Daily Archives: May 2, 2009

I have heard the mermaids singing

My daughter has discovered The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I knew she would at some time or another — I’d assumed they still taught it in schools, then I saw it in a poetry packet that she brought home from school and felt a long forgotten excitement in my chest. When I initially asked her what she thought about it, she said they had not gotten to it yet in a bored teenage voice.

Just before spring break she said, “Mom! I LOVED Prufrock!” in a not-so-bored teenage voice. She was animated and excited and quoted lines from the poem to me. We discussed the meaning of stanzas and wondered who the women were who were discussing Michelangelo.

I vividly remember reading Prufrock for the first time. I was a Freshman in college. I remember loving the rhythm of the syllables in the poem. I remember loving the pictures the words and lines painted. I remember wondering how coffee spoons could measure time or how eating a peach could be something daring to do. I was young with my whole life ahead of me. I was not going to be like this middle-aged man. Ever. I’d never be afraid like he seemed to be. I’d never regret missing out on things, because I knew I’d do it all. I had plans. Our professor was a middle-aged man. He tried to explain the poem to us from his perspective.

Reading the poem again, now in middle-age, is much more painful than it was when I was 19. At 19 I thought the man a fool for his regrets. I felt no pity for J. Alfred Prufrock. But now, I see where he is coming from. There are days that I have similar feelings to this man. Days when I regret things I’ve not done, and some that I have done. I’ve been shy all of my life and sometimes dealing with strangers has been frightening to me.

Mostly I think I’ve lived a good life so far — I’ve taken some risks — as a young adult and again as an older adult. I’ve faced a few fears and conqured them. My mom and aunt seem to think I can do it all, while my daughter seems to think I should have done more.

Some days I feel like giving in to my fears — staying home when I don’t want to face strangers. Having someone else make phone calls for me. Driving far out of my way to avoid having to drive in a city (yes, NYC, I’m talking about you). Other days, I take a deep breath and just DO. I go to meetings I’d rather not attend. I make those phone calls I was avoiding. I take the shorter route to Sarah Lawrence which goes through Manhattan (so say the signs).

What’s next? Eating alone in a fancy restaurant? Applying for a new job? Going birding with a bird group?

“And how should I begin?
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?”
–From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Elliot