Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thinking about J. Alfred Prufrock

When I first read the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, I thought about it a lot. I was 19 and had just learned how to analyze a poem. I felt like I was the first person to ever read the poem and that T.S. Eliot and I would have been good friends. Maybe it has stuck with me because it's the first poem I ever really read. Or maybe it was because I liked J. Alfred Prufrock. Regardless, the poem and the character have remained with me in a way that no other poem I've ever read or taught does. There are three sections of this poem that always come to me at random times, whether the times are positive or negative. Here they are.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

        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?

        I grow old … I grow old ...

        I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

        Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
        I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
        I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

        I do not think that they will sing to me.

Today I was helping a friend pack up her apartment when the coffee spoons line came to me. As I wrapped up her fragile items in yesterday's paper, I thought to myself, "Man, what am I going to do about my job?"

I am at a strange crossroads in my life in that I don't know what to do with my career. I've been teaching high school since I was 22 and fresh out of school. Is this what I want to keep doing with my life? Teaching high school to mini versions of grown-ups who think they are full versions of grown-ups? In some ways, my students are so beautiful and funny. I will never be able to build relationships in this way in any other job. In other ways the frustration I experience when I see them figuratively (and sometimes literally) ramming their head into the wall (usually said wall is figurative) is almost more than I can handle. Prufrock have been popping into my head more than usual lately. What would he do if given these five choices?
A. Leave teaching and pursue a PhD
B. Apply to teach in a different district
C. Leave teaching and do something else
D. Stay where I am
E. Other
and what's "Other?"

For your reading pleasure...
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

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