A Condensed Rewrite of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’


Let us go then, you and I,
While evening is spread about the sky
Through the half deserted streets
Like dreams of muttering retreats
Restless nights in cheap hotels
And restaurants and oyster shells
Streets flow on like tedious arguments
Then comes a question of intent
Oh, but don’t ask ‘what is it?’
For now is the time to make our visit
To where the women come and go
And talk of Michelangelo

On this October night
Yellow fog licks at windowpanes
Moonlight mirrored in flooded drains
Wisps of chimney soot leap and fall
So soon to answer Sleep’s soft call
There will be time for smoke to slide
Along the street but woe betide
There’s time to murder and create
There’s a question sitting on your plate
There’s time for you and time for me
But first the take of toast and tea
For there’s time yet for indecision
And ample more for this revision
And still the women come and go
Still mull on Michelangelo
There’s time to wonder ‘do I dare?’
And time to wander down the stair
Time to worry on my thinning hair
But do I dare, do I dare, disturb the universe?
Perhaps, for in mere moments can I reverse..

For I have already known them all:
Evenings, mornings, afternoons
All Measured out with coffee spoons
Beneath the music in a farther room
I hear voices, whispers draped in gloom
Or maybe this too do I presume?
Those eyes that fix you, pin you to the wall
How do you even begin to tell all?
How should I presume?

I have known those already, perhaps known them all,
Those that lie along table and wrap around shawl,
Arms which are braceleted, milky white and bare
But which under lamplight are downed with soft hair,
What is it that makes me so digress?
Perhaps it’s that perfume which clings to her dress…

Through the narrow streets at dusk
Lonely smokers shed their musk
And like the silence undersea
The evening sleeps so peacefully..
Is this a sign my greatness flickers?
And can I hear the Footman’s snickers?
In short, I admit, I was afraid
Would my efforts be repaid?

Beneath the sunset, sprinkled streets
where all these questions come to meet
Tis impossible to say just what I mean!
To alight my nerves as upon a screen
To violently cast off that silken shawl
“But that’s not what I meant at all!”
For I am no Hamlet nor meant to be
Rather an attendant of great levity
Progress swills as I advise
Play the Fool ’til my demise
I grow old… I grow old…
the bottoms of my trousers rolled
Should I part my hair and eat a peach?
Wear flannel trousers to the beach?
The mermaids singing each to each
will you sing to me I do beseech?
Riding seaward on the waves
deep chambers of the sea one craves
to dance with you in seaweed gown
till voices wake us, and we drown…


original poem by Eliot:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized 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 towards 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.

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