On Prufrock Reading His Love Song: A Palinode

Image from “Dante’s Inferno,” a video game

Grace at dVerse asks us to meet the bar by writing a palinode or palinody, “an ode or song that retracts or recants a view or sentiment to what the poet wrote in a previous poem.” She has various examples of this and I’ve chosen to follow Monica Youn’s model. Modernists like the young T.S. Eliot have always intrigued me, their loss of faith, their perceived dissolution of any moral center so that it could not “hold” (Yeats) leading to a hellish fragmentation of their psyche, the untethered remnants of a “lost generation.” Their poems nevertheless are replete with the religious symbolism of earlier ages. I thought I’d pluck a character from one of Eliot’s most famous poems (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”) and see how he would do in a palinode.As a palate cleanser, which you may be in great need of after my clumsy fan fiction, listen to the Jeremy Irons reading of Eliot’s poem below. Click on Mr. Linky to read more dVerse palinodes and join in.

1.
I heard you reading it
in a quasi-New-England bar
standing on a leopard-skin rug
by lamplight and a Manhattan mermaid
with a Starbuck’s cup, heard you
rustling it out on a dry martini
the Brooklyn sky breaking in
through prison bars of light
as someone walked in
forgetting to close the door
letting the street in –
More billable hours, Billy-o!
What office is he in? I’ll talk to him
Later, darling, my place, Park Place –
and the stench of humanity and exhaust
stinging our eyes clean, scoured
of the leopard and the woman
and your contrived slapdashery
drained of all poetic concupiscence
landing with a thud
on the sawdust floor
of our imagination.

2.
I heard you reading it
softly to yourself, liltingly,
when I walked into the Brooklyn precinct
to question you. Your fingerprints
were on the knife, the knife plunged
into a woman whose arm was thrown
out and over the leopard throw
you tried to wrap her in, rolling her down,
down the stairs into the basement
towards an overwhelming question, WHY?
Your linen pants are cuffed, peach juice stains
on your crisp white shirt, your voice measures
out lines with a stammer into an empty cup
a Starbucks cup she’d been carrying
and as you raise your eyes to me
you say, “I don’t think she will sing,
I don’t think she will sing to me.”


43 thoughts on “On Prufrock Reading His Love Song: A Palinode

  1. Masa

    I thoroughly enjoyed the mirrored image that the poem creates. There’s an excellent bit of story-telling at work here, with powerful expression and scene-painting as it goes. Lovely in all, splendid, splendid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Mr P’s love song has ALWAYS been one of my most favored favorites, and now your palinode will always be right up there with it. Thank you very much for this outstanding piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ron,
      Eliot’s poem came as a grand awakening to the world of poetry when I was a teenager! Hard not to have his images spinning around in my mind. Thank you so much for your kind comments!
      ~🕊Dora

      Like

  3. How interesting this was to read and listen to two poems, reflecting similar scenes but with a slight slant. A backstory seems in order but I do admire how you worded the conversation with deathly intent:

    you say, “I don’t think she will sing,
    I don’t think she will sing to me.”

    That Love Song reading is just marvelous read. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Grace,
      Thank you for those kind comments! I stumbled onto that reading several days ago and have felt Prufrock haunting my thoughts ever since. 🙂
      ~🕊Dora

      Like

  4. Thank you for choosing an old favourite of mind, Dora, from which to springboard into in your vividly cinematographic palinode, like an old black and white movie but updated with Starbucks – I imagined Robert Mitchum in the starring role. I especially love:
    ‘…heard you
    rustling it out on a dry martini
    the Brooklyn sky breaking in
    through prison bars of light’,
    the detail of the ‘peach juice stains on your crisp white shirt’ and the voice measuring out ‘lines with a stammer into an empty cup’.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kim,
      I like that! Robert Mitchum would be perfect as both the first poem’s ineffective Prufrock (modeled after the original) and the anti-Prufrock, with the latter achieving a passion that destroys what he loves.
      ~🕊Dora

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As one of modernity greatest critics (singing, at the same time, in its quintessential register), Eliot was like (oddly) Marshall McLuhan, a medievalist yearning for catholic redress to the wasteland. My take, anyway. This palindrome fulcrums the outrageousness of expression (that modernist and now post-modernist folly) with its consequent fall, as no human is God no matter how high or well they climb. You’re a brilliant writer and know your primary texts well. Fan fiction, hardly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brendan,
      As you know, the later Eliot found his way through the modernist wasteland to faith. His “Four Quartets” testify to his sublime awareness of a truth that perhaps his love of Dante and other medieval writers led him to. But there’s no doubt that the early and late Eliot’s poetic powers and sensibility were heightened by his awareness of those Christian tropes, indeed full-throated longings after God. Thank you so much for your very generous and thoughtful comments!
      ~🕊Dora

      Like

      1. I love “Four Quartets.” It was the culmination of his journey. I think his wasteland wound was the thirst he had for those deeper well-waters.

        Like

      2. Eliot was the ideal platonic poet, wasn’t he, his search for truth sincere and in conversation with God before he even knew Him. As for all other endeavors, this is the summit bonum of poetry.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. sanaarizvi

    I am literally swooning right now 😀 this is exquisitely woven! I especially love; “Your linen pants are cuffed, peach juice stains on your crisp white shirt, your voice measures out lines with a stammer into an empty cup a Starbucks cup she’d been carrying.” 💝💝

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bjorn,
      You’re right of course in discerning the second to be the palinode playing off the earlier version, both replete with allusions to Eliot’s work. I’m so glad you liked them.
      ~🕊Dora

      Like

      1. There was a time when his Collected Works (translated by K. Kavanaugh) was never far from my side. What a spiritual counselor he was to me! And still is in deep and profound ways. Are you a Carmelite monk? How wonderful!

        Liked by 1 person

Please share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s