Thursday, May 12, 2005

Prufrock: a decompostition

you and I
spread out against the sky

What is it?
our visit.

a talking angel

yellow fog

there will be time

to prepare a face
murder and create

the women come.

I have known
the voices
the eyes

I have known
Arms braceleted
with light brown hair

lonely men in shirtsleeves

Asleep tired
stretched on the floor.

I have seen the eternal
and was afraid.

Prince, lord

I grow old

The mermaids
sing to me

in chambers
wreathed with seaweed
we drown.


Peter said...

This is an exercise I did a couple years ago, where you take a given text or poem, and remove substantial parts of it (by crossing out the words on paper, or just using "highlight and cut" on the computer)in order to reveal a "new" text or poem. I call it a "decomposition," but there is probably another more formal name for this.

Charles said...

Oh my god, I love this so much. There's just so much invention here! The shadow of "Prufrock" remains, but this poem both transcends it and comments on the original text.

I am really moved by this, Peter. Mind if I try my own?

Peter said...

Charles: please do!

Radish King said...

I've always preferred Pereira to Eliot.

Emily Lloyd said...

Peter, this is great! Like Charles, I'm moved to do one, too. What will be neat to see is how different all of ours are (assuming he & I also do Prufrock)...are you only "allowed" to remove, keeping everything in sequence, or can you rearrange as well? What different poets do with the same words is one of my favorite things to read/see.

(I once tried to do a parody of Prufrock, Prufrock at my liberal college, not successul, but for:

In the rooms the women come and go,
talking of Michel Foucault [grin])

The Sublibrarian said...

This really is fun.

And it (along w/ mention of him on POETICS-L today) reminded me of Ronald Johnson's RADI OS, composed by crossing out words and letters of Paradise Lost. Johnson keeps things in sequence and even retains the spacing of the original, underlying text. It has been out of print, though there are rumors of a reprint this month. Selections appear in To Do as Adam Did: Selected Poems from Talisman House.

Peter said...

Thanks R, E, R.
Sublibrarian: I am going to have to search out RADI OS. It sounds terrific. (I am a major Milton fan, from way back, college days; I did an essay once comparing some of the speeches of Satan (Lucifer?) in Paradise Lost and the poetry/music of Patti Smith).

Emily Lloyd said...

Ok, here's my try (I kept phrases in order but cut out quite a bit)--

Let us

Let us

meet the days
of hands that lift

and drop and mounting
firmly simple

known already
known already

so peacefully
smoothed by fingers

wept and fasted
worth it after

all the sunsets
along the nerves I

am attendant
swell prince, wake

Peter said...

Emily: Wow. Nice exercise. Love this. A completely different poem from mine. Fascinating. There's a background voice or something that is similar; otherwise it's a new thing completely. It'll be fun to see what Charles or others come up with.

the machinist said...

you, sir, are amazing

A. D. said...

The half-deserted retreats,
one-night cheap hotels,
sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells,
Streets that follow a tedious argument.

You question us,
smoke into the corners of the evening—
a soft yellow upon the window-panes,
a hundred visions before it will be morning.

I time the evenings dying with music—
narrow windows across the seas stretched eternal.
I was afraid you would have the universe to say all one should
while sunsets trail along the floor.

This lantern, the nerves, a window
all lord one swell upon the beach,
each sing to me the white hair of the wind, the water
black in the chambers wreathed with human voices.

A. D. said...

Excision and punctuation changes only, I promise.

the machinist said...

Certain half-deserted streets
that follow like a tedious argument
lead you to an overwhelming question,
talking of Michelangelo.

There will be time
talking of Michelangelo.

"But how his arms and legs are thin!"
And I have known the arms already, known them all.

Shall I say
I am no prophet
And in short I was afraid.

say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead"
(am an attendant lord)

I grow old

I heard mermaids singing

A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz said...

The Hate Song of Mrs. Prufrock
(for Emily Lloyd)

1 (internal monologue)
let go then, you

like a table muttering
arguments in women come &


2 (alfred)
fog the window
tongue the corners of the evening
about the house, asleep

3 (chorus)
indeed the yellow street
will murder
days that drop your plate

time for you & time for
come &


4 (alfred)
turn back & descend

the bald morning coat
mounting firmly to the chin

in a minute there is time
for decisions and revisions which

5 (mrs. prufrock)
the music from a farther room

I have known them all
pinned & wriggling on the wall

I have gone at dusk & watched
the lonely ragged claws

the afternoon sleeps so peacefully

6 (internal monologue)
stretched on the floor should
I have wept & wept &

in short, I was afraid.

7 (mrs. prufrock)
among the porcelain, among some talk
would it have been worth while

to have bitten off the

with a smile?

8 (chorus)
glad to be of use?
a bit obtuse?

grow old… grow old &

A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz said...

I apologize if anyone is offended by my deconstruction-poem.

Thanks for this exercise, Peter.

Peter said...

AD, AJ, Woody: What amazing fun! I love them all. I'll have to try a new one, too, though you have all set the bar pretty high.

LKD said...

What an excellent writing exercise. Decomposition. I like it. A lot. And I love how every person attempting it ends up with a completley different poem despite working from the same text. Might have to give this a shot myself. Did you create this exercise yourself, Peter? It'd be an excellent tool to use in a creative writing class.

Peter said...

Laurel: I don't know where it is from. After Ron's post on Ronald Johnson's RADI OS (a book-length poem composed in 1977 by crossing out words and letters of Paradise Lost) I researched a little. It has been variously called a "Carved Poem" and an "Erased Poem." But I have no clear idea of its origin, yet.

LKD said...

Wow. Talk about complete right-brain submersion (right is creative, left is analytical, correct?). Good, good exercise, Peter. I enjoyed it muchly. Here's my stab at it:

Yellow, Yellow

Let us go (spread out,
etherized). Let us
go (half-deserted, muttering) .Restless,
let us: (go and go,
talking) (yellow, yell-
ow) fall upon
the soot that falls (soft)
about the house rubbing
upon panes, faces, and days that lift
(and drop);
turn back (and descend) bald,
thin, morning mounting
thin; disturb evenings, mornings,
afternoons measured out,
dying, dying.
From a farther room, eyes, pinned
and wriggling spit out arms.
Arms (in lamplight downed
With hair); arms
that lie. Dusk,
narrow and watched, rises
from the pipes, lonely,
leaning out, scuttling,
silent. Evening, smoothed
by long fingers, tired,
malingers stretched out on the floor
here, (beside you and me)
(I wept and wept, afraid) a Lazarus
come from the dead (after
sunsets that trail
along the floor) settling, turning toward
the window (old, old) that will sing
till we drown.

Peter said...

OMG, Laurel: this is amazing!
I think you have shuffled the order of some of the words/phrases a little? A great variation.

LKD said...

Nope, absolutely no shuffling. I think that's why I was submerged. It took a lot of concentration to use the words in their correct order and not mess with them. I think it'd be an excellent way of studying a poem in a creative writing class because it really does demand close, close attention to the text. I've always loved Prufrock, but honestly I feel like I love the poem in a whole new way now having roamed around inside Eliot's creation. Every word felt like a relic dug up that had to be brushed off and held up to the light in order to really appreciate it.

I'm so in love with this exercise.

Anonymous said...

Standing in Front of His Looking-Glass,
J. Alfred Prufrock Imagines the Comb-Over

Curled once, now with a bald spot
in my hair (They will say, How his
hair is growing thin!
) Now, in lamp-

light, lightly downed with ragged
hair, smoothed by long fingers, I have
seen my head, grown slightly bald, have

seen my hair stretched out like a shawl...
That is not it, not what I meant
at all! Politic, cautious, and

Meticulous—at times, indeed,
almost ridiculous, almost
at times the Fool, I grow old…

I grow old...I part my hair behind,
combing the white waves back.

TwistedNoggin said...

I love this idea, but I'm behind at work. I'll have to try this later.
I love the ones here.

Robert said...

This is a great exercise, and it made me wonder about its opposite: What if we “un-Pounded” The Waste Land and imagined how it might have been if it had been written in a style more like Prufrock? In the Facsimile Edition of The Waste Land, it’s awfully interesting to see Eliot’s original version. It’s a very different poem from the final Waste Land, but it’s a good poem! Some passages almost sound like they could be from one of Robert Frost’s poems like “The Hired Man”:

I’ve kept a clean house for twenty years, she says ...;
You was well introduced, but this is the last of you.
Get me a woman, I said; you’re too drunk, she said,
But she gave me a bed, and a bath, and ham and eggs ...

That’s a far cry from the final Waste Land:

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d.

but I wouldn’t mind reading that ham-and-eggs poem too!

Peter said...

Laurel: Even more amazing, knowing you have left the words in order! Kudos.

Anonymous: Brilliant. I love it; the hair theme is hysterical; perhaps the poem was really all due to Eliot's "bad comb-over" anxiety; even up to the mermaids.

We could make an anthology of these.

C. Dale said...

Okay, I couldn't resist. I tried it too. And it was kind of fun. I had forgotten how much I love this poem.

Diane K. Martin said...


-Diane (who "did" Eliot for her master's orals...)

Emily Lloyd said...

LOL, Diane--I think that's why I cut out so very, very much. I promise never to play you my folk-rock rearrangement of the Waste Land ("Girl, Why Do You Never Speak?" [grin])

Robert: I can't hear Eliot read the twits, jugs, and "so rudely forc'd" without cracking up. His voice just--oh. Though I'm not sure whose voice would work better.

Peter: now here's a meme that even those poets that don't like memes will take to! Thanks again for starting us.

Peter said...

Fun party . . . thanks for coming. I still want to know who "anonymous" is; who wrote the fantastic one about the comb-over. Reveal yourself??

Pamela said...

I'm the "de-composer" of the comb-over. I started reading your blog about 3 months ago and have tried several of the exercises. I'm glad you liked the results of this one.

I'm a medical transcriptionist who lives and works in Kentucky.

Ginger Heatter said...

Great exercise! Here's the first section of The Waste Land, decomposed...


April is the cruelest month, breeding
out of dead desire, rain.

Winter kept us in forgetful snow.

Life surprised us the in the colonnade,
and went on in sunlight, and I was frightened.

He said, "There, you feel free."

A stony heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
and no relief, but "I will show you

something different from either your striding or rising."

I will show *you* the hyacinth girl, wisest woman in Europe—
the lady of situations, walking round in a ring.

Under the brown fog of sighs,
each man fixed his eyes before his feet,

with a dead sound on the final stroke.


This strikes me as an excellent device for examining the rhythms of free verse. One might have students read their decompositions alongside the original and listen to how the rhythm changes (or, as in the example above, falls apart completely).

Thanks, Peter!

Peter said...

Pamela, Ginger: fun stuff. I will have to try this with a class at Centrum this summer. It looks like "The Wasteland" will be fertile ground for decomposing! (wink)

Black Seamus said...

I first read Emily's take on this and then I headed over here. I wondered: do I dare? and do I dare?

I decided that yes, I dare!
(words kept in order)

LET us go
the evening is spread

Let us go
muttering restless nights

tedious argument
insidious intent

oh, let us go

back upon the window-panes
the yellow window-panes

the corners of the evening
fall back

by the terrace
a sudden leap

seeing night
and sleep

time along the street

the window-panes
will be time

the faces that you meet
will be time

time for all
time for you and time for me

time yet for a hundred
before the taking

and indeed time

to wonder
to turn back and descend

morning collar
asserted by a simple dare

decisions will
reverse them all

evenings, mornings, afternoons
measured out

dying with a dying fall

beneath the music
a formulated pharase

I am formulated
I am sprawling

spit out all
I have known

in the lamplight
it is perfume

shall I say the smoke of lonely men?

I have the afternoon, the evening
stretched on the floor

I have the strength to force
though I have wept and prayed

I have the moment
I was afraid

would it have worth
among some talk of you and me

would it have worth?

to tell you all
is not it, at all

would it have
this, and so much more?

it is impossible to say
as if magic

would have
one turning

that is not what I meant

no attendant lord
to progress

advise doubt
an easy tool of use

full of times
indeed, times

grow old
and walk

I have heard the singing

I do not think
the wind blows

we have lingered
wake us

Peter said...

Welcome to the party, BS.
My favorite lines:

"spit out all
I have known"

"we have lingered
wake us"

Thanks for trying this (glad you "dared").

michael said...


--& then there's Tom Phillips's A Humument.


drhoctor2 said...

Do pardon my tardiness..but... Seamus has dared's my run at it......

1. The Love rock

LET us.
Spread out a table.
Let us.

Deserted streets,
The muttering night argument.

“What is it?”

In the room. Talking.
The window-panes,the window-panes.
The corners lingered. Falls.
A sudden leap.


There will be the street, the window-panes.
There will be, there will be the faces.
There will be murder.
The hands.
Lift and drop me.

A hundred visions before the taking.

In the room. Go.

There will be wonder.

Do I turn back and descend, in the middle ?
They will say, firmly.
Asserted, they will say, I disturb a minute.

A minute will reverse.

I have known them. Known them.
Have known.
I have my life.
Beneath the music.

How should I have known?

The eyes that
I am,
When I am I.
Then how should I
My ways

And I have known , known them all—
Arms bare in the lamplight.
It is perfume that makes me lie.

Should I ?

How should I say ?

I have gone, watched.

I should have been.....
Peacefully smoothed.
Asleep beside you.
Should I
Have ?
I have wept and prayed.
Though I have seen my matter.
I have seen.
I have seen.
I was afraid.

Would it have been
Would it have been a smile?
I shall tell you.
If one Should say, all.

Would it have been?
Would it have been sunsets? Dooryards?
The streets,the novels, the teacups, the floor ?
And this,
To say.
In patterns,
Would it have been worth one, settling?
Turning ? Say,

That is all.

I am
Or two,no doubt.
Glad,of use,
Cautious, and high
At times.

At times,

I grow. I grow.
I shall.

Shall I walk ?
Singing, I do not think.

I have seen the waves,
The waves blown back When the wind blows the water.

The sea wreathed with voices.
Wake us.

Thanks for calling me over to play...big fellah....