Underfoot Poetry

Prufrock_And_Other_ObservationsA hundred years ago, in June of 1917, the small Egoist Press in Bloomsbury, London, issued a book of poems by the American expatriate, T. S. Eliot, Prufrock and Other Observations. Much like trying to read the Bible after a religious upbringing, it is almost impossible now to read especially the first four poems—“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Portrait of a Lady,” “Preludes,” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”—without reference to the veneer, reputation, and sometimes repudiation, that have attached themselves to Eliot in the century since. (And many of the remaining poems make you wonder why that reputation took hold at all.) But here are all twelve of them. What an odd bird the book was then, and how strange so much of it still seems now.


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al…

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6 thoughts on “Prufrock & Other Observations (Forerunners)

  1. I take it this a repudiation of your 2012 paean “What Eliot Means to Me” above although I’m not exactly sure, as your latest post isn’t exactly definitive. Like you I read Eliot very young and I (and I mean this in all seriousness) Prufrock has been my alter ego ever since. I even wrote a story expressing this very thing. I’ve been off him for a long while but I recently read an essay about him in a book by Helen Vendler which renewed my interest and I ordered a hardcover edition of his complete poems and plays, which I’d given someone a long time ago and never got back. You are right in a sense, I feel like I can read the whole book in about 10 minutes but I still enjoy the hell out of him (except for the religious stuff) and cannot deny the influence he’s had on my life, much like a first love. I do agree with you he seems dated in some ways though and I find his anti-Semitism revolting (as I do Pound’s and Ford’s, and many other writers of that era) but many phrases from his poems (“after such knowledge what forgiveness” for instance) have been the “soundtrack” of my inner world for many years and continue to be.

  2. Thanks for this, but no, I can’t repudiate him. I think even in “What Eliot Means to Me” I say it’s only a handful of his poems anymore that really speak to me–but when I’m in a certain mood that handful speaks more than than nearly all the poetry of everybody else combined. Someday “Four Quartets” will be a Forerunner, & I really don’t know of anything else in English that I enjoy more, or have gone back to more often. It depends which religious stuff you mean, but I’m pretty sure I’ll take some of those too–“Ash Wednesday” especially. But I don’t even consider the Quartets religious in that way, they are something else entirely–it’s the only thing I’ve ever really disagreed with George Orwell about, who was pretty savage to the Quartets when they came out. But I can understand where Orwell was coming from too… If anything my affection for Eliot, despite all his flaws (a biography of him, “An Imperfect Life,” was aptly titled) only grows with time. Thanks for remembering the earlier essay… in a few months I’ll even be updating that.

  3. DPM, hope to get that Forerunner whenever you can send it. Hope you’re well too. I’ll go check out yr Wallace variation too. Even if I don’t hear from you in a bit, I know yr churning out great stuff.

  4. My all time favorite poem is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
    “The ladies come and go, speaking of Michaelangelo. ..” and especially, “I grow old, I wear my pants legs rolled. ..”
    Thank you for presenting it again.

  5. When I say “the religious stuff” I don’t mean the poems so much (I like the Four Quartets), as I do his agonizing over theological questions and ritual, his conversion, just a personal bias of mine I suppose, and really none of my business. One of my very favorite poems is “Marina” which I don’t see mentioned too often. You’re exactly right (and very well put by the way) about when you’re in a certain mood, nothing else but certain Eliot (for me it’s Prufrock, Preludes, Gerontion, and Portrait of a Lady) will do.

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