c. 1910 | Paris

Measured Out with Coffee Spoons

T.S. Eliot dares to disturb the universe.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
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:
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 
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—
(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 
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time 
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.   

    For I have known them 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? 

    And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
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? 
       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
    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? 


T.S. Eliot

From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” With an epigraph from Dante’s Inferno and allusions to William Shakespeare, Ecclesiastes, Andrew Marvell, and Hesiod, the poem was completed when Eliot was in his early twenties but not published in book form until 1917. He wrote in 1920, “One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”