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 Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” J. Alfred Prufrock approaches an encounter with a room full of women having tea. Prufrock hesitates at the door to look back at the street and then slowly climbs the stairs, his shyness, self-doubt, and dread increasing as he climbs. “Time for you and time for me” implies that he expects to meet one person in particular. Prufrock uses time to tamp down his fears and bolster his courage. Eliot uses time to reveal the extent of Prufrock’s dysfunction. Prufrock moves in slow motion while his mind changes constantly. The effect makes readers acutely aware of Prufrock’s consciousness.
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
In “The Burial of the Dead,” the first part of The Waste Land, an unidentified speaker portrays a hot, dry, dead land and invites the reader to seek shelter. The lines allude to the first Scripture reading in the Anglican burial service. Psalm 39:4 reads, “For man walketh in a vain shadow.” The Old Testament frequently uses the shadow of a rock as an image representing shelter, water, and therefore mercy. In Eliot’s wasted land, the rock brings no relief. Without past or future, there remains only the present, and in the present there exists only fear.
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.
Eliot named “East Coker,” the second of the Four Quartets, after his family’s ancestral village. On a summer night in this village, the poet envisions the ghosts of his seventeenth-century ancestors dancing at a wedding. Here, the poet plays on multiple meanings of “time” to comment on multiple themes. Time represents the pattern of the music, the dancers’ motions, the seasons, and the constellation. The wedding dance completes and expresses the eternal cycle of life and death: fertility, mortality, decomposition, and regeneration.