The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Original Text: 
T. S. Eliot, Prufrock and Other Observations (London: The Egoist, 1917): 9-16. E546 P784 1917 Fisher Rare Book Library.
     S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
     Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
     Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.
2When the evening is spread out against the sky
4Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
5The muttering retreats
6Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
7And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
8Streets that follow like a tedious argument
9Of insidious intent
10To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
11Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
12Let us go and make our visit.
13In the room the women come and go
15The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
16The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
17Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
18Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
19Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
20Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
21And seeing that it was a soft October night,
22Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
23And indeed there will be time
24For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
25Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
26There will be time, there will be time
27To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
28There will be time to murder and create,
30That lift and drop a question on your plate;
31Time for you and time for me,
32And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
33And for a hundred visions and revisions,
34Before the taking of a toast and tea.
35In the room the women come and go
36Talking of Michelangelo.
37And indeed there will be time
38To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
39Time to turn back and descend the stair,
40With a bald spot in the middle of my hair --
41(They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!")
43My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin --
44(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
45Do I dare
46Disturb the universe?
47In a minute there is time
48For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
49For I have known them all already, known them all:
50Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
51I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
53Beneath the music from a farther room.
54     So how should I presume?
55And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
56The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
57And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
58When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
59Then how should I begin
61     And how should I presume?
62And I have known the arms already, known them all--
63Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
64(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
65Is it perfume from a dress
66That makes me so digress?
67Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
68     And should I then presume?
69     And how should I begin?
70Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
71And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
72Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...
73I should have been a pair of ragged claws
74Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
     * * * *
75And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
76Smoothed by long fingers,
77Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
78Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
79Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
80Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
81But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
84I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
85And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
86And in short, I was afraid.
87And would it have been worth it, after all,
88After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
89Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
90Would it have been worth while,
91To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
93To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
95Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" --
96If one, settling a pillow by her head
97     Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;
98     That is not it, at all."
99And would it have been worth it, after all,
100Would it have been worth while,
102After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor --
103And this, and so much more?--
104It is impossible to say just what I mean!
106Would it have been worth while
107If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
108And turning toward the window, should say:
109     "That is not it at all,
110     That is not what I meant, at all."
112Am an attendant lord, one that will do
114Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
115Deferential, glad to be of use,
116Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
118At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
120I grow old ... I grow old ...
123I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
125I do not think that they will sing to me.
126I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
127Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
128When the wind blows the water white and black.
129We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
130By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
131Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


1] The epigraph comes from the Inferno of Dante's Divine Comedy (XXVII, 61-66). Count Guido da Montefeltro, embodied in a flame, replies to Dante's question about his identity as one condemned for giving lying advice: "If I believed that my answer would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would move no more, but because no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can reply with no fear of infamy." Back to Line
3] etherized: anesthetized. Back to Line
14] Michaelangelo: Italian painter, poet, and sculptor (1475-1564). Back to Line
29] works and days: Hesiod's Works and Days, an 8th-century (B.C.) description of rural life. Back to Line
42] morning coat: a formal coat with tail. Back to Line
52] dying fall: love-sick Duke Orsino's opening line in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, "That strain again! It had a dying fall" (I.i.1), referring to a piece of music. Cf. "Portrait of a Lady," line 122. Back to Line
60] butt-ends: the discarded, unsmoked ends of cigarettes or cigars. Back to Line
82] Herod gave John the Baptist's decapitated head to the dancer Salome as a reward (Mark 6.17-29; Matthew 14.3-11). Back to Line
83] I am no prophet: Amos said, "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit" (Amos 7.14), when commanded by King Amaziah of Bethel not to prophesy. Back to Line
92] Cf. Andrew Marvell's "Let us roll all our strength, and all / Our sweetness, up into one ball" ("To his Coy Mistress"). Back to Line
94] Lazarus: Jesus brought Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, back from the dead by literally entering his tomb and bringing out the recently buried man alive (John 11.1-44). Jesus also tells a parable of how the poor man Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man Dives to hell, and how Dives begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his five brothers about damnation and was rebuked "if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16.19-31). Back to Line
101] sprinkled streets: necessary to keep the dust down. Back to Line
105] a magic lantern: device that throws a magnified image of a picture on glass onto a white screen in a dark room. Back to Line
111] Prince Hamlet: not Shakespeare's noble prince, who resisted the temptation to commit suicide in his "To be or not to be" speech (alluded to at line's end), but instead characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (cf. 112-16), Polonius (cf. 117), and Osric (cf. 118). Ezra Pound wrote Harriet Monroe on Jan. 31, 1915:
I dislike the paragraph about Hamlet, but it is an early and cherished bit and T.E. won't give it up, and as it is the only portion of the poem that most readers will like at first reading, I don't see that it will do much harm" (Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, ed. D. D. Paige [London: Faber and Faber, 1951]: 92-93).
Back to Line
113] progress: the travelling of a royal prince through the English countryside, from stop to stop, together with wagons loaded with possessions, and with servants and courtiers. Back to Line
117] high sentence: a phrase from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, meaning "elevated, serious and moral thoughts expressed formally." Back to Line
119] the Fool: Shakespeare's plays have several characters called "the Fool," including the king's loyal servant and critic in King Lear. Back to Line
121] the bottoms of my trousers rolled: that is, with cuffs, a novelty in fashion. Back to Line
122] Shall I part my hair behind?: an avant-garde, potentially shocking hair-style. Back to Line
124] Cf. John Donne's "Song," with its "Teach me to hear mermaids singing." Arhtur Symons' The Symbolist Movement in Literature (London: Heinemann, 1899) quotes "El Desdichado" (`The Disinherited') by Gérard de Nerval(1808-55): "J'ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la sirène" (`I have dreamed in the cave where the siren swims'; p. 37). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
First printed in Poetry 6.3 (Chicago, June 1915): 130-35. Donald Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (London: Faber and Faber, 1969): A1, C18
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Special Copyright: 

© T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber Ltd 1974