Thursday, December 3, 2015

reader's response criticism of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”"

This was going to be better (maybe). I took fucking notes and everything… but then the baby needed to sleep so the computer light is all I’ve got.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” has always been powerful to me. It thrums with honest revulsion, the staggering weight of emptiness, and strangled flights of fancy, barely held back by “high collar” and “simple pin”.

It excited me in high school when first it was taught at me. It set me on fire in college.

I had a good professor. An expert in scansion, she held the deep passion such knowledge unlocks. A long hard look at the thing split it open, “like a patient etherized upon the table”, and the bloody wonders beneath laid bare.

She was especially smitten by the lines, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” They enchanted me then; they burden me now.

That wish was such a mystery. Why? Why be less than a lobster, to only be the mindless claws, the simple tools of the simple beast? I know now why.

He already was a simple tool; he knew this well. Claws could never be burdened with such insight.

Of course then, Prufrock’s isolation and quiet desperation appealed to a version of myself who was just getting into Brand New, The Weakerthans, and Modest Mouse. Now, it resonates with all my many quiet explosions and stuttering mistakes.

I may not have “measured out my life in coffee spoons”, but that means little. I measured it instead in drams and pints and hangovers and 40 hour work weeks. I still threw so much away in “formulated phrase”.

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall

I’ve spent a lifetime desperately grasping that pin, pulling it out by half measures, but never letting go. Afraid of success and new faces, afraid of failure and familiar disappointed faces, I languored in an unhappy middle. All the while I was dreaming of mermaids singing, but of course they never sang to me.

I shall not wait to grow old to wear “my trousers rolled”.

Mr. Prufrock (almost) finds imaginative solace in his small “cautious” and “politic” part. I settle no longer for such.

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

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.

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