T.S. Eliot’s Radical Poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Read by Anthony Hopkins and Eliot Himself

T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” con­tains some of the most unfor­get­table images in mod­ern poet­ry: the “pair of ragged claws / Scut­tling across the floors of silent seas”; the yel­low fog that “rubs its back upon the win­dow panes”; the evening “spread out against the sky / Like a patient ether­ized upon a table.” The poem’s sud­den jux­ta­po­si­tions dis­rupt­ed and dis­man­tled the staid poet­ic con­ven­tions of its time. Like his beloved meta­phys­i­cal mod­el John Donne, Eliot pushed the resources of lit­er­ary lan­guage to their out­er extremes, while still main­tain­ing a respect­ful rela­tion­ship with tra­di­tion­al form, deploy­ing Shake­speare­an pen­tame­ter lines whose music is decep­tive, since they are the vehi­cles of such strange, neu­rot­ic con­tent.

“Prufrock,” first pub­lished in 1915 in Poet­ry magazine—at the insti­ga­tion of lit­er­ary impre­sario Ezra Pound—caused a shock at its first appear­ance. Stu­dents today are apt to remem­ber it as a bewil­der­ing swirl of references—to Dante, the Bible, Shakespeare—and as sar­don­ic com­men­tary on what Eliot saw as the pro­found­ly ener­vat­ed and impo­tent con­di­tion of mod­ern man (and of him­self). It is a daunt­ing study, to be sure, but the poem’s first read­ers and crit­ics tend­ed to dis­miss it as either shock­ing­ly anar­chic or triv­ial and mean­der­ing.

By 1947, “Prufrock” was rec­og­nized as a mod­ernist clas­sic, and Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty record­ed Eliot read­ing the poem (above). His thin voice may not car­ry the weight of the poem’s dense allu­sive grandeur, so we have Antho­ny Hop­kins at the top of the post read­ing “Prufrock” as well. Hop­kins seems to rush through the poem a bit, cap­tur­ing, per­haps, the ner­vous ener­gy of its title character’s psy­chic anguish.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

T.S. Eliot Reads His Mod­ernist Mas­ter­pieces “The Waste Land” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Ezra Pound’s Fiery 1939 Read­ing of His Ear­ly Poem, ‘Ses­ti­na: Altaforte’

Lis­ten to T.S. Eliot Recite His Late Mas­ter­piece, the Four Quar­tets

Find works by Eliot in our col­lec­tions of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Anthony Miller says:

    The read­ings are excel­lent in their own way but what comes from both is the strength of the poem itself. Great to hear, thanks.

  • jJaybeckJayne says:

    Love­ly. Thanks so much. Enjoyed them both.

  • If you’re now encour­aged to dis­cov­er more about TS Eliot and his works, do vis­it our web­site at The TS Eliot Soci­ety UK, where there is a wealth of links for enthu­si­asts, includ­ing to read­ings by Eliot him­self of all his major works.

  • Shyamal Baran Som, Kolkata, India says:

    Mere read­ing, I feel, can’t unfold the poet­’s inner feel­ings on every word he fathered in poem to let us know the true spir­it of his silent dia­logue. Rather recit­ing with right tone can per­haps make every word speak the emo­tions of poet that sparked with­in. If I am wrong, please do con­done me. I referred it today because I found it miss­ing while read­ing the great poem “The Waste Land of T.S.Eliot by one of our emi­nent lit­er­ary per­son­al­i­ty at Kolkata Inter­na­tion­al Book Fare cur­rent­ly going on. I don’t know if it’s the right form in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture. It nev­er hap­pens while recit­ing Ben­gali poems. So it pains me.

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