I grow old . . . I grow old . . . 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.
In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Prufrock, after having admitted to himself his own insignificance, looks ahead to his inevitable aging and death. He envisions himself walking by the sea. Here, as in all his major poems, Eliot uses the sea to represent death and eternity. The line “I do not think that they will sing to me” remains ambiguous. Since mermaids lure sailors to their deaths, Prufrock might mean that he will never go to sea and hear their siren songs. Or perhaps Prufrock knows the mermaids don’t need to sing because he’s already on his way to join them.
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead, Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell And the profit and loss. A current under sea Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell He passed the stages of his age and youth Entering the whirlpool. Gentile or Jew O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
Part IV of
Also pray for those who were in ships, and Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lips Or in the dark throat which will not reject them Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell’s Perpetual angelus.
According to Eliot’s notes, the third of the