Monday, January 27, 2014

Solomon's Literary Personal Essay: "Eliot"

[Please note:  this essay is completely in italics as a reminder that it is Solomon's work.  Solomon, who is eighteen years old, gave his permission for his work and picture to appear here.]

I was in my sophomore year of high school when I first read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. However, after reading it again senior year, the poem took on a new meaning to me and rose to the top of my list of thought-provoking, relevant, writings of a deeper level. The words flow beautifully together and ring true to my understanding of the world. I am not sure whether a strengthening of my convictions at such a young age might end up closing me off to new ideas and reducing my open-mindedness... But I don’t care, because this poem rings true to me in so many ways, beyond the allusions and context, into a realm of deep enlightenment. The passages that made the deepest impressions on me will be explored and heartily praised for their effectiveness at conveying truths about human nature. 

“There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces you meet.” How beautiful. How maddeningly true. In this day and age, it seems an individual is rarely accepted for who he/she truly is. Our society seems to scream, “Come you extroverted fast-talkers. Come and be successful, for you will surely thrive in this here Eden.”

The quiet and the introverted must put on a “face” if they wish to be a “success.” Indeed, even silence is unwelcomed by our society. A time spent quiet is time spent not collaborating, we are told. The prevalence of this societal dogma is astounding. I enjoy sitting alone in Starbucks for lunch, drinking a coffee and reading a book. However, this clashes with societal norms, and my “friends” flock to me like ovulating dogs, disturbing my silence with sympathetic, unnecessarily kind barks of, “Oh, you’re all alone” and “Here I’ll sit with you,” as if I couldn’t possibly be enjoying my time away from Them. That bothers me. Sometimes, I believe that I must be feeling incorrectly! Yet these lines of poetry remind me that I am not the one acting. It is those who greet me in order to rescue me from from the loneliness I must be experiencing who are truly putting on a face.” And to meet me! In a way, conformity is a sad habit, yet, if there was no conformity, then would not we all be conforming? And so I wonder: “Do I dare.” Do I dare to be myself in a society that values a behavior few possess, yet many strive to attain? It has been said that Henry David Thoreau sent his clothing home on the weekends to be washed by his mother. Perhaps I could live two lives, as he and Prufrock did. Perhaps I myself can “prepare a face to meet the faces that [I] meet” at times, but also be my true self at others, reflecting, much as I am now—as Thoreau did in those famous Concord woods when he wasn’t picking up Tide cleaner for his mother—when I am not among those who value the sort of outgoing, expressive, achiever that I am surely not. 

*Eliot captures my fear. He captures my dissatisfaction. He captures my acceptance. My unhappy, defeated acceptance. “Would it have been worth it,” he asks. And so I ask the world: “WOULD IT BE WORTH IT? To be different? To be myself?” I am “not Prince Hamlet” either, “nor was I meant to be.” Indeed, I am even driven to question whether or not greatness itself is simply a creation of society, propagated by those women who “come and go,” speaking of the “great” Michelangelo. No. It cannot be. Greatness surely transcends the banal culture that they reside in. Prufrock seems to mock their pitiful attempt at understanding the great artist. He recognizes Michelangelo’s greatness. Perhaps it is Prufrock’s true observation of greatness in the artist that drives him mad as he watches the old women nip and yip at the other while they ponder this “greatness” over a pleasant afternoon tea and scone. Perhaps the “human voices that wake us” are actually the voices of the conformers, and they cause us to “drown” because they detract from the truth and wisdom innate in all of us, that we ignore in order to be accepted. 

As Prufrock was, so am I also stuck between a rock and a hard place. Conform, and I am lying to myself. “Demur,” as Dickinson proclaims, “and [I] am “straightaway dangerous.” And I am different. Fear not reader,  for I am no tortured soul. The inner faces of others do emerge to greet my inner face. Perhaps Forster’s “Only Connect” was in reference to that which resides deep within us all: a wisdom and beauty, easily deemed “useless” for many activities and professions, that forms a relationship, like a butterfly to a flower, with the innermost truths of others. 

In misery or bliss, Prufrock utters, “I grow old… I grow old…” I have many interpretations of this passage. And what is so wonderful is that they absolutely oppose each other. He is blissfully liberated from his youthful fears of being an outcast, or he is utterly resigned and defeated that, even in his advanced age, he is unable to escape his insecurities. Perhaps a combination of the two, or perhaps neither, were intended. 

The most beautiful part of this poem resides in its potential to be interpreted in extremely different ways. Another individual could read this poem and understand it to mean something so remarkably different that one would believe we had read different poems. That is the power of this poem. It is personal, yet it is applicable and understandable by all who choose to examine it. And so it goes—life, that is.

* As an initial exercise in developing our understanding of the poem, each student creates a visual representation of a line, image, or stanza from the poem that makes a strong impression on him/her.  Our class hangs these images on the wall in the order in which they occur in the poem and listens to the poem being read aloud while looking at them.

1 comment:

  1. Solomon, old buddy,

    I recommend that you get a part-time job. Something with a little pressure and a lot of unrelenting tedium.

    Not something cosmic tedious, just boring. Plus, you know, people unfairly yelling at you.

    McDonald's might be good.

    Factory jobs used to good for this kind of thing, but I don't even know if there are any around anymore.

    Think of it as fire to temper the steel.

    And find out that it is, well, just boring and annoying and real. But something to pay the Barnes and Noble bills.