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SEIZE THE MOMENT! — The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

July 22, 2010

One of the biggest problems I’ve had to deal with in my life is finding the courage to seize the moment. It’s so easy to let moments go, watch them pass right through your fingers and never close your hand to capture them. It takes bravery, it takes resolve, it takes something special deep within to set everything aside and seize the moment.

I think that’s what people are talking about when they say, “Don’t take the easy way out,” because, ultimately, not acting upon your passions is taking the easy way out of life.

Is it easier to listen to music than to write and perform it? Yes. Is it easier to read poetry than to pour your own soul on to a page and share it with strangers? Why yes, yes it is.

Would it simply be easier to love someone and remain silent about it for your entire life, rather than taking your own beating hart into your hands, placing it in front of that person and saying, “What do you think?”

Yes, yes, yes, yes. It would.

But, then, what would your life be worth?

What would any life like that be worth?

What would you experience? Would you really be living? Would it matter if you continued to breathe, felt your heart beat, woke up in the morning and faced the sun if you had nothing to wake up for? If your heart had nothing to beat for? If your only reason to breathe was to fill your own lungs in your empty body?

There would be no reason.

But it would be easier. Yes, it would be easier. And I have been there. I’ve thrown moments away. I’ve looked them straight in the eye and said, “Please, please just go away, leave me alone!” I’ve heard moments — moments that had the distinct possibility of greatness — beating on the door of my soul, and instead of opening that door, I built a wall. I’ve smiled, nodded and waved at great moments. I’ve acknowledged them, and ignored them. I’ve missed out.

And as it’s happening, I think, “Oh, next time, next time,” and I feel better. But next time comes and I say it again and eventually I realize, “What does ‘next time’ mean?” How many ‘next time’s do I have left?

I think ‘next time’ is ‘never’ in disguise.

And it’s easier to open your mouth and say ‘next time’ than to open your heart, mind and soul and say, “Listen to me, world! Here’s my heart, my mind, my soul! What do you think?”

And it’s easier because, if you never have to hear what the world thinks, then you’ll never know if the world didn’t care. If it did care. If it hated you. If it loved you. If it accepted you. If it neglected you. If it meant anything at all.

‘Next time’ means you’ll never have to be rejected. You’ll never have to be confronted with the reality of whether any breath you’ve ever taken meant anything at all. If anyone else ever heard your heart beat. If your passion ever touched any soul besides your own.

But there have also been moments — in my life — when I’ve seized opportunity. I saw it running by and I, too, started running, jumped on it’s back and rode the moment to the finish line.

The ride was scary! Don’t get me wrong. The whole time I thought I was losing. I thought I was behind. But the moment I crossed that finish line, fear left me and I realized that I didn’t care what the world thought. I was satisfied. I had done the hardest thing a person can do: I seized the moment. And whether I won or lost, I ultimately won.

To seize the moment is to leave no questions unanswered; to have no regrets; to be your own master; to make your own magic and conquer it; to truly live.

And this poem (below) by T.S. Eliot says what I have just said, except he says it perfectly. It’s my favorite poem because it turns the easy way into the impossible way, and makes the impossible the attainable.

It turns ‘next time’ into ‘now’.

(Side note: if you have a poem that’s particularly moved you in any way, please share it! I love reading poems — especially those that have inspired others … for whatever reason!)

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.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,         15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,         20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;         25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;         30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go         35
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—         40
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare         45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,         50
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?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—         55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,  
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,  
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,  
Then how should I begin  
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?         60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress         65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?
      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets         70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!         75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?         80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,         85
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,         90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—         95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,         100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:         105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
      .      .      .      .      .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,         115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …         120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.         125
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown         130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

-T.S. Eliot

(I bolded the lines of the poem that stand out the most to me)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 1:58 pm

    “I think ‘next time’ is ‘never’ in disguise.” Ugh! How is that YOU have so much to teach ME?!! Well, I’m learning. Thank you 🙂

  2. July 22, 2010 3:33 pm

    Thanks for turning me on to this. I’d heard about it — but never read it before. It’s really cool. This Eliot guy is the bomb.

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