A brilliant mind of the 20th century Modernist movement, T.S. Eliot amassed an extensive repertoire as an essayist, poet, publisher, playwright, and literary and social critic. He provided major contributions to the English literary canon—from influencing the school of New Criticism to channeling his creative energies into playwriting. A longtime critic and admirer of Elizabethan and Jacobean verse drama, his plays often consisted of allusions to Thomas Middleton, Thomas Kyd, and William Shakespeare.
While Eliot enjoyed relative success in other sectors of literature, none compare to his feats in poetry. Carefully crafted, Eliot produced a relatively small number of poems. But the rich quality of his works make up for the short quantity, as he created powerful, moving images filled with worldly references. Eliot traded in excessive Victorian structure for compact, lyrical poems that reimagined diction, meter, and themes. It is Eliot’s meticulous attention to fragmentation and broken structures that make him one of the 20th Century’s greatest poets.
Though he was American-born, Eliot became a British subject at the age of 39 and renounced his American passport. In various interviews, he maintained that both his nationality and naturalization influenced his writing. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, Eliot will forever be remembered as one of the most influential poets of modern times.
Inventions of the March Hare is a collection of Eliot’s previously unpublished early works, including drafts of now-famous poems like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”and provides an unedited look at the critically-acclaimed writer. Many of Eliot’s poetry flowed as stream of consciousness; and finally, we ourselves can dive into the inner workings of Eliot’s own mind. Inventions of the March Hare voices youthful curiosity and minute observations on American society in Eliot’s unique timbre.
Read on for an excerpt from Inventions of the March Hare, and then download the book.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
(Prufrock among the Women)
“Sovegna vos al temps de mon dolor”—
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.”
“. . . Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets
The muttering retreats 
Of restless nights in one night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells:
Streets that join 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.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes 
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, 
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; 
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
Between 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 . . .
I have known them all[…]
And I have known the eyes, I have 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? 
But how should I presume?
And I have known the arms, I have known them all
Arms that are braceleted, and white, and bare
(But, in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair)
—Is it the skin, or perfume from a dress 
That makes me so digress?—
Arms that lie along a cushion, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?..
And how should I begin? . . .”
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This is a draft of the first professionally published poem by Eliot, which was featured in the June 1915 issue of Poetry after much insistence from fellow poet Ezra Pound. However, this version of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a raw outline of what would become one of Eliot’s most-celebrated poems. Inventions of the March Hare closely resembles Eliot’s notebook, filled with copious notes and in-depth descriptions. Despite lacking the ability to dramatize, Eliot’s ingenuity and creativity is ever-present.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is multidimensional through its themes and structures. On the surface, the poem is about a sexually frustrated middle-aged man who laments his inability to confess his romantic feelings to his love interest. However, many argue that Prufrock is actually trying to impart philosophical insight or even voice his own disillusionment with society.
Throughout the poem, Prufrock focuses on his physical and intellectual idleness, his missed opportunities in life, and his incompetence to attain carnal love. The character feels regret, embarrassment, longing, and weariness, but is it because of an unrequited love? Or is he admitting that success promised by modern society only leads to a loss in humanity? Eliot uses Dante, the Bible, and Shakespearean plays to construct the structure of the poem. Consisting of heavy topics and various forms of narration, this modernist poem allows for a variety of readings and interpretations, as the reader realizes that what we believed to be a disarray of shattered images is actually a carefully constructed collage of humanity.
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Featured photo of T. S. Eliot: Alchetron