Thursday, May 24, 2012

Coffee Spoons: Love and Michelangelo

Let us go then, you and I, 
When the evening is spread out against the sty
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The mutterings retreats 
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotel
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
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 

For I have known them all already, know them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
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?

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, on that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince, no doubt, an easy toll, 
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.

T.S. Eliot published "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in 1915 and since this poem (see a few select stanzas above) has become one of the most widely recognized works in Modern Literature.  Because Eliot writes his dramatic monologue in stream of consciousness, many first time readers find the poem nonsensical, but with a more careful analysis we see a beautiful and articulate description of feelings of: inadequacy, morality, weariness, regret, and longing.  The poem opens with a quote from Dante's Inferno, suggesting Prufrock is one of the damned.  He only speaks because he's sure no one is listening. As the reader, we gain insight into Prufrock's gloomy existence and sense of despair.  He attempts to have an intimate conversation with the woman he loves, but fails to make her understand him.  He devises plans of action, but remembers past disappointments.  Prufrock reminds himself that he's attended parties before and the ending is always the same.  He is defeated before his pursuit begins.

So what's the point?  Why am I delving into T.S. Eliot?  Well, because at the moment, like Prufrock I have "measured out my life with coffee spoons".  My inner dialogue repeats the same questions and fears over and over.  How dangerous is moving beyond polite conversation?  Because while its true that I have come to believe the only thing worth saying is what one feels (Virginia Woolf).  I also comprehend the devastating consequences of allowing someone to see you without your armor.  Once you show your hand, all the cards are on the table. You can't pick that back up.  There's nowhere to hide. What if those feelings aren't return?  How can we know?  Like, Prufrock, I remember past losses and failures, wonder if I'm understood, and despair over the future.  As I spiral downward, everything becomes crystal clear: I am, "almost, at times, the Fool".  All the unanswered questions, all the unfilled silences transform from uncertainty to damnation.  I admit defeat, crawl into a corner, and cry.  Of course, that sense of defeat, in my humble opinion, is what makes Eliot's poem so heartbreaking.  At least in my mind, Prufrock IS lovable.  He has simply had a rough go of things.  Maybe what he needs is an Allie Trufrock to come along and remind him someone not only understands, but longs to hold his hand.

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