What is the narrator of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" trying to express when he thinks: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas"?...

What is the narrator of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" trying to express when he thinks: "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas"? Lines 73-74

 

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This complex poem has had many interpretations, but this one line  is key to what Eliot is trying to express -- the facticity of human existence, the present phenomenon of being a human being -- how complex, how convoluted it is, how wrapped up in our awareness of time:

  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.

The antithesis of human existence, of human consciousness, would be to be alive, but without self-consciousness, without the need or the "desire" to be aware, would be to be a sea creature of purely utilitarian powers, functions, needs, and capabilities.  His metaphorical equivalent of that condition is a creature with ragged claws, neither knowing or caring about its own existence or its "meaning" in the "ocean" of physicality.  This line, then counterbalances all the lines articulating human actions and decisions and complexities.  It is important here and in all analysis of a poem's "meaning" to remember Eliot's admonishment:  "A poem must not mean but be."

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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