Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Essay on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

A rather long essay I wrote for a college class, I'd be interested in your thoughts on it. Especially if you are a college professor or English major.

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
Prufrock wants to die. But he is afraid of it.
Stifled by the ladies coming and going through the room he seems to occupy and they do not speak of him. They are talking of Michelangelo, the man who painted the Sistine Chapel despite the fumes and bits of paint plopping onto his face and into his eyes, the ladies are not speaking of his most magnificent creation David, they are speaking of Michelangelo himself. Just the man whose muscles and mind melded to work out these images from stone and from colored liquids that pile up around the painter waiting to be used. Prufrock watches them feeling like a “patient etherized on the table” presumably in the cruelest month: April.
Old Prufrock mutters in the streets like a mad man, yes, he should have been etherized and taken to sawdust restaurants that hold people arguing insidiously over the overwhelming question “’What is it?’”. No, no, there’s no answer to be found in just asking the question, we must visit to understand that which is but a mystery to us.
Oiy, there stands the witness and he is present but unnoticed by the women who came into his life and left, but instead of having his name in their mouth, they talk of one Michelangelo. He must not have left enough of an impression on them and he bothers up down smoke-rubbed windowpanes, he questions, he frets, and his hair grows thin (like mine). But unlike me, J. falls back into his familiar soot, not daring to be yellow long enough to lap and lick at the evening’s shadowy corners. Oiy, comforted by the October evening settling down to sleep around houses, Prufrock nestles in his uncomforting bed that feels so much like a patients table and cannot sleep until etherized, so once he goes over the day and makes a hundred different visions (dreams) and revisions (what-I-should-have-saids). Lo, Prufrock is but a child, his hair hasn’t yet to thin, he only knows of an unreachable destination that he should become as a man. Those women cannot stop talking of Michelangelo. This hurts him. Why shouldn’t women he doesn’t know speak of him so favorably? But J. cannot understand that the women are just speaking of M. he takes no time to listen to what they say about the man. So insecure is J. that he acknowledges words but not credence nor a cadence to them. He knows fully that people are speaking, he takes the time to make assumptions and juxtapose details that he makes up. This is why women come and women go. Talking, talking of Michelangelo.

Oh Shiloh, there is time to wonder about wondering “’Do I dare? And ‘Do I dare?’”. There is time to wonder “’Do I dare? And ‘Do I dare?’”. Time to turn and descend a stair in the midst of ascending it and bother about that bald spot growing (as mine is) and bother about your dress and attire ‘til you stand in the midst of satire, and you brought this upon yourself. Yes Alfred’s legs and arms grow thin they should be the extravagancies that are pinned down and asserted to a wall or a floor like a child plays with a bug. The child disturbs the bug’s universe for a minute that feels like a lifetime. If only, if only(!) I had not taken the path based on assumptions of resistance. If only there were time that went backward so I could return to the moment when I first made a step toward the Lost Highway and shout at my-past-self, (turn back!), there are no inches or feet, no meters or centimeters, the only measure of self is the coffee spoons that don’t take height into account, those coffee spoons shout at lengths of lengths of lives we lived. Oh Shiloh, I’ve known all about all the voices that die with a fall (like Kurt Vonnegut), oh, even the supermen are vulnerable, but what of the Alfreds all distracted and head movements toward music in a room that is so much further along than God. No, I do not assume, I presume.
Now the writer takes a pause, he rests, and takes into account that he may be writing gi-ber-esh. But sometimes the reason means more than the rhyme.
Lace bracelets the arms he has known, lace that turns fine brown in the face of lamplight darned out of the damp, darkness and we shudder at the thought. The thought we see through the cloud of perfume and undress, lo, I digress. A shawl ensconced those arms that decorate his bed, his ether, living in the etherized stupor that prevents him from presuming. But sign Alfred up, “’How should’” he “’Begin’”???

Never again shall he return to the soot, not anymore, Alfred may only look into the skies for the smoke escaping from the form of chimneys (nay the pipes). In Alfred’s world, men in shirt-sleeves lean from the form of a building’s skeleton. And they smoke pipes that smite the hope of returning home to roost in the old familiar soot.
My god, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” But J. has no trouble in this department, he scuttles across the floors of sawdusty, oyster-cloven, cheap hotels. And his hair grows thin (like mine).

Now we descend onto an afternoon’s evening sleeping so peacefully as to be smothered by long fingers. Sell me a story, for I am weary, let me rest, lest I malinger. And the time of day excretes and lives and sleeps ‘tween the space that J. and his love leave in the wake of their stretched bodices. And here is where I do not speak of teas and cakes and ices. For that is too easy a rhyme that doesn’t rhyme, and what’s more it has no reason to exist in this black and white drivel of vomit that you and I will pretend has a meaning and a structure. So let us forget that last sentence ever existed and soon after an exorcism of weeping and fasting, weeping and praying, then Alfred’s balding head (like mine) will return to the fore and a son-of-a-bitch-of-a-scream lets us know that his grotesque countenance is being brought out on a platter. A fitting end to a non-prophet, a fitting end we should all think, because if we do not all think the same then we will not be able to be J. Alfred Prufrock for all his bothersome complaints. We have not seen what he has seen, we have not. The eternal footman threatens to put out Alfred’s greatness and snickers (giggles?) at the thought of scaring this man, ever so slightly bald (not like me for I am growing bald). But in hell at the face of Cerberus, J. was afraid, and in short so too, will you be. Not even Dante has prepared the mind for the fording of the River Styx and this is when the eternal footman snickers (or guffaws?).

Now at the face of death J. comes to a painful realization that he and all like him would have been wise to take the worthwhile path that lies beyond the forests populated with shadows of marmalade and tea. No not that unfathomable mess. This man is looking back at his porcelain laden life and he ponders if “it would have been worthwhile” to dance naked, to shout at mountains, to do cartwheels down a hill in Central Park and if not cartwheels at least roll in the direction of the earth somewhere near Strawberry Field.s. And now he is envious of a new talking point, Lazarus, returned from the dead. Not Jesus, he has no need to be adored anymore. Not in the face of death, anyway prophets can say exactly what they meant and then in the comfort of comfort those that listened to the prophet will not understand what he meant, not at all. And he whispers this to them in their infernal sleep, (goddamn I) “Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all./That is not it, at all.”.
Now J. goes back to his original point(after disowning his porcelain life), that being: WOULD IT HAVE BEEN WORTHWHILE!?!? He flings this screamt question at dooryards and sprinkled sheets. Sprinkled with what(?): with “the novels, the teacups and the skirts that trail across the floor”, maybe all of this, but sooooo much more.
It is impossible for Alfred Prufrock to say exactly what he means. There are no sentences, words, combinations of letters and syllables to come together to make the soliloquy that he imagines in vague shapes that float about in his head. Laugh if you must but he wishes to cast his nerves onto a screen from a magic lantern, he should have stolen the eternal footman’s, that would have stifled his snicker (or chuckle?). The River Styx cast in eternal dark, Cerberus would have to wait for his eyes to adjust to the dark as cats assail him with their slivered eyes shuddering in the comfort of the eve’. Hell should have given Cerberus an eye-patch so that at least one of his eyes would be ready for the theft of the magic lantern. There should have been enough pirates in all of Hades to tell them that. But J. doesn’t do that, he didn’t mean the Eternal Footman’s lantern, not at all, that is not what he meant at all.
Break off from death, that is too easy a subject to write upon, to shovel the metaphors and similes into a mass grave that you are writing about literally, but the words you use are figurative.

To be, no J. is not to be. He is not a rapscallion poacher like you and not a heroic introvert like. But we are not these things, we are Ophelia, or the King, unsheathe thy naked weapon and back thee. J. is NOT the eternal prince, the most famous to have ever gone to war, to war onward! Prufrock is no Prince Hamlet! He might scrape by as an attendant, a jester, a favorite son, a prodigal one. No Alfred is but the fool. Only of use, meticulous, sometimes he runs obtuse, but most definitely ridiculous. Every which way but loose which is when he rolls his trousers, only if loose is old.
Then presumably bald and withered and finitely loosing his nerve, he rolls his trousers, they trap dirt and sawdust and mites and allergens, that he collects while scuttling, much slower, on the floors where he lives, no, resides, no, rests, no, where he still questions his daring while staring into a peach.
Do I dare to consume the fuzz and skin that encompass all that is fluorescent in eating a peach. Scream, yell, whisper, gallow, fight, make love, angry, happy, not-angry, not-happy, in tune, tuned out all on the shores where mermaids sing “each to each”. But the list is for the young and J. cannot fathom the mermaids singing to him. He rides seaward, no he just bears witness to the mermaids not concerned with an old presumably bald man, who rolls his trousers and collects the crystals that make up the beach.
My god J. can only think of his calloused outer shell as he watches myths riding out with the surf. His whitened hair. A part in it. Now wait just a minute, when the waves break they reveal the black. A crushing darkness.
Crashing, crashing.
Into the ever deepening dark.
Where chambers full of red and brown sea-weed women who will not sing to the white-haired, ocean-parted Michelangelo(not), Lazarus(not), Hamlet(not).
They will not sing to those they don’t imagine, such as it is, Prufrock turns into a pair of ragged claws without a body, and he scuttles across the silent seas. As he scuttles he keeps an ear for the sound of women singing, so that he might catch what they sing when they are not talking.
But the sound of talking will wake him and as a result us, for we the barnacles attaching to his ragged form are looking for a secret that he could never know. And then, we drown.


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