Thursday, June 21, 2012

The First Date of J. Alfred Prufrock

I'm writing again in response to a prompt from (details are at the end of the story). My challenge was to write a piece around a favorite line of poetry. I'm a little late in writing it only because there are so many great lines of poetry that I love that it was hard to narrow down the selection enough so that I could see a story clearly. In the end, I settled for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, penned by T. S. Eliot. However, I still couldn't settle on just one line, so I used several. Poetic license, right? Riiight. As a result of this exercise, I've found myself falling in love with the poem all over again. It's been years since I read through the entire thing, and it was a pleasure to be reacquainted with ol' Pruf.




The voice came from behind her and she spun around. All Carrie had told her was that Charlie was “not bad looking.” What Carrie had failed to mention was that Charlie was, in fact, ruggedly handsome. He had the leonine good looks of Liam Neeson. If he could carry a sentence without dangling a participle, she would marry him on the spot.

“Yes, you must be Charlie. It’s so nice to meet you!”

“Likewise. Are you hungry? Or do you want to stroll around first?” Carrie had told him that Susan had “girl next door good looks.” That might be true if the girl next door was Anne Archer.

“I know I’m supposed to be ladylike and say that I’m not all that hungry, but the truth is, I’m famished! It’s been one of those non-stop days. I have a vague recollection of a granola bar early this morning, but nothing since.”

“Sounds good to me.” Charlie gestured toward the restaurant behind them, “Let us go then, you and I…”

Susan smiled, “…when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…”

Charlie stopped in his tracks and squinted at her. “You know ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’? I’m impressed already.”

“And I’m equally impressed that you’re familiar with T. S. Eliot.”

They walked into the trattoria and Susan’s stomach immediately growled at the scent of the food - the air was redolent with it. They were quickly seated and, by mutual agreement, started on a carafe of  a lovely Sangiovese. Susan inhaled the heady cherry and oak aroma of the wine. She looked up at Charlie.

“If I decide to drown myself in a vat of Sangiovese, please don’t try to rescue me. It would be a worthy death.”

“Oh, no. I quite understand. In fact, I may join you.” Charlie took another sip and closed his eyes for a minute, surprising himself by thinking, “One day, we’ll go to Italy together.”

“Suicide pact drowning by fine Tuscan wine. You don’t hear of that often.” Susan liked how easy it was to say such a thing. Her sense of humor could be a little tricky for some people to understand. But Charlie grinned at her and let out a slow chuckle.

“It does have a ring of originality, doesn’t it? Hmm. Back to our friend J. Alfred Prufrock. You picked up on that so fast. Do you know more of the poem?”

“I do! I majored in Lit and did my masters thesis on the poem by way of… are you ready for this? I compared it to a blind date.”


“I swear, I did. You can ask Carrie. I certainly forced her to proof it for me enough.”

“Is it still considered an irony if the hair on the back of your neck stands straight up? Or is it then considered fate?”

“Hmmm. Both, I think. Yes, maybe both.” She answered.

“Do you recall more of the poem? I’d love to hear it if you do.”

“Very well. It’ll be a good way to keep me from grabbing food from the wait staff as they go by.”
Susan took a sip of wine and cleared her throat.
“Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats      
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….      
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.”

Charlie raised his hands and gave her a mock golf clap. “I remember getting completely lost in that poem when I was in school. It made me feel like I was lost in a Van Gogh painting. Does that make sense?”

Susan nodded. “It makes a lot of sense. I know that feeling. Maybe T. S. Eliot got the name wrong. It should have been, ‘In the room the women come and go talking of  Vincent Van Gogh.’”

“Poor guy always got Michelangelo’s shabby seconds. How did you work the poem into a study on blind dating?”

Their server brought their food to the table. Here the conversation paused long enough for them to take a few bites, roll their eyes with pleasure, murmur about how delicious it was. Charlie looked up at Susan just in time to catch her looking at him. He smiled. “Right then, Miss. ‘Fess up or there’ll be no dessert for you!”

Susan swallowed a forkful of mushroom risotto. “First, I’ve changed my mind. No death via vat of Sangiovese for me after all. I think I prefer smothering in risotto. This is wonderful! To answer your question, the idea came from a line in the poem. ‘There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…’ it goes on and then, ‘And indeed there will be time to wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair.’  Then further along, ‘Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.’ Still later there’s a bit about ‘eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase.’ I knew I wanted to use the poem for my thesis, and those lines sort of spoke to me of the feeling of getting ready for a first date. That unknown, that feeling of who will they see? Where will we go? What will we do? And the ultimate, where will it lead?”

Charlie pointed at her with a piece of garlic bread. “I like the way you look at things. I really do. I’d love to read your thesis some time. If you wouldn’t mind, that is.”

“I don’t mind a bit, but it is a thesis. It’ll render you napping, I promise.”

Charlie winked, “I’m all for a good nap!”

The dinner went on easily, as if they’d been friends for years and had just reunited after a couple of decades had passed. They decided to split a piece of cheesecake and each had a dupio espresso. As Susan stirred the bit of lemon rind in hers, she recited, “For I have known them all already, known them all:  have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume?”

Charlie nodded, lost in thought for a moment, and then, “We are kind of living out Prufrock’s rumination here, aren’t we?”

“You get it!” Susan beamed at him.

Still later - after they had strolled around an art gallery, giggling and whispering in chorus together, “Women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.” - later he walked her to her door. Susan hesitated, fiddling with her keys. Charlie shuffled his feet and then chuckled. It was the classic first date awkward moment. He wasn’t about to let it end that way though. He placed his hand on the small of her back, and she turned to him, landing neatly in an embrace.

He said, “Because I believe all true gentlemen should, I’d like to ask if I may kiss you.”

She smiled into his shoulder and then raised her face to his, “As the good poet wrote (if you’ll indulge me just once more), ‘And I have known the arms already, known them all… And should I then presume? And how should I begin?’ I think Prufrock is saying, ‘Kiss her already, you fool!’”

And who was Charlie to argue with T. S. Eliot, J. Alfred Prufrock, and this beautiful woman who’d spent months writing a thesis about them? He kissed her.


For the Scriptic prompt xchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: Take one line of poetry and build a story around it.. I gave Michael this prompt: Write something based on The Killers' song "Human" -


  1. Sublime... I love the ways your "voice" is unfolding :-)

  2. Memories of studying T S Elliot in english lit have suddenly resurfaced... loved the romance


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