Till Human Voices Wake Us

I was bitter about this for years. No other poem had more of an impact upon my young, and romantic mind that The Wasteland, which is actually a collection of poems, and has nothing to do with those horrible Cats. The yearning of a budding intellect, broken before its time, questioning everything and speaking with an omniscience that only a weak eyed young man who’s done a great deal of reading can muster. Embarrassing as it is, I am heavily influenced by the moderns. Papa, the Crackpot, Ezra and T.S. have had the deepest impact upon me. I feel that in some ways my soul was born, or thrived, in that time. It buttoned its hand made collars to freshly starched linen shirts, and whistled a little jazz as it strolled in the sun to the barber shop for a shave every morning. I know that doesn’t sound like me at all, but the protagonists and casually glib tone of the modern’s themes have always been so natural to me that I felt right at home.

As a young man, and even now, I stared in wonder at this poem. But it soon became meaningless, that vortex of awe which held me hovering at the precipice of life. Because I grabbed the peach and took a juicy bite. Yesterday, in conversation with a friend of mine who was feeling that perhaps they hadn’t quite lived yet, I admitted that I feel so grateful for the lives I’ve lived that if I dropped dead in a minute I would be satisfied, and full. So the hollow feeling of life’s height is lost on me now. Nothing but a memory of my early days of seeking, and hoping, longing for a good name on my dance card.

And the women, the women whom I have hung upon every word, and movement, every spell and incantation, every blurry combination of foul perfume, have changed as well. My ideals of each person’s potential for flaming hearts, and endless passion has faded like the clacking of cheap flats in a long hallway. After hours of making out, spreading the lipstick so thin across our faces that it hardly seems like we’ve painted ourselves red, to gaze into the eyes of a woman who says simply “I don’t like music” was all it took to crack the glass on this case. The rest was just time, wear and tear, endurance. And yet, the Crackpot was right, though dead at forty in horrible Los Angeles, and clearly never mastered the question, or ever really asked it, there is a light across the bay. I stand at the beach every night until the sun rises, and watch for it. It blinks, calmly in the mists of morning, saying nothing. The light means everything to me.

It’s ghastly, I know. I am assuming that you already forgive me for outing myself as a romantic. I’ve kept up such a bold and dusty facade that this comes as no more of a surprise than the stunning information that ice, left out on the counter, may melt. and we all recoil in horror at the news.

These words are meant to be encouragement. While my heros of the early 20th century mostly turned tail and ran into the arms of money, family, the church, and wound up dead and in sanitariums, there is still hope for you and I. We live in a time where coming out is an awakening, not a death sentence. We are free, you and I, to be whomever we choose. I say, as I have always said, that there is no other time than now, no other moment. Take your raver’s profile, those idiotic looking dreadlocks, your Adidas track suit, and cast them into the fire. Button up your spats, adjust your corset, and step out onto the promenade of life. Smell the smack of lilacs in the air and set out upon the boulevard.

I know it’s scary. But that’s only your mind trying to kill you.

I hope you find comfort in these words. I hope you laugh, and nod your head, and feel a kinship with old T. S. (the dirty fucker) and can take hold of my hand.


S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
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.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair–
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin–
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
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?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all–
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all–
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet–and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus come from the dead
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”–
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the
And this, and so much more?–
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

. . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous–
Almost, at times, the Fool.

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.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T. S. Eliot

One Comment

  1. Definitely nodding my head- almost laughing. Feeling a familiar feeling through the story of another- not one I’ve lived, but I feel as though I have lived it.

    “We are free to be whomever we choose.” Yes.

    Thank you for this, sunshine. Beautiful