I chose “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot to memorize because it takes me back to my first year of teaching.
A room of sweaty teenagers in dress shirts and ties, blouses and skirts, waited, pens poised, for me to write down what the poem meant on the blackboard so they could copy it neatly into their college-ruled notebooks. Not only did I not know what it meant, but what would be the point of telling them? It was their job to figure it out.
They became begrudgingly intrigued; during their years of education among nuns in a strict Catholic school they had been trained not to speculate, not to come up with their own answers or even their own questions.
Back then, we had no Google ready to solve any mystery in 0.24 seconds; we were on our own. Their teenage minds could identify with being a specimen on a pin, with a “tedious argument of insidious intent,” with mermaids who didn’t sing to them.
Even if they didn’t understand it, they got it.
“Do I dare disturb the universe?”
I also chose it since I have plenty of Prufrock in me, what with the whole “too timid” thing:
“And indeed there will be time to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?’” … “Do I dare to eat a peach?”
So, I forgive you in advance for not watching this seven-minute video of my recitation, but here’s my proof that I memorized the 131-line poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Messing Up Prufrock
The day before, I failed at my first attempt to recite the poem on camera. Overly ambitious and under prepared, I had my husband walking backward through the yard while I followed, speaking into the camera. As if I wasn’t struggling enough with all those pesky prepositions, I had to keep reacting to my husband’s frantic gestures that I slow down as I strode toward him. It made me feel nervous and silly, and once I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. After making it through most of the poem, I had just a few short stanzas left, and I felt the pressure mounting.
What’s your favorite poem?
- Read the poem: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot
- #27. 101 Things in 101 Days: Memorize a favorite poem.