Monday, September 29, 2008

Prufrock

One great pleasure that has come my way recently has been to help a young friend of Maddie study poetry.

As a college freshman, she is taking a basic literature class, Intro to American Literature Since 1865. This includes the poetry of Whitman, Frost, Stevens, Eliot and Cummings. I took the same class in 1976, read the same poems and, just like Tenisha, didn't understand them at all. It was as if they were writing in a foreign language. Dr. Pelen, my professor, got it, but I did not.

But somehow those poems stuck with me. Reading Stevens' Sunday Morning made me choke up as I discovered that it was about me, 30 years later. And, at this point in my life, I even have some sympathy for Prufrock, whom I never thought I'd resemble. Yet now, the metaphors Eliot called upon appear to be not mere empty warnings to a facile youth, but serve as markers for what turns out to be a questionable life.

It is comforting, I suppose, to know that I have been a part of a long tradition, but because it is a history of failed ambitions and empty promises, it's a bittersweet flavor that lingers. I remind myself that it's just another poem and I am just another man.

Of course, at this bit of humility too, I fail, for I am still convinced that I am a poet, and that these great works that I ignored in my youth are but signs to guide me; passions on the path to inspiration.

I am not absent self-doubt, but I will press on as if I had no choice, which is, of course, the way it is.

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