Friday, June 24, 2016

Two Poems by T.S. Eliot

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 etherized 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.

     In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

     The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
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,
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;
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:
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
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--
(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
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,
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--
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?
     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!)
Is it perfume from a dress
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
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!
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?
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,
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,
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"--
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,
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:
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."
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,
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 ...
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.

     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,
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Epigraph: In the eighth circle of the Inferno, Dante and Virgil meet
Guido da Montefeltro, one of the False Counselors,
who is punished by being enveloped in an eternal flame. 
When Dante asks Guido to tell his life story, the spirit replies:

*If I thought that my answer were
To one who might ever return to the world,
This flame would shake no more.
But since from this depth
None ever returned alive, if what I hear is true,
I answer you without fear of infamy.


The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms…

T.S. Eliot had published numerous books of poetry: Prufrock, and Other Observations (contains 11 poems and a prose piece, Hysteria; the title poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, was first published in Poetry, June, 1915; five other poems were originally published in Catholic Anthology, edited by Ezra Pound, 1915), The Egoist (London), 1917; Poems by T. S. Eliot, Hogarth, 1919; Ara Vus Prec (includes Poems by T. S. Eliot, above), Ovid Press (London), 1920, published in America as Poems, Knopf, 1920; The Waste Land (first published in Criterion, first issue, October, 1922), Boni & Liveright, 1922; Poems, 1909-1925 (contains all works cited above and The Hollow Men; earlier drafts and sections of "The Hollow Men" appeared in Chapbook, Commerce, Criterion, and Dial, 1924-25), Faber, 1925; Journey of the Magi (one of the "Ariel Poems"), Faber, 1927; Animula (one of the "Ariel Poems"), Faber, 1929; Ash-Wednesday (first 3 parts originally published in French, American, and English magazines, respectively; Part 2, first published as Salutation in Saturday Review of Literature, was intended as another of the "Ariel Poems" and as a complement to Journey of the Magi the publisher also intended to issue this part separately as a Christmas card), Putnam, 1930; Marina (one of the "Ariel Poems"), Faber, 1930; Triumphal March, Faber, 1931; The Waste Land, and Other Poems, Harcourt, 1934; Words for Music, [Bryn Mawr], 1935; Collected Poems, 1909-1935, Harcourt, 1936; A Song for Simeon (written in the 1920 's; one of the "Ariel Poems"), Faber, 1938; (With Geoffrey Faber, Frank Morley, and John Hayward) Noctes Binanianae (limited edition of 25 copies for the authors and friends; never reprinted), privately printed (London), 1939; Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Harcourt, 1939; East Coker, Faber, 1940; Burnt Norton, Faber, 1941; The Dry Salvages, Faber, 1941; Later Poems, 1925-1935, Faber 1941; Little Gidding, Faber, 1942; Four Quartets (consists of Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding), Harcourt, 1943; A Practical Possum, Harvard Printing Office, 1947; Selected Poems, Penguin, 1948, Harcourt, 1967; The Undergraduate Poems, Harvard Advocate (unauthorized reprint of poems originally published in the Advocate), 1949; Poems Written in Early Youth, privately printed by Bonniers (Stockholm), 1950, new edition prepared by Valerie Eliot and John Hayward, Farrar, Straus, 1967; The Cultivation of Christmas Trees (one of the "Ariel Poems"), Faber, 1954, Farrar, Straus, 1956; Collected Poems, 1909-1962, Harcourt, 1963; The Waste Land: A Facsimile of the Original Drafts, Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, edited and with introduction by Valerie Eliot, Harcourt, 1971; Inventions of the March Hare: Poems, 1909-1917, edited by Christopher Ricks, Harcourt, 1997; Eliot: Poems and Prose (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets), edited by Peter Washington, Random House, 1998; Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2002 (Poetry Foundation). 

T.S. Eliot was also a playwright, prose writer, translator

Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965)

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