Posts Tagged ‘T.S. Eliot’

So here it is, the second day of 2015. Last year around this time I was resolving not to tread down the well beaten path of self-improvement as New Year’s Resolution, but instead take a more noble and genteel resolve to learn a rather lengthy poem and in doing so become closer to art, beauty and poetry.   I had set my sights on memorizing the entirety of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. I figured it would be difficult but not impossible. After all I had almost memorized all of the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in fifth grade (almost).

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I blazed through the first stanza within a week, worked my way through the second stanza, often mixing up “fog” and “smoke” (deciding the fog is a cat, therefore “rubs its back upon the window panes”, and smoke is a dog rubbing its “muzzle on the window panes”) and then I got to “And indeed there will be time . . .”

Time to learn the rest of this poem later in the great big year ahead of me. Yep.

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The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

 

In my defense I did read through it from time to time and would often remember fleeting lines here or there, filtering my life in 2014 through the poem. For instance, while vacationing with my family this summer I retooled the opening to make it:

 

 

 

 

The Love Song of P. Anna Barr

Let us go then, you and me

When the evening is spread out like spilled coffee

Dribbling off a dirty fast food table

Let’s get through security, to certain departing gates

Though flight delays will make us wait

For restless nights in overpriced 3 star hotels

Family vacations that end in ridiculous arguments

Of unspecified intent

That lead you to an overwhelming question

Oh do not ask what is it

There’s a placard right there. Read something for a change!

In the room the children come and go fighting over who gets to play Nintendo

 

When I first read this poem in my teens I felt a strong bond with its voice, but as I worked through it as a 46 year old woman I became very aware of how masculine it is.

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I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I’m definitely not Prince Hamlet, but in an entirely different way than the narrator implies.   A great deal of Prufrock involves the narrator attempting to unravel the mysteries of women. Being a woman, I haven’t had much cause to unravel the mysteries of myself (that’s why I have a therapist), or men for that matter as their voices and viewpoints are everywhere. I learned early on to identify with male protagonists in movies and literature, and my love of this poem is a perfect example of this. However, as a middle aged woman I feel I have less latitude in identifying with men, or perhaps less inclination. I’m probably just making excuses for myself, but it ultimately colored my enthusiasm for the poem and at times I considered searching for a poem of equal epic proportions by a female author.   Obviously my feminist impulse was not great enough to move me to action.

 

When November finally rolled around and it occurred to me I was not going to fulfill my resolution, I panicked. I tried cramming, but the holiday season was already creeping into my schedule. Both of the bands I play in had shows scheduled, my family had a road trip on the books, and immediately after the road trip I flew to New York City to catch Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Michael C. Hall. Who needs Prufrock when you can have Dexter in drag?

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I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker

And I have heard the eternal Customer Service rep take my call and snicker

“Sorry, your warranty has expired. I can sell you a refurbished moment of greatness if you like”

“No thanks. I’ll get used to the flickering. “

~ Love Song of P. Anna Barr

 

In short, my lofty goal of learning this poem absolutely failed. Perhaps I should have resolved to gain and lose the same 5 pounds in a 3 months cycle over the course of the year. I probably could have done that (heck I think I did do that. Can these resolution things be retroactive?)

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I grow old, I grow old

I shall wear the bottoms of my cargo pants rolled

Do I dare to eat gluten? Should I be dairy-free?

May I sip a glass of wine when dining with friends

In recovery?

I have heard the mermaids singing each to each

Those amphibious bitches have never once given me the time of day

Chambers by the sea

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Shut the f@#& up, you scaly tarts!

 

For 2015 I resolve to read more, write more, drink less and see every new Tom Hiddleston movie in the theater. I’ll let you know how that works out.

To get my New Year off to a happy start, here is Tom Hiddleston reciting the first part of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. (For the record, I can recite slightly more than he does here!)

 

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Happy New Year!I have a New Year’s resolution.    It is somewhat daunting yet completely within my capability and will give me a sense of accomplishment and enrichment should I complete it.

 I plan to learn a poem by heart.

I decided this on the day before New Year’s eve.  My in-laws had left a day earlier and even though I had lots of work to do before the neighborhood New Year’s Eve partyI gave myself the morning off. I let the kids play video games in the family room, something they hadn’t done for over a week while their grandparents occupied the space, while I stayed in my pj’s and took to my bedroom like a moody teenager.  Lounging in bed I listened to old cassettes of a music project of mine from the late 80’s and read poems out of college text books.  It was self-indulgent time travel, yet it felt rejuvenating and necessary.  It reminded me how good poetry is for my soul.   That’s when I decided I was done with all the usual self-improvement resolutions.

Obviously the desire to eat better, exercise more, work smarter not harder, all while learning to love yourself for who you truly are, doesn’t work out for most people. If it did, the internet wouldn’t explode each January 1st with articles on how to make this year the year to keep your New Year’s Resolutions,  not to mention the crazy lists about the  7 Surprising Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Diet And Self-Esteem By Reading All These Lists About How You’re Doing Everything Wrong.   I don’t have the energy to think about all the things I’m doing wrong while trying to become a better person who accepts herself.  I think I’ll just live with my foibles, learn a poem and move on.

So then the question becomes – which poem do I learn? I do have a few poems in my repertoire – easy, short poems by W.B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson as well as the very first poem I ever committed to memory, a catchy verse from Kate Greenaway’s Under the Window .   I haven’t worked too hard at memorizing big chunks of words since my college days,  so there’s an inclination to keep it short and sweet, but I want it to be meaningful which brings me to a recent confluence of events:

Back in November, my friend, Nate, who was expecting his third son (born on December 31st 2013 – Congrats Nate and Rose!), told me he and his wife had decided to name the child Eliot after T.S. Eliot.  After learning this I felt the pull to re-read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and so headed down to the family room to find my old copy of The Wasteland and other Poems.  I was barely there for 5 minutes before my kids appeared and asked what I was doing.  My husband, worried he was missing out on a party, showed up soon after.  I explained I was reading poetry and then without offering anyone a chance to escape, opened the book and began, “Let us go then, you and I . . .”

Both boys listened to the entire poem without interruption which I found amazing because while my inner voice reads the poem with the proper measured tone and inflections, the reading my real voice gave left a lot to be desired.    When I finished, my youngest son asked to hear more poetry. My eldest son seemed lost in thought.wasteland

“If you memorize passages of this poem and quote the right parts at the right time,“ I told my oldest son, “There are  people who will be very impressed and think good things about you.”

“Really,” he asked.

“Yep, especially that part about the mermaids, “my husband chimed in, “Everyone loves that part about the mermaids.” (It’s true.   Many, many years ago, back in the 1990’s, a friend sent me a handmade postcard with mermaids on the front.  On the back she had written “Actually, I do think they are singing to you.”  It was so touching that I have kept it, even though she has long since gone out of my life.)

My husband then put a record on the turntable and we sat there listening to music and, at least in my case, thinking about poetry.  It was one of those rare picture-perfect moments when your kids behave exactly like you imagined your kids would behave, before you actually had kids.  It gave me yet another reason to appreciate “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

My younger self always appreciated the poem because by my humble interpretation, it touches on human frailty and failure, mortality and missed connections, all wrapped in the yearning for something greater that will never transpire.  It’s beautiful and timeless and I know small sections of it already, but it would be wonderful to have it all committed to memory.

And so, this year instead of resolving to take up the 7 habits of highly effective people, or eat only the 5 foods that will melt my belly fat, or try 10 tricks that will cut my workout time in half,  I resolve to learn “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”   It doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t try other things, it simply means I am to making poetry a priority for my mind, body and soul.  After all, learning poetry by heart is the number one purest and safest way to ingest art and make it part of you.  I think it’s a pretty good resolution.

As an aside – I’ve often wondered how many people have a poem or poems committed to memory and what those poems might be.  Let me know if you do.