So, we are reading the T.S. Eliot poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, which is another poem in a succession of readings dealing with time, aging, thoughts, etc. Eliot is reckoned by many to be the most difficult, dense poet to read, given his tendency to use vague historical references while using words and phrases that can convey more than one meaning. On the other hand, one’s interpretation of the work can generally find acceptance with the professor since multiple meanings can apply. Yet, the over-arching theme is the indecisive nature of Prufrock, his low self-esteem, and his tendency to procrastinate.
All art finds meaning in the present. While this wonderful work was published in 1917, I have no trouble understanding Prufrock; I know him. He lives today, apparently reincarnated as a friend of mine, known to his friends as The Sad Man (TSM).
TSM is a well educated, attractive professional who lives in a city 100 miles from my hometown. Never married, he has lived life on a slippery downhill slope ever since earning his post-graduate degree. The apogee of his life occurred in the 25th year of his existence. Some 28 years later, he has walked away from at least two serious long-term serious relationships, held, until he was forced out, a low-level job in his profession because he could not make the decision to strike out on his own, and has long tormented his friends with his indecision and last-minute cancellations of social commitments. As well, his closeness with a dollar goes beyond meanness to ridiculous frugality. Perhaps you, too, have a friend like this.
There is a story that captures the essence of Prufrockian behavior as practiced by TSM. It happened many years ago:
A close college friend of TSM was to be married on a posh island off the Northeastern Atlantic coast. Another friend, rapidly climbing the corporate ladder of his family owned business, had access to a corporate jet that could transport the group of college friends to the wedding quickly and efficiently. TSM was invited to join but deferred, claiming that he could not afford his share. The friends agreed to absorb TSM’s share, not wanting his cheapness to deprive him of the fellowship of friends.
The plan was set to rendezvous in a common city, where the corporate jet would land and board the party. TSM arrived, met the group, loaded his luggage, and boarded the jet. There was a slight delay while the co-pilot was sent to purchase adult beverages for the two hour flight. TSM sat in the plane, surrounded by his friends, and silently dithered, concerned about spending money, having a fun weekend, and seeing old friends. Before the co-pilot could return, TSM made the decision to deplane.
His friends were aghast. They did not understand his thought process and could not believe that he would actually get off the aircraft. How could he change his mind after making such an effort to commit to the trip? But deplane he did. A minute later, the co-pilot returned with an ice-filled cooler of imported beer, and the crew prepared for takeoff. TSM walked away from the jet, unable to get his luggage removed. The door was closed, the engines spooled up, and the jet, with his friends looking out of the windows and hoping for TSM’s change of heart, taxied to the runway and took off. Alone at the airport, TSM could only weep with frustration and sadness, knowing that he had, once again, lived the life of J. Alfred Prufrock.