LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats 5
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 … 10
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.
When I was seventeen I was very sincere about art and especially about literature. I was a girl in a small town who had grown up in the library. As someone said about Milton, I saw the world through the spectacle of books. I saw school and books as a life raft. My only escape.
So literature was a life or death subject to me. I memorized pieces of Shakespeare. A year later I would read The Sound and the Fury and halfway through the first section, the Benjy section, I would suddenly understand the mechanism of the narrative, that some was in present day and some was recollection and that Benjy was retarded and I would go back and re-read from the beginning again.
Prufrock was frightening. It started with an Italian quote. I had two years of high school Spanish and although I had heard of Dante’s Inferno, I had certainly never read it. Languages were the great opaque, the proof that I was an intellectual fraud. I spoke nothing but English and had rarely heard any other language spoken except Latin. In church. Where it did not resemble a language at all since no one actually spoke it to someone else.