Toward Dusk Sunset
I am not well versed in poetry (pun intended), but I do know when a poem sings to me. T.S. Eliot’s The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock is one. I read it long ago for a university Survey of Literature class, but it is only now that I can begin to know it in the sense of deep knowing. Only now can I begin to walk the beach with Prufrock and murmur along with him, I grow old . . . I grow old . . . I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Not that I have yet reached that moment of such resigned despair. Still, who among us, approaching the bottom of the inning (60-65) of what is now considered middle age, or gone past, does not immediately and viscerally understand the dark insinuation beyond the literal image; hear the dread in its whisper; the tread of the eternal Footman; or, looking back over a lifetime, comprehend without further explanation, Prufrock's bewildered: That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all.
The genius of this poem is that it captures so visually what are abstractions: longing, aging and despair; loneliness, futility and faint-heartedness; inevitability, unrequited love, world-weariness; melancholy; fear. And yes, even impotence. But it is Time, which, like mercury, slidders through our fingers; Time, which is relative; which our own poor consciousness must measure by the clock, never noticing it slide by — as Prufrock (or Eliot) does, standing outside himself, the spectator — the yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes; slips by in a minute of a hundred indecisions . . . decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Were I forced in the middle of the night at the point of a gun to choose the lines that reverberate, pour moi, most profoundly, they would be: (For I) have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
So simple. So chilling.
- Rhoda Rabinowitz Green, author of Aspects of Nature (2016)