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The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot

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Round and Round
Added by: Kara
Again--I don't believe anyone is advocating that poetry in general and Eliot in particular should not be analyzed and does not grow with analyzation. I always read Andrew's comments with interest, but I still believe and will continue to assert that exploring the meanings of words, phrases, and images behind them is only one part of reading a poem. An appreciation of rhythmical sounds is neither an attempt to "reduce" the poem for lack of desire/insight/intelligence to delve deeper, nor a decision not to think. Sound is beautiful, and to hear it melding is an acceptable and wonderful reason to read poetry.
Sheep's guts
Added by: Andrew Mayers
For saying that you read my comments with interest, I can forgive much. Whether intentional or not, you’ve hit on a point that is irrefutable. Sound is an enigma.

“Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?”
Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, sc. 3.

In my quotation from Steiner, I omitted his comment that, “It could be that music knows better, although there is nothing more intractable to definition than the nature of that knowledge.” For Steiner, to ask what is music is to ask what is man. But music is pure sound; language is not. If what you are saying is true, then there should be very little difference between the following:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

In Bakerloo did Ali Khan
A shapely little gnome conceal:
While Alf, the bread-delivery man
Round London drives his orange van
While drinking cups of tea.

Please tell me you agree that there is.

The following poem may also provide food for thought:


QUINQUIREME of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield
Added by: Kara
Obviously Kubla Khan and Ali Khan are of different breeds. But we think so, perhaps, because we both know English fluently. I happen to think part of what makes the first variation superior is a better choice of internal rhyme combinations. That, and the meter in the 4th line of the latter stanza does not flow as well as that of the first.

Coming round to the point--the first time I read Yevgeny Onegin in the original, I did not know Russian well enough to understand more than the bare gist of the stanzas. Yet, I still thought it was one of the most beautiful poems I'd ever heard. Improving my Russian obviously has added much to my reading of Pushkin, but it remains that the lyrical quality of Onegin and poems, such as Ya vas liubil (I loved you), prompted me to futher study. My experiences with Joseph Brodsky and Bulgarian poet Pencho Slaveikov have been the same.

That said, I first read the Bulgarian poetry of Nedialko Yordanov and liked his rhythm very much. As my Bulgarian has progressed, I have found him to be less than profound and my interest has waned.

Without high sound quality there is no good poetry. Equally, without substance underneath the sound there is no good poetry. Prufrock wouldn't be Prufrock if Eliot had written "The mermaids often sing to each other. / I do not think that they are going to sing to me." But the first thing I ingest is the sound; the substance comes later (hopefully sooner than later). This is the reason I memorize poetry and the reason I take enjoyment from hearing a reading of an unfamilar poem (unless I see and read it for myself, I have a very difficult time following a poem).

And "Cargoes" is incredible, on both accounts.

Moses supposes his toeses are roses
Added by: Claire Truman
If you want high sound quality, buy a ‘Bang and Olufsen’. I don’t think that anyone would be obtuse enough to argue that sound and rhythm are not important in poetry. However, to imply that they are of equal significance to, let alone more important than, the content is foolish.
There are a number of points that need making.
Firstly, it is very easy to conceive of a sentence written in a language we don’t understand, which sounds beautiful, but when translated means something quite the opposite. We could read a line that sounds very sweet indeed, only to find that it means, “my colon has just burst’. Also, which sounds better, the harsh guttural scrapings of ‘Ich liebe dich’ or the much more mellifluous, ‘Je t’aime’?
Secondly, I think the evaluation of the metrical quality of the Kubla Khan parody is pretentious and silly. Obviously the poster was having a laugh and your earnestness just underlines the extent to which you’ve missed the point. Personally, I prefer the second version as it conveys the drudgery of a mundane nine to five existence, although ‘violet van’ would be more effective, not only from an alliterative perspective, but also because of the contrast it would provide between the exotic, sweet-sounding ‘violet’ and the grey sterility of urban, working life.
Poetry in translation is a difficult issue. Someone once told me that translations of ‘classics’ are like women. If they are faithful then they are not beautiful and if they are beautiful they are not faithful.
Finally (for now), obviously your version of the mermaids line is inferior, but you offer no explanation for why it is in the poem in the first place. Sailors are held to have believed that the beautiful singing of mermaids lured them to their deaths (take note – that which sounds beautiful and enchanting can simply be a fatal delusion), so Prufrock’s admission is a painful realisation of his own insignificance.
I think those who are suspicious of the ‘it sounds so beautiful’ approach are right, at least with regards to Literature (Andrew above is right about music; it is pure sound and language is not). Some lines from Alexander Pope seem particularly relevant here:

‘But most by numbers judge a poets song,
And smooth or rough, with them, is right or wrong;
In the bright Muse though thousand charms conspire,
Her voice is all these tuneful fools admire;
Who haunt Parnassus but to please their ear,
Not mend their minds; as some to church repair,
Not for the doctrine, but the music there.’

An Essay on Criticism – lines 337-343

I’ll leave you all with a question. What do you make of the fact that the rhythm and metre of Blake’s ‘Tyger’ are the same as ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’?
Added by: devin
"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each./I do not think that they will sing to me."


"I was never cool enough/to get a job at a record store/but if I had/
I wouldn't want you anymore."

My pre-teenage sons ask me why I laugh when I hear this line on their/our CD. I only say that they'll understand with age. I suspect that the first time they read Prufrock, which I used to read to them in their cribs, they'll understand further.

importance of sound
Added by: soze

however- right now i am listening to german music. Do i have ANY idea what they are saying? no, but this music still stimulates me as much as the rest of the music i listen to. Structure and pronunciation are extremely important aspects of music and poetry, and in different poems/songs, the 'sound' can be just as influential as the content.

my un-educated two cents. peace
Here we go again
Added by: AM
Nice little parody, Claire Truman (“Personally, I prefer the second version as it conveys the drudgery of a mundane nine to five existence, although ‘violet van’ would be more effective, not only FROM an alliterative perspective, but also because of the contrast it would provide between the exotic, sweet-sounding ‘violet’ and the grey sterility of urban, working life.”) though I’m sure some people will think you are being serious.

Soze, if the lyrical content of the German music you are listening to turned out to be promoting the idea of mass murder, would you still like it? The sound may still have a powerful impact on you, but ignoring the content is not only foolish, it’s dangerous as well.

Obviously sound is important and I don’t say it isn’t in any of my comments. The following two lines FROM ‘Paradise Lost’ serve to highlight the importance of something as simple as word order. They come just after Eve has revealed to Adam that she has tasted the forbidden fruit:

“From his slack hand the Garland wreath'd for Eve
Down drop'd, and all the faded Roses shed:”
Book IX lines 890-91

A touching moment that would not have been as effective had Milton not inverted the more usual word ORDER in English of ‘drop’d down’.

However, I still maintain that praising the sound of certain lines of poetry that are ‘difficult’ is simply a way of trying to hide one’s lack of understanding.

“To read well is to answer the text, to be answerable to the text, ‘answerability’ comprising the crucial elements of response and responsibility.”

George Steiner ‘The Uncommon Reader’
Added by: plapig
Why, Kara - I cannot agree on Yordanov - anyway - I'm Bulgarian so I don't need to stumble upon form on my way to finding meaning. I hope your Bulgarian continues to progress!!!

ne che iskam da se obijdame...
Added by: Bella Donnaa
The love Song of J Alfred Prufrock is a classic a poem as Eliot is coulld muster. The true depth and span of it can only be appreciated after the influences that he incorporates are considered. Never has a reference been more effective than when he speaks of the "hands" that he has known or of "dying with a dying fall." Eliot embraces the fully developed concepts used by John Donne and Baudelaire with a single sentence. He is truly one of the greatest in his time. I would sugegst that anyone reading this poem compare his life and his influences, make the connections between what he had read and understood and what was going on in his life at the time he ws composing.Together they EXPLAIN what he hasa created. it is indeed, a perfect synthesis.
Added by: Wilfred
You are all wrong.

"Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town" is Eliot's true masterpiece.

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