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Thirty Years Later

My oldest son was complaining about needing to memorize 30 lines from Macbeth for Monday, and map out stage directions that he'll use for his delivery. He asked the very reasonable question, "why is this important enough to devote a chunk of time to?"

Humn.

Well, I said. It shows you've thought about and considered the text, how and why it has purpose in the play. It helps you develop your memorization skills, which are useful wherever life takes you. Poetry blooms when it is spoken. And, it gives you a chance to join in when your mother, aunts and grandmother compete to see who can remember the most poetry that they memorized in school.

It's a "thing" in my family, usually whenever there's been a holiday dinner with a bit too much wine. We take turns reciting all the poetry we were forced to memorise. We prompt each other with the forgotten lines, or complete passages together. We all love to do "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", by T.S. Elliot especially because we all get a kick out of shouting "and the women come and go, talking of Michaelangelo" and "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons." There's no way we can recite the thing separately, we need each other. We make fun of each other's fake British accents when reciting Shakespeare. I can also do a long speech from Portia in The Merchant of Venice that I memorized in high school, and a poem by Elizabeth Barret Browning that for some reason recited at elementary school graduation. Those who married into the family roll their eyes at us.

But yes, it's wonderful to have these amazing patterns of words tucked into our brains that we can share and enjoy together. Human beings make words, and share them. That's the real reason, Dan.

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" behind the cut. Close the door if you must, but read it aloud.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised 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!]
It is 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.”
. . . . . 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, 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.


Comments (3)

Anne:

Amy, what an extraordinary coincidence to read your post about Prufrock this morning - just yesterday I changed the name of my blog to "Let us go then, you and I"! I have loved Eliot since high school.

Amy:

Hee. I shudder to think about vibes of Elliot floating around. He could be a really depressing guy. LOL
Great new title for your blog!

Kim:

Ha - funny, I recognized your Prufrock only because Anne changed her blog :)

Hmmm...things I remember,

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink
Water, water everywhere and all the boards doth shrink.

I remember some Macbeth, Hamlet and Julius Ceaser too.

Not to mention, I can sing the preamble to the Constitution.

Oh and the stage direction is important, because Shakespeare was meant to be seen, not read.

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