T(homas) S(tearns) Eliot
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)

 

S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse

 

A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

 

Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

 

Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo

 

Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,

 

Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.1

 

 

1

Let us go then, you and I,

2

When the evening is spread out against the sky

3

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

4

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

5

The muttering retreats

6

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

7

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

8

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

9

Of insidious intent

10

To lead you to an overwhelming question ...

11

Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"

12

Let us go and make our visit.

 

 

13

In the room the women come and go

14

Talking of Michelangelo.2

 

 

15

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

16

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

17

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

18

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

19

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

20

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

21 

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

22

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

 

 

23

And indeed there will be time

24

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

25

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

26

There will be time, there will be time

27

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

28

There will be time to murder and create,

29

And time for all the works and days of hands

30

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

31

Time for you and time for me,

32

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

33

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

34

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

 

 

35

In the room the women come and go

36

Talking of Michelangelo.

 

 

37

And indeed there will be time

38

To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"

39

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

40

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair --

41

(They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!")

42

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin

43

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--

44

(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")

45

Do I dare

46

Disturb the universe?

47

In a minute there is time

48

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 

 

49

For I have known them all already, known them all--

50

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

51

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

52

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

53

Beneath the music from a farther room.

54

So how should I presume?

 

 

55

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--

56

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

57

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

58

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

59

Then how should I begin

60

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

61

And how should I presume?

 

 

62

And I have known the arms already, known them all--

63

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

64

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

65

Is it perfume from a dress

66

That makes me so digress?

67

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

68

And should I then presume?

69

And how should I begin?

   

70

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

71

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

72

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

   

73

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

74

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

   
 

      *       *       *       *

   

75

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

76

Smoothed by long fingers,

77

Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,

78

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

79

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

80

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

81

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

82

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

83

I am no prophet -- and here's no great matter;

84

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

85

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

86

And in short, I was afraid.

   

87

And would it have been worth it, after all,

88

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

89

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

90

Would it have been worth while,

91

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

92

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

93

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

94

To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,3

95

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" --

96

If one, settling a pillow by her head

97

Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;

98

That is not it, at all."

   

99

And would it have been worth it, after all,

100

Would it have been worth while,

101

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

102

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor --

103

And this, and so much more?--

104

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

105

But as if a magic lantern4 threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

106

Would it have been worth while

107

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

108

And turning toward the window, should say:

109

"That is not it at all,

110

That is not what I meant, at all."

   
 

      *       *       *       *

   

111

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

112

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

113

To swell a progress,5 start a scene or two,

114

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

115

Deferential, glad to be of use,

116

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

117

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

118

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--

119

Almost, at times, the Fool.

   

120

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .

121

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

   

122

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

123

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

124

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

   

125

I do not think that they will sing to me.

   

126

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

127

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

128

When the wind blows the water white and black.

   

129

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

130

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

131

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

 

  1. The epigraph comes from the Inferno of Dante's Divine Comedy (XXVII, 61-66). Count Guido da Montefeltro, embodied in a flame, replies to Dante's question about his identity as one condemned for giving lying advice. He would never reveal his past if he thought the traveler could repeat it: "If I believed that my answer would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would move no more, but because no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can reply with no fear of infamy."
  2. A topic of fashionable conversation.
  3. The story of Lazarus, raised from the dead, is told in John 11:1-44.
  4. A slide projector.
  5. A procession of attendants accompanying a king or nobleman across the stage, as in Elizabethan drama.