Monday, March 07, 2005

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?
TS Eliot, from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I re-read this poem recently for the first time in many years. There's a line in it that has always been a source of embarrassment to me. While I was still at school I was interviewed as part of a University entrance exam. Not only had I done very little revision, but I also had a monumental hangover. I was grilled by two very 'donnish' men, both wearing tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, in a small room that smelled of sherry and pipe tobacco. One asked me about TS Eliot and whether I could 'relate' to his poetry. 'Oh yes,' i said with the air of someone with a lifetime of experiences stacked up behind him. 'Give me an example of a line that you can particularly relate to,' said the other. I tried to get my brain round this request, but the few lines I managed to dredge up from the memory banks seemed hopelessly inappropriate. The antique clock was ticking on the wood-panelled wall and the two faces were staring at me intently. I clutched at thin air and came up with 'I have measured out my life with coffee spoons'. They looked at me impassively, doubtless surmising that at my age I would have been more likely to have measured my life in crisp packets. How should I presume indeed?

mp3 of Eliot reading 'Prufrock' here