Eliot, “Prufrock” and other Early Poetry
Torrens: I think that the primary argument of the Torrens piece is that there are identifiable connections between Eliot’s essays and his poems. “The critical essays…help us understand them [the poems].” (46-7) He goes through several essays and shows how they are connected to certain poems. The most expansive connection is made between “Hamlet and His Problems” and “Prufrock.” Torrens notes that “Hamlet” argues for looking at the play as a whole rather than concentrating on Hamlet and, as the title of the essay suggests, his problems. Looking at the “larger construction” allows the author’s intent to come through. (47) Torrens advises that there are connections between the two heroes, Hamlet and Prufrock (“solitary pain”), and between Prufrock and Polonius (futility). (48) He concludes that these links may indicate a link between Prufrock and Eliot himself and muses that the poem may have served as a means of “ ‘emotional relief’” for the author. (48) In addition to this main theme, I also appreciated an earlier idea in this piece, wherein the author notes the changes that were occurring around Eliot (i.e.—in the world) and within the author’s life himself. (46) I know that we have talked about many writers in this period wanting to keep themselves out of their writing, but this seems like it would be more difficult in practice.
“La Filia Che Piagne”: What immediately struck me about this poem were the lovely images that it evoked. Honestly, I was surprised to find such nice impressions. I think I came into this week a little worried that all the poems were going to be both boring and depressing based on the essays we read last week. As a result, this poem, which I read first, came as a nice surprise, with its “garden urn,” sunlight in the hair, “autumn weather” and flowers.
“Preludes”: The narrator here seems to be describing different parts of the day (evening, morning, six o’clock). None of them seem particularly pleasant, and there are many disagreeable images (“grimy scraps,” “faint stale smells of beer,” “soiled hands,” etc.). To me, this poem was about city life and its yucky side.
“Portrait of a Lady”: As Torrens notes (47), it would be difficult to approach this poem without thinking of Henry James and his work of the same name. What stood out to me here was another Shakespeare reference (“Juliet’s tomb”). Eliot may be critical of Hamlet as a character, but he clearly has an appreciation for Shakespeare. Also, we have more images of flowers (“a bowl of lilacs in her room”). I have to say that I really loved the second portion (II) of this poem. I could imagine the lady described standing in the room with the bowl of lilacs, twisting one around her finger as she talked. I thought the description and imagery were just perfect and lovely. As in “Preludes,” time seems to be passing. This seems to be an idea that Eliot likes to show.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: Although I had read this poem before, I think it was somewhere in the range of eighth grade. As a result, I obviously remembered little about it, so I considered this to be a fresh, new reading. I identified three major themes or ideas in the poem. First, the speaker seems worried about time passing (life measured with coffee spoons and “I grow old…I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”) and the aging process, as indicated by the repeated worries about thinning hair. Second, the speaker is concerned about how people perceive him and how he appears to others (“bald spot,” “arms and legs are thin,” etc.) Finally, the speaker seems to be fascinated by women, especially their skin and motion/movements. This theme has the most interesting images that indicate a lot of observation and consideration by Eliot, including the repeated “the women come and go” and the stanza that includes “arms that are braceleted and white and bare” and “perfume from a dress,” which the speaker finds to be a distraction.
“Prufrock’s Pervigilium”: My first task was to define “pervigilium,” a word with which I had no familiarity. I found that it was a Roman nocturnal festival in honor of a god. With that being said, I wonder if there is not another definition. If not, I am excited to hear in class how this definition is connected to the poem. The best I can tell, this is a part of “Prufrock” that was cut out, and I think it was a good decision. The images in this piece seem to be more in line with “Preludes,” in that they seem to be all about the dirty, unpleasant city rather than about the three themes that dominate “Prufrock.”