Emotionally exhausted and viscerally spent, I have just completed my readings of those I have affectionately nicknamed the “Suicide Sisters” – Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath.
I had hoped to glean some understanding of how incredible writing is influenced by depression, personal anguish and mental illness. Had I known how jagged this footpath was, I might have thought twice before beginning such a journey.
I literally fell in love with all three of these Spirits. I cried without shame. I physically felt pain at times. At times, especially with Virgina Woolf, I would swear I heard their whispers in my inner ear.
This has been the most difficult, hopeless literary undertaking of my life. Hope had a way of getting misplaced, if not lost outright, when reading these women.
At times, I had to remind myself to breath. In truth, at times I didn’t want to.
Would that I could deeply reach
beneath the dark-moist earth
pulling upward closely to my breast
fistfuls of your white-bleached bones –
to feel the jagged edges pressed
against my selfish living flesh;
to smell the late hours of your suffering,
to taste your tortured final verse
upon my dusty tongue.
Oh, my Suicide Sisters!
You each found in Death’s cold embrace
the peace and warmth Life long denied.
Virginia…did you pack stones enough
to carry you as wetly deep as needed
to sleep through the ages?
Have the midnight screams,
the anguished dreams
settled softly with you on the murky riverbed?
Sylvia…your babies lay warmly sleeping
drawing their first breaths where you surrendered your last..as then you entered eternal night –
did you fight against the dying light,
or was your savagely betrayed soul
carried softly heavenward
upon the rising cloud of your final breath.
Anne, surrendered child of the asylum
dancing in sync to the symphony of the insane, voiceless visionary virgin,
revving the engine, inhaling “no more!”
The world kissed your haunting cheek,
chewing your words with callous spit
Dear Anne, whose words burn brightly still
have you fled this mortal coil and all its ills?
My sweet, courageous Suicide Sisters!
Did the screaming stop, the incessant hum,
as your mortal clocks
struck the hour of “none”?
I did not need your fevered poems
to navigate my way back home…
for here upon your graves I rest
hearing your echoes within my chest!
Where then is my courage?
Are you not even now pulling me to you?
Have I no further verse to write
to guide me over into the comforting silence of our shared eternal night?
The bitter truth that is mine to drink
is not that I write, but that I think!
Your tortured lives are my dying treasure
For what is death but absent pleasure?
Happy Birthday to one of my greatest inspirations: T.S. Eliot (he is the reason I write as D.L. McHale)
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is perhaps one of the most introspective and transforming pieces of modern poetry ever written. It resonates, for me, on a substratum of my inner being, to which I rarely penetrate; for my life has been mostly a constant evasion of myself. My losses stack up accordingly.
In honor of his birthday, and his priceless contributions to both modern literature and to my own creative metal, “let us go then, you and I” to:
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse A persona che mai tornasse al monda, 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 windowpanes; 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 know 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 pipesof 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 afternoons, 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 towards 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, setting 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 sprinkled streets, After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor–
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, setting 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.
MY HUMBLE ANALYSIS:
Meet Prufrock. (Hi, Prufrock!). He wants you to come take a walk with him through the winding, dirty streets of a big, foggy city that looks a lot like London. He’s going to show you all the best sights, including the “one-night cheap hotels” and “sawdust restaurants.” What a gentleman, he is! Also, he has a huge, life-altering question to ask you. He’ll get to that later, though.
Cut to a bunch of women entering and leaving a room. The women are talking about the famous Renaissance painter Michelangelo. I don’t know why they’re talking about Michelangelo, and I never learn. Welcome to Prufrock’s world, where no one does anything interesting.
Did we mention that it’s foggy. Like really, really foggy. The fog has a delightful yellow color, and it acts a lot like a cat.
Yawn. What a day. i’ve accomplished so much already with Prufrock. There’s still a lot of stuff he still wants to get done before “toast and tea.” People to see, decisions to make, life-altering questions to ask. But not yet…There’s still plenty of time for all that later.
Where did the women go? Oh, yes, they’re still talking about Michelangelo.
Yup. Pleeeen-ty of time for Prufrock to do all that really important stuff. Except that he doesn’t know if he should. He’s kind of nervous. You see, he was about to tell someone something really important, but then he didn’t. Too nervous. Oops! At least he’s a sharp-looking guy. Well, his clothes are sharp-looking. The rest of him is kind of not-so-sharp-looking. People say he’s bald and has thin arms.
But he still has pleeen-ty of time. And he’s accomplished so much already! For example, he has drank a lot of coffee, and he’s lived through a lot of mornings and afternoons. Those are pretty big accomplishments, right? Plus, he’s known a lot of women. Or at least he’s looked at their hairy arms, and that’s almost as good.
Prufrock says something about how he wishes he were a crab. Oh, Prufrock! Always the joker. Wait, you were serious? That’s kind of sad, my friend. Don’t you have important things to do?
Oops! It looks like he didn’t do that really important thing he meant to do. He was going to tell someone something life-altering, but he was afraid of being rejected. So he didn’t. Oh well.
Meanwhile, Prufrock keeps getting older. He doesn’t worry about that really important thing anymore. Instead, he worries about other important things, such as whether to roll his pant-legs or eat a peach.
Ah yes…the peach! This is no ordinary question about fruit. This is perhaps the raciest line ever written…given the time in which it was written. Again, ” Do I dare to eat the peach?” Im not going to spell this out for you. I think you now know to what the “peach” refers.
It turns out that Prufrock really likes the ocean. He says he has heard mermaids singing – but they won’t sing to him. Boy, you sure do talk a lot about yourself, Prufrock.
Finally, he brings us back into the conversation. He talks about how we lived at the bottom of the sea with him (geez, we don’t remember that one!). It turns out we were asleep in the ocean, but all of a sudden, we get woken up by “human voices.” Unfortunately, as soon as we wake up, we drown in the salty ocean. Boy, what a day. We thought we were talking a walk, and now we’re dead.
And we die…we drown. And in that moment we understand, finally, the message of his love song….
Does any of it really matter…life, love, indulgences, hope, fear? For we age, and in aging become, not someone, but something to laugh and point at. And then we die.