The Lockdown of Alfred J. Prufrock

With apologies to T.S. Eliot – upon who’s original the following is heavily based.

Let us go then, you and I,

Where summer sun shines bleary in the sky

Another day, another week, never ending Sunday.

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless days of binge tv and old box sets

half hearted, lonely zoom events

Of moth balled restaurants and socially distant queues:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

And the women come and go

and talk of how the numbers go.

The wretched virus rubs its back upon the silent rails

Rubs its unseen muzzle on the window-panes,

Licks its tongue into the corners of shared surfaces,

Lingers in the air, is breathed on trains,

Let’s fall upon a hand the snottiness of sneezes,

Slips by a sloppy mask, makes sudden leap,

And since we are too close, not far apart

Curls once about the throat and makes us cough.

And indeed there will be time

For the cunning virus to slide along each 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 we meet;

There will be time to distance and to separate,

A time for staying home and washing hands

Time not to greet or touch, to embrace or give a peck;

Time for you and time for me,

And time for Boris’ indecisions,

And for a hundred briefings and revisions,

Before the media questions on tv.

In the room the women come and go

And talk of how the numbers go.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I care?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to go out, to work and shop,

time to go out, get normal back, have this thing stop.

(They will say: “How his hair has grown so long”)

My casual clothes, the whiskers, my unshaven chin,

A face mask dangling , pointless, useless thing —

(They will say: “But how his waist is thickening!”)

Do I dare

Resume the universe?

In lockdown there is time

For decisions and revisions which can then quickly be reversed.

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with dreary films;

I know the voices dying, hear them fall

Behind the numbers and the CSU’s.

               So how should life resume?

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

The eyes that bid you pass and let them be,

I’ve stepped aside or crossed a road avoidingly,

And when I’m pinned and wriggling close against a wall,

Then how should I begin

To stretch out all the strange and misspent, endless days?

               And how should life resume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that once embraced me, hugged me, showed me care

Now folded, drooping, pocketed, barely there!)

Is it memory perhaps

That makes me so digress?

Hands that met across a table, or greeted when I’d call

               And should life then resume?

               Ah how to re-begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And seen the virus lie across the lives

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

And the world, on hold, yet pauses.

In strange and unaccustomed silence,

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 face the moment see the crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (the hair grown long) brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my quietness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the shops, the queues, deliveries,

Between the screen time, online chats, the conversations, you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed from the reverie that gripped us all

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head

               Should say: “I’m not sure what it meant at all;

               That can’t be it. There must be more.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the lockdown and the isolation, those deserted streets,

After the novels, after the jigsaws, after the masks that trailed along the jaw—

After 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:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

               “This isn’t what it meant at all,

               It isn’t what it 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,

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 …

At greater risk, so we are told.

Shall I part my hair behind? Will I ever need new clothes?

I shall wear the same old trousers.I won’t go to the beach.

There’ll be no mermaids singing.

They won’t sing to me.

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

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.