Wednesday, September 13, 2006

J. Alfred is My Homeboy

J. Alfred Prufrock gets a bad rap.

The narrator of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" consistently received a tongue-lashing from my English major classmates any time the poem came up in class. He lacks manhood. He chooses inaction. He thinks himself into passivity regardless of the subject - be it cosmos or fruit. I think he just finds it difficult to exist in a land where fruit consumption, hair care, and trouser rolling find more value than universe disruptions and resurrections. In this, there is a redeeming quality to the life lived by Prufrock.

That being said, Eliot portrays Prufrock as an overwhelmingly weak character, choosing to be an attendant lord rather than prince. He recognizes the ruins of the land in which he lives, the superficiality of those around him, and the brokeness in his own life. And he chooses to do nothing. In this, redeeming work is needed in the life of Prufrock.

The song of Prufrock is also my song - the Love Song of R. Bennett Humphries, if you will. I relate to him on many levels, good and bad. Like Prufrock, I often find it difficult to live in a broken world, a world marred by sin, a world that exists now as it was never meant to exist. But like Prufrock, I have had a life-long tendency to avoid action because of fear, faithlessness, feelings of inadequacy, the list could go on.

The purpose of this blog is to redeem Prufrock, both defending his worldview but also attempting to rage against the passivity which plagues him and me. Not every day will be an English major's rant on Eliotian poetry. I look forward to waxing eloquent about the universe but also chatting about the peaches. I never tire of hearing my own voice, but I do hope that ya'll will respond and turn my rants into actual discussions.

Let us go disturb the universe.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

ben humphries, i <3 you. i've actually never read the poem though. i was supposed to my senior year, but i'm pretty sure i slept through class that day. but as far as choosing inaction, it kind of reminds me of hamlet, my favorite tragic hero of all. anyway, i hope you are doing well, and i look forward to reading more. glad you are back from boston - we need to reunite soooooon.

laura m

Anonymous said...

hey ben,
thanks for sharing your blog with me. as a chemistry major, i dont read poetry very much, or at all for that matter, so this is a nice change. i dont know if i can add any insight but just that i do feel like prufrock in that i avoid action because of fear, etc. at the end of this month, i'm on my way to england to study abroad for 9 months. i will not be coming home at any point in those 9 months so please pray that I can "disturb the universe" this coming year w/o the comforts of home and unc.

katie h.

Jenn Pappa said...


Interesting thoughts. When reading this poem I was struggling with my emotions for Prufrock. Sometimes I felt disgust and sometimes pity... and yes definitely I felt compassion because I understood, at least in part, his fears. I hope you keep fighting those insecurities and fears of this world that inhibit most of us. It's interesting that this poem hits on such a strong issue with christian men. Good insights. Do you think he's more disgusted/intimidated with the world in general or specifically the manipulations of women?

Anyways, thanks Ben.

Jenn (Drye) Pappa

Alex said...

the first step to redeeming prufrock: admit the problem. great stuff here to unearth the issues in a very poetic and insightful way.

i think the challenge to redeeming prufrock is to love him enough not to coddle him. redemption is not excusing. redemption is seeing brokenness, wading into brokenness, making it right by any means necessary.

i look forward to seeing how this gets worked out here in these posts. great blog, it makes me happy to have Ben Humphries in the blogosphere!

Anonymous said...

What can I say? I fear to act because I fear visible man more often then I fear the Invisible Almighty. I sit silently in history class when they teach that we are all a mistake, no different than monkeys. I sit silently when the teachers say that no one can actually be wrong, the entire universe is what we want it to be. I know what you mean when you talk about inaction. But the more I yell at myself the more I am willing to say, the more I can say, the more I can call out obvious faults with others peoples world views. I have realized that my life is pointless, useless, worthless, unless it is totally in the service of God. It doesn’t matter how high my GPA is, or how high my rank in my graduating class is, if my being there wasn’t glorifying to God. And facing this truth, I feel that I can truly stand unashamed for God in the midst of one of the most liberal schools. So let’s go “disturb the universe”
In Christ,
David A Hebda

Anonymous said...

Benjamin Rafael,
I may have gotten a 2 on the AP English exam, but I definately know how to tell when a man has written a brilliant piece. Hither, my friend, you have done just that.
You the man, brother,

Tammy O said...

The idea I get from the poem is that Prufrock has seen and experienced the darkness of the world and the brevity of life and longs to tell this apperently vain lady (he does seem to be rather hard on women) how insignificant are all of the things she deems so important but won't out of fear of her response.
I definitely relate to Prufrock, as well. I sit and I discuss trivial matters like the weather or tv shows when I know I should be telling people about eternity. I don't, because I can imagine their response as either negative or oblivious. Here's to making waves.

"Those who live most devoutly for the world to come are often in the best position to change the present."

Anonymous said...

What a sellout.


Ben said...

Prufrock's attitude towards women has come up in a couple of these comments, so here are my thoughts. When I first discussed this is high school, we focused on Prufrock being too chicken to ask this woman to marry him - this was the "overwhelming question." To me, this sells the poem short, as it is understandable that a man would be exceedingly nervous about a proposal. I think the poem describes a larger, more encompassing insecurity that cannot be explained away by a proposal.

Colored by that first reading, I tend to underemphasize the fact that the root of the insecurity does seem to come from women. His disgust drowns his entire worldview, as the poem describes scenes from back alleys and coastlines, not merely domestic engagements. The importance of the poem for me lies in the way this disgust infiltrates his worldview and molds his internal reaction to it, not in the source of it.

Even in terms of relevance, lots of things of this world can be the source of this insecurity whether it be friends, figures of authority, media, or ourselves. For me personally, the source of Prufrock's disgust is not of primary importance, as I have Prufrockian reactions to a variety of influences in my life.

Anonymous said...

I like how you got the "waxing" comment in there.