The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock eText - eText

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Text of the Poem

     S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse 
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo, 
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo 
     Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero, 
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

     In the room the women come and go 
Talking of Michelangelo.

     The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the
          window-panes. 
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the
     window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening, 
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, Let 
fall upon its back the soot that falls from
     chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, 
And seeing that it was a soft October night, 
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

     And indeed there will be time 
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, 
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; 
There will be time, there will be time 
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; 
There will be time to murder and create, 
And time for all the works and days of hands 
That lift and drop a question on your plate; 
Time for you and time for me,  
And time yet for a hundred indecisions, 
And for a hundred visions and revisions, 
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

     In the room the women come and go 
Talking of Michelangelo.

     And indeed there will be time. 
To wonder, 
"Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?" 
Time to turn back and descend the stair, 
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— 
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"] 
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the
     chin, 
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a
     simple pin— 
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are
     thin!"] 
Do I dare
Disturb the universe? 
In a minute there is time
 
For decisions and revisions which a minute will 
     reverse.

     For I have known them all already, known
          them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; 
I know the voices dying with a dying fall 
Beneath the music from a farther room. 
     So how should I presume?

     And I have known the eyes already, known
          them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, 
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, 
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, 
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? 
     And how should I presume

And I have known the arms already, known them
     all-
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare 
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown
     hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress 
That makes me so digress? 
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
     And should I then presume?
     And how should I begin?


Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow
     streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes 
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of
     windows? ...

     I should have been a pair of ragged claws 
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.


And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so
     peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers, 
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers, 
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me. 
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, 
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? 
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and
     prayed, 
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald]
     brought in upon a platter, 
I am no prophet—and here's no great matter; 
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, 
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat,
     and snicker, 
And in short, I was afraid.

     And would it have been worth it, after all, 
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and
     me,
Would it have been worth while, 
To have bitten off the matter with a smile, 
To have squeezed the universe into a ball 
To roll it toward some overwhelming question, 
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead, 
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"— 
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
     Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
     That is not it, at all."

          And would it have been worth it, after all, 
Would it have been worth while, 
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the
          sprinkled streets. 
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts
          that trail along the 
     floor—
And this, and so much more?— 
It is impossible to say just what I mean! 
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in
          patterns on a screen: 
Would it have been worth while 
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl, 
And turning toward the window, should say: 
          "That is not it at all, 
           That is not what I meant, at all."

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; 
Am an attendant lord, one that will do 
To swell a progress, start a scene or two, 
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, 
Deferential, glad to be of use, 
Politic, cautious, and meticulous; 
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; 
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— 
Almost, at times, the Fool.

          I grow old ... I grow old ... 
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

          Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a
               peach? 
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon
          the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 
     I do not think that they will sing to me.

          I have seen them riding seaward on the waves 
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back 
When the wind blows the water white and black.

          We have lingered in the chambers of the sea 
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown 
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.