rather these oddities - is Prufrock colorblind? Was Eliot? I don't see any suggestions online to that effect, but "red and brown" instead of "red and green" looks like a tell.

chickelit said...

@Pogo: I'm glad you mentioned Sippican. He was on his way out of the Althouse commentariat around the the time I insinuating myself in there. He was brilliant light over there and to my memory, one of the first in a now lengthy list of talented people driven away by shoddy gardening.

deborah said...

Thanks, Mitch, we're on the same page with the final stanza.

As far as brown, it rhymes with drown, I'd say.

I still think you are way too hard on J. Alfred. Show some compassion :)