T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  Prufrock and Other Observations.  1917.
 
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 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.  
 

***

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.

 





 

Notes to "Prufrock" Poem

1] The epigraph comes from the Inferno of Dante's Divine Comedy (XXVII, 61-66). Count Guido da Montefeltro, embodied in a flame, replies to Dante's question about his identity as one condemned for giving lying advice: "If I believed that my answer would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would move no more, but because no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can reply with no fear of infamy."

3] etherized: anesthetized.

14] Michaelangelo: Italian painter, poet, and sculptor (1475-1564).
 

29] works and days: Hesiod's Works and Days, an 8th-century (B.C.) description of rural life.
 

42] morning coat: a formal coat with tail.
 

52] dying fall: love-sick Duke Orsino's opening line in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, "That strain again! It had a dying fall" (I.i.1), referring to a piece of music. Cf. "Portrait of a Lady," line 122.
 

60] butt-ends: the discarded, unsmoked ends of cigarettes or cigars.
 

82] Herod gave John the Baptist's decapitated head to the dancer Salome as a reward (Mark 6.17-29; Matthew 14.3-11).
 

83] I am no prophet: Amos said, "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit" (Amos 7.14), when commanded by King Amaziah of Bethel not to prophesy.
 

92] Cf. Andrew Marvell's "Let us roll all our strength, and all / Our sweetness, up into one ball" ("To his Coy Mistress").
 

94] Lazarus: Jesus brought Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, back from the dead by literally entering his tomb and bringing out the recently buried man alive (John 11.1-44). Jesus also tells a parable of how the poor man Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man Dives to hell, and how Dives begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his five brothers about damnation and was rebuked "if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16.19-31).
 

101] sprinkled streets: necessary to keep the dust down.
 

105] a magic lantern: device that throws a magnified image of a picture on glass onto a white screen in a dark room.
 

111] Prince Hamlet: not Shakespeare's noble prince, who resisted the temptation to commit suicide in his "To be or not to be" speech (alluded to at line's end), but instead characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (cf. 112-16), Polonius (cf. 117), and Osric (cf. 118). Ezra Pound wrote Harriet Monroe on Jan. 31, 1915:

I dislike the paragraph about Hamlet, but it is an early and cherished bit and T.E. won't give it up, and as it is the only portion of the poem that most readers will like at first reading, I don't see that it will do much harm" (Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, ed. D. D. Paige [London: Faber and Faber, 1951]: 92-93).

 

113] progress: the travelling of a royal prince through the English countryside, from stop to stop, together with wagons loaded with possessions, and with servants and courtiers.
 

117] high sentence: a phrase from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, meaning "elevated, serious and moral thoughts expressed formally."
 

119] the Fool: Shakespeare's plays have several characters called "the Fool," including the king's loyal servant and critic in King Lear.
 

121] the bottoms of my trousers rolled: that is, with cuffs, a novelty in fashion.
 

122] Shall I part my hair behind?: an avant-garde, potentially shocking hair-style.
 

124] Cf. John Donne's "Song," with its "Teach me to hear mermaids singing." Arhtur Symons' The Symbolist Movement in Literature (London: Heinemann, 1899) quotes "El Desdichado" (`The Disinherited') by Gérard de Nerval(1808-55): "J'ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la sirène" (`I have dreamed in the cave where the siren swims'; p. 37).