What if the opening lines to some of the greatest works of literature were reimagined through the lens of the current coronavirus pandemic exacerbated by a staggering economic collapse that has devastated the working class — and now, riots triggered by systemic racial oppression and police brutality with impunity? Atkins Bookshelf presents “Literary Classics Reimagined in the Age of Coronavirus” series.
Today we will reimagine the initial stanza of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The poem is considered one of the first modernist poems, using no consistent rhyme scheme and utilizing mouth traditional and innovative poetic techniques. Eliot’s use of imagery and diction is absolutely masterful. And of course, since this is an Eliot poem, there are many literary allusions, including the works of Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible. The poem begins with a dramatic monologue by our narrator, J. Alfred Prufrock, a complex middle-aged modern man: neurotic, frustrated, emasculated, alienated, weary, and suffering from Hamlet’s analysis paralysis (I could go on!). He invites us to walk through seedy, half-deserted, confusing streets, representing the chaotic state of the world. This is juxtaposed by a short stanza where high society woman come and go, discussing the arts, indifferent to the decay around them. Although there are many important messages in this brilliant poem, the main theme highlights man’s fragile, tormented psychological state as he muddles through the destructive forces of the modern world — something we can relate to in the age of coronavirus:
Let us go then, you and I,
When tear gas and flash grenades are spread out against the sky
Like a zip-tied protestor pushed onto the pavement by bended knee
Let us go, through scorched streets littered with shattered glass
The angry mobs shouting in retreat
Of restless nights captives in homes, sheltered-in-place
And half-empty restaurants with their tables spaced apart
Streets that follow like a belligerent Trumpian tweet
Of insidious, despotic intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What the fuck is happening to America?”
Stop your whining, put on your coronavirus face mask, and let’s make a visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking about Covid-19 and Chauvin
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