I didn’t do any posting Wednesday because I’ve been dealing with a stomach bug and slept the majority of the day. So, to right that, I want to share the discussion post I just finished for my Humanities class at Southern New Hampshire University.

The Prompt:

For your initial post, choose one artwork from the various types of modernism discussed in the module. Identify the style of the piece and discuss why and how it fits into its particular “-ism.” In what ways does the piece respond to the challenges of its day? How does the artist use the art to engage the issues that concern him or her? How is this art different from the 19th-century movements that preceded it?

The piece I want to take a look at is T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

A little background on Eliot:

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (26 September 1888 – 4 January 1965) was an essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and “one of the twentieth century’s major poets.”[1] Born in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 (at age 25) and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.

Eliot attracted widespread attention for his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915), which is seen as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement. It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1945).[2] He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”.[3][4]

– Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot

The text:

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  Prufrock and Other Observations.  1920.
1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats         5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….         10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,         15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,         20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;         25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;         30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go         35
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—         40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare         45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,         50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—         55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?         60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress         65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?

.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets         70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!         75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?         80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,         85
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,         90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—         95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
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:         105
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.”

.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
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,         115
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 that they will sing to me.         125
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.


The Style:

Like it was mentioned earlier, Prufrock is a modernist poem. There are elements of expressionism and surrealism, among other things. Look at the first graph and read it aloud to yourself. Listen to the sounds of the T’s and the S’s – the muttering retreats, the sawdust restaurants and oyster shells – the purpose of the heavy alliteration is to connote a couple of different things, the primary of which being to enhance the imagrey of the surroundings and the narrative situation. That, almost excessive, quality is very expressionistic. In regards to the poems surrealistic qualities, i want to point to two places. The first of which being the graph referencing Hamlet. In the allusion, Eliot writes, “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;” and is really commenting on the overall tone of the poem. To this point Eliot has almost bordered on a nihilistic lament, coming off a paragraph where he is openly contemplating the “worth” of everything. At this point he needs to throw in the bit about Hamlet because it will effect the overall tone of the poem if he does not. I find this to have a surrealistic quality because the jump or transition in train of thought takes us to a whole different interpretation of the piece. This specific line also shows a very expressionist trait.The “No!” at the start of the line is Eliot overcome with emotion – a expressionist tenant dating back to Romanticism. One more not on the surrealistic qualities of the poem. Look at the structure. The line structure (amount of lines in each graph) is 12, 2, 8, 12, 2, 12, 6, 7, 8, 3, 2, 12, 12, 9, 2, 3, 1, 3, 3. Is there any sense of order in that? The same can be said for the syllable count and the rhyme structure. The seeming lack of adherence to any of the previous standards makes this appear a very surrialist piece.

In response to the challenges of its day:

The poem, in and of itself, is a very contemplative account of life. We start with boyhood journeys in busy streets and cheap hotels and the various women that come in and out of life – who may or may not serve as muses. We end with an old man wearing his trousers rolled, doing all he can to savour the sounds around him one last time. The poem asks a very existentialist question of meaning. Our text notes that the Oxford guide calls Eliot “Cosmopolitian,” and I would say alot of that is dead on the money. Eliot is not Hemingway. He is not writing to an audience seeking a simple savoring of life. His audience are people working in cities, with all the luxuries of modern life, and are looking around wondering if their life has true purpose.

I think, generally speaking, Eliot uses a variety of poetical devices to enhance whatever he is speaking about. Like I pointed out earlier the poem is ripe with alliteration, allegories, assonance, consonance and many other techniques. Everything he does is with the intent to bring the reader on the journey that he establishes in the first graph.

While some pre-modernists played with structure, Eliot, and alot of others in the time period, totally abandoned it (yes, there are notable exceptions – Hughes, Pound e.t.c.). That is something much different from alot of pre-modernist poets who tried to adhere to older formats.


Welcome to the empty recesses of my mind! I'm a recent college graduate realizing a Creative Writing degree was a bad idea. Give me a pity like. Or you could check out the about sections (on the front page and about this author page) on my blog to learn a little more about me. Whatever. https://thebohemianrockstarpresents.wordpress.com/

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