for love of 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
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 …
oh, do not ask, “what is it?”
let us go and make our visit.

— t.s. eliot, the love song of j. alfred prufrock

they say that to be a good writer you must read the works of great writers. you must study the deliberation with which they choose their words — deliberation which, in the hands of the masterful, can seem almost careless.

i always come back to eliot and prufrock. the sound and the rhythm, the song and the imagery are so rich. i feel a pleasant, melancholy satisfaction after reading it. it is best enjoyed, i think, in the evening, quite alone, with a cup of tea and the beginnings of a sunset.

i first read it when i took british lit. in college. my professor was a tall, sturdy man, but eldering — he had been professor to the parents of my friends, and now here two of us were in his class, some twenty-odd years later. he could have been a prufrock himself, i suppose, with thick-fingered hands that shook when he gesticulated to illustrate a passage.

 i grow old … i grow old …
 i shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

surely no one ever really gets used to growing old. “old” to a two-year-old might be 10, and to a 10-year-old, 20. then at 20 you might begin to think “i am old,” only to remember how painfully young you are. years fly by in a whirl of seemingly interminable 8-hour work days. in two years i feel i’ve lived two decades. (i’m living in my third decade, so i can say that.) then you start staring at 25, somewhere up in the still-hazy future, and realize that nearly a quarter of your life (and quite possibly a large bit more) is over. and where, you wonder, were you all that time?

     we have lingered in the chambers of the sea
by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
till human voices wake us, and we drown.