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