Fire the Canon

Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day! And it’s also in the chambers of the sea. Jackie tells the tale of T. S. Eliot. The gang fully commits to a stupid bit. We all learn what the J stands for. Theo gives the correct interpretation. Which is your favorite Ninja Turtle? Topics include: Libra energy, Jalfred the Jbutler, Sir Tom Hiddleston, Yu-Gi-Oh vs. Pokemon again, Theo’s weirdhouse, and Halloween costume ideas.

Show Notes

Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day! And it’s also in the chambers of the sea. Jackie tells the tale of T. S. Eliot. The gang fully commits to a stupid bit. We all learn what the J stands for. Theo gives the correct interpretation. Which is your favorite Ninja Turtle? Topics include: Libra energy, Jalfred the Jbutler, Sir Tom Hiddleston, Yu-Gi-Oh vs. Pokemon again, Theo’s weirdhouse, and Halloween costume ideas.

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What is Fire the Canon?

Prefer your books in comedy form, but still want to sound smart at parties? We got you. Discover the hilarity hidden in the classics with new episodes every Thursday.

- Intro music plays -

THEO, reading: 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! Was that good?

JACKIE: That wasn't what we asked you to read at all. (Rachel laughs explosively) That is not it, at all.

RACHEL: You stopped right before the part we asked you to read!

THEO: Oh! Okay. (all laugh)

- Intro music resolves -

RACHEL: Hello, everyone! Welcome to our special bonus Valentine's Day episode of the Fire the Canon podcast. In this podcast, we read our way through the works of the Western Canon and decide if they belong or not. Our opinions are objective. I'm one of your hosts, Rachel.

JACKIE: I'm the other host, Jackie.

THEO: And I'm Theo, the producer.

RACHEL: And...?

THEO: Happy Valentine's Day! Love is in the air!

RACHEL, laughing: No, and - and you’re a host this week! (Jackie laughing)

THEO, laughing: Oh. Even if I read it you don’t have to call me a host, that puts way too much pressure...

RACHEL, mimicking Santa Claus: Ho, ho, ho! Happy Valentine's Day!

JACKIE: Oh, ho, ho, host! That's him!

THEO, laughing: Yeah.

JACKIE: That's what we should have done on our Christmas episodes.

RACHEL: Host, host, host!

JACKIE: Say it thrice, no dice! Remember? (Rachel laughs)

THEO: I thought if you said host three times, it makes a host appear.

RACHEL: We've already got a bunch.

THEO: Okay.

JACKIE: Yeah, we’ve got three this time.

THEO: Okay, what's your Valentine's Day resolution, Rachel?

RACHEL: Keep dating Stephen, so we can keep getting all that sweet, sweet, free programming for our podcast.

JACKIE, laughing: I knew that the last ten years would be worth it one day.

RACHEL: Oh gosh. (Theo laughs) Yeah.

JACKIE: You finally got a free website out of him. (Rachel laughs)

RACHEL: Took him long enough.

JACKIE: I know.

THEO: That's so Rachel.

RACHEL: Okay. Let's talk about our Zoom names real quick. Jacquelynn?

JACKIE, in a deep, dramatic voice: I am Lazarus, come from the dead.


THEO: I am the eternal footman, and I snicker!

RACHEL: He used to be a pair of ragged claws, but he decided it wasn't prestigious enough for him, so. (Theo laughs) And I am an easy tool.

JACKIE: All right.

RACHEL: Okay! Now we're in the thick of things.

JACKIE: In the thick of it!

RACHEL: I would recommend that, if you're not very familiar with the poem we’re covering - which, I realized we didn't say it - it's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot - you should look up a copy, it's pretty short, or you can listen to someone reading it. You could hear T.S. Eliot himself reading it. We listened to... Sir Tom Hiddleston reading it. (All laugh)

JACKIE: You could also choose Anthony Hopkins if you so desire. Yeah.

RACHEL: Join our Patreon, give us enough money, one of us will read it for you, no problem. But I would recommend that you g- just quickly read the poem. It'll take a couple minutes, then come back in and listen to us talk about it.

JACKIE: Okay. So this is the first major poem written by T.S. Eliot. T.S stands for -

RACHEL: Thomas Stearns.

JACKIE: - tuberous sclerosis. You're right, sorry. Thomas Stearns.

RACHEL, laughing: Tubular sclerosis?

JACKIE: He was born on September twenty-sixth, 1888.

RACHEL: So we're going to get real deep into his background, it seems.

JACKIE: I just want to talk about some important things about him.

RACHEL: Like his birthday? (laughs)

THEO: Go ahead, do it! Do it, do it, do it!

JACKIE: September twenty-sixth, 1888. He was born a hundred and three years and four days before me, which means we're both Libras! So I feel like I have a unique understanding of what it's like to be tortured.


RACHEL: What it's like to be tortured, did you say?

JACKIE: Yeah, you just can never really decide what the right thing is, you know?


THEO: So for a Libra, when you check your horoscope each day, it says ‘torture’. ‘Torture’. (Rachel and Jackie laugh) That’s what a Libra is all about?

JACKIE: Yeah. ‘Venus is in retrograde; today, you'll be tortured.’


JACKIE: I think he's got Libra energy.


JACKIE: He's related to three presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Rutherford B. Hayes. So that's a pretty good -

RACHEL: Jackie, you should have let us guess!

THEO: Those were going to be my guesses, so. (Rachel and Jackie laugh)

JACKIE: Well, I feel like the first two are kind of a copout, because -

RACHEL: If you guess one, you have to guess the other. It's like the Bushes or something.

JACKIE: Yeah, exactly. So anyway, he was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and he always kind of had this feeling growing up that he didn't really belong anywhere. He had this kind of, like, fancy northern family who lived in New England and he would -

RACHEL: Boston brahmins.

JACKIE: He would summer there with them, and so he never felt like he belonged in the south, because the southerners didn't accept him because of his northern connections. And in the north, he didn't belong because he had been raised in Missouri. So he talked about that and said he always felt like he was “never anything anywhere.” I don't know. Like, you hear people say stuff like that now and it'll be way more pronounced than that difference. But apparently that was a big deal to him. So, whatever! Feelings are valid.

RACHEL: If he didn't belong, I really think that he should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling along - (laughs) scuttling across the floor of the silent seas.

JACKIE: He thought so too! Yeah, he agrees.

RACHEL: So we have something in common as well. It's not just the Libras.

JACKIE: Oh no, no, exactly, yeah. But, so, he was very tall, he was painfully shy, but - but very smart.

RACHEL: How tall are we talking?

JACKIE: Oh, probably like a good five- eight.

RACHEL: What?!

JACKIE: I'm just kidding, I don't know!

THEO: Wait, did you say he was painfully tall?

RACHEL, laughing: Painfully smart!

- keyboard typing sounds -

JACKIE, reading aloud: “Uh, how tall…”

RACHEL: I'm looking it up!

JACKIE: I'M looking it up.

THEO: I'm going to look up how short -

RACHEL: Five-eleven? That's not that tall!

JACKIE: Or no, it wasn't even the thirties, it was like the early nineteen hundreds...

RACHEL: How tall are you, Theo?

THEO, with both words partially censored by a bleep: Five-ten.


THEO: I’m gonna bleep that out. (Jackie laughs)

RACHEL: So you should say, “five BLEEP!” or just bleep out the whole thing?

THEO: I’m saying, “BLEEP ten,” so it might be six-ten, might be seven-ten…

RACHEL, laughing: Four-ten…

JACKIE, laughing: Might be five… three-ten.

RACHEL: It could just be ten.

JACKIE: Yeah. I - “How tall are you?” “Ten.”

THEO: Ten Theo units! (Rachel laughs)

JACKIE: Okay, so he - when he was young, he was, he was tall, he was really shy. He kind of loomed over everybody. And he actually composed this poem that, hopefully you've read or heard now, but which you’ll hear us talk about - he composed it while he was still a college student at Harvard. So this was - he was around twenty-two, twenty-three, this was 1910 to 1911 that he wrote this poem.

RACHEL: I thought he worked on it for five years! I thought it was 1910 to 1915. Wait, I just looked it up. It says that he wrote most of it within a year, but he worked on it for several years.

JACKIE: Yeah, I mean he did - he - there's time for a thousand visions and revisions.

RACHEL: There’s time, there will be time, there was time… yeah. Which - what is it? - a minute will reverse.

JACKIE: Yeah, which five years will reverse in this case. Then he had like eight years of a dry spell, kind of? So he, from twenty-two to, like, thirty or so, he didn't really produce anything major which - okay, I mean, he wrote one of the most monumental poems in the English language when he was twenty-two, so. Um, and he always worried that this was going to be his swan song, that he wasn't going to be able to produce anything great after this again, but he did. So, the number one thing I just want to mention is his romances, or lacks thereof. Because this is hugely important to all of his art and just understanding him as a person, and this poem in particular. This poem was actually composed, I think, before he met the main, like, muse that he, you know, loved for the rest of his life. And you know, he later met Ezra Pound and they had a very successful working relationship together in which Pound helped him edit, especially, The Wasteland and some other of his longer poems, but. So the main body of the poem was composed in 1910 and 1911 and it was published in Poetry, um, I think that same year? Never mind, it was published in 1915. So after he revised it a little bit.

RACHEL: Great poem!

JACKIE: Great poem! Good.

RACHEL, laughing: Good! (Jackie laughs) It’s a great poem, it’s a good poem.

THEO: Wait, so he was twenty-two when he started it in 1910, so that means he was twenty-seven when he finished it?

RACHEL: When he published it.

THEO: When he published it, okay.

JACKIE: This poem, we’ll see when we talk about it, is written from what sounds like to be a much more mature mind? And he's kind of writing about themes and ideas that you would think a twenty -

RACHEL: Middle age! Death.

JACKIE: Growing old, right.

RACHEL: Missing out on things.

THEO: Baldness.

JACKIE: Regret. And so he already had this indescribable feeling and he managed to describe it (laughs). And he was very young, so I think that's very impressive.

THEO: I see.

JACKIE: He always had this, um… not obsession with this woman, but so he met her - he was performing in a dramatic adaptation of Jane Austen's ‘Emma’, but so the woman was named Emily Hale and together they performed in this adaptation and they became friends. And so they hung out for over a year, him and Emily, and they were just kind of friends. Eventually he professed his love, which he’d basically had the entire time, and she didn't return his feelings. So he's devastated. He just moves to London -

RACHEL: Dramatic! I'm looking her up, she was pretty cute.

JACKIE: She was, yeah. In a, you know, 1912 sort of way.


THEO, laughing: Oh!

RACHEL: Jackie thinks she's hotter than Emily Hale!

THEO: Mean girl!

JACKIE, laughing: Yeah, mean girl.

RACHEL: Women supporting women, Jackie!

JACKIE: Emily Hale was very pretty! And so he ran away to London and very quickly, within a year, um, I think, he had married his first wife. And so she was an Englishwoman, a governess named Vivian. So they got married after this very, like, kind of whirlwind courtship, and it became quickly apparent that they really weren't good for each other. They weren't well matched. She kind of had suffered from, quote-unquote, nerves for years? So, I don't - what does nerves mean? It sounds like maybe -

RACHEL: Mrs. Bennet knows.
JACKIE: I - basically. I guess that just means mental illness. Um, so, and her mental health kind of deteriorated over the course of the next several years. So World War One began pretty much as soon as he got there, immediately followed by the Spanish flu epidemic... pandemic, which, they both got really sick and it actually took them years to recover.

RACHEL: Can I say something funny real quick about him?

JACKIE: No, nothing is funny about him.

RACHEL, laughing: There's some funny things.

JACKIE: Yeah, sure.

RACHEL: While he had just moved to London and was still obsessed with Emily Hale, he wrote a letter to a friend that said, “I am very dependent upon women.” Parentheses: “I mean female society.” Close parentheses.

JACKIE: You know, the imperfection of any attempt at communication really got to him a lot. I think that's why he has Libra energy.

RACHEL: Oh gosh.

JACKIE: So anyway, him and Vivian, they got married, but they didn't really love each other to begin with like I was saying. They had this kind of whirlwind romance, but he had sort of convinced himself that he was in love with her because he wanted to “burn his boats”. He wrote that in a letter to a friend, that I think he just didn't want to feel, you know, compel - compelled to go back to America and try to win over Emily again, ‘cause Emily didn't want him. So he convinced himself he's in love with this girl, marries her, and then Vivian kind of felt like she could maybe save him? And as long as she could just keep him in England, then, like, things would be okay. But his heart was never really fully with her. He was writing letters to Emily the entire time that they were married.

RACHEL: It's like, “I don't want to bother one woman, so let me ruin another woman's life.”

JACKIE: There's a lot of controversy over how T.S. Eliot treated his wife, and certainly you could say that it's not very kind of him to marry someone, not love her, stay with her... But I mean he really tried very hard to support her, like he, he paid for her to go to like very expensive doctors and sanatoriums and stuff, but she just wasn't getting any better. And it actually led to - he had a mental breakdown himself in 1921 -


JACKIE - because of all the stress. So he resolved he's going to - he divorced her, but he continued to support her until her death, financially, and she died in an insane asylum in the fifties.

RACHEL: Ooh, that's a bad place to be. At a bad time.

JACKIE: Bad country, bad time, bad place. After this, he'd been talking to Emily the entire time throughout their letters, and through talking with her so much in these letters - and he only saw her like one or two times, I think, over the years - she started to love him back. And she was like, “Okay, well we’re - you've left your wife, you said you love me, I'm in love with you now. Why don't we do this thing?” And he was saying -

RACHEL: Gosh, what's he gonna do?

JACKIE: Well, he had converted to the Anglican Church, and so he said, “I can't marry anyone else.” Bec - you know, as a divorcé.

RACHEL: Excuse me!

THEO, simultaneously with RACHEL: What? That’s the whole point of the Anglican Church!

RACHEL, simultaneously with THEO: The whole thing about Anglicans is that the King started it so he could keep getting divorced and remarried.

THEO, laughing: That's the whole point!

JACKIE: Or, sorry, he did - he - did he maybe converted to Catholicism? Maybe I’m getting it wrong.

RACHEL: No, he became an Anglican. So was he just bullshitting?

THEO, laughing: That's the worst bullshitting.

JACKIE, laughing: He said it was against his moral code to marry.

RACHEL, sarcastically: Okay, bro.

JACKIE: What I actually think - and I feel like this kind of ends up playing out - like, he had this constant urge to, like, deny himself, because she was his muse.

THEO: Ohhhhh.

JACKIE: Like, wanting her and not having her was what drove his poetry, what drove his art, and if he could have her, then that wouldn't be there anymore. The letters between Emily and T.S. Eliot were just published last year. He said they had to be kept secret in a vault in Princeton for fifty years after they had both died.


JACKIE: So 2020, they all got opened up and all the scholars came out, and you would see the first thing that it said was T.S. Eliot saying, “I did not have [a] sexual relationship with Emily Hale,” which is, like, very Clinton-esque. (laughs)

RACHEL: Yeah! Did he really say that, or is that a joke?

JACKIE: Yeah he did.

RACHEL, in disbelief: That was the first thing he said?! “I did not have a sexual relationship with Emily Hale”?

JACKIE: The first thing that they found, instead of being, like, letters to Emily, was actually a letter to them, the scholars of the future. Fifty years in the future, saying, “Hey, just so you know, I wasn't that attached to her, we never had sex,” like... so he just downplayed the whole thing immediately and then her letters are like, “Look what he did.”

RACHEL: That doesn't help at all!

JACKIE: What, the fifty years of waiting?

RACHEL: Saying like, “Oh, uhh, I didn't have SEX with her. So it's okay that I strung her along?” Come on, man.

JACKIE: Okay, but he wrote her letters where he talks about how much he loves, like -

RACHEL, laughing: Not having sex with her?

JACKIE: Yeah. He wrote her letters where he talks about how much he loves kissing her and kissing her feet in particular.

RACHEL: I guess I'm not surprised he's a foot guy.

JACKIE: T.S.Eliot said he liked feet because it was “a special kind of consent.”

RACHEL: What? So he KNEW he was a foot guy.

JACKIE: Yeah, he said, “I love kissing your foot, because when I do that, you have to remove your stocking, which is a special kind of consent.”

RACHEL: I guess people's lips are just always out there.

JACKIE: Yeah, yeah, you don't have to take a stocking off your lips. I don't know. But Prufrock and many of his poems do have this theme of love denied, and sex denied, and love failing, and sexual failings, and existential failings, and intellectual failings, and communication failings, and - but I think understanding that about him helps us to understand the poem better.

THEO: All right, now let's talk about the poem.

JACKIE: Do you want to talk about the epigraph at all?

RACHEL: The epigraph is saying, essentially, “I'm going to tell you my story, because I know that you won't be able to share it with anyone else, so I'm going to be free and open.” So, I have read that people are saying, “Yeah, it's probably - he probably used it to say, like, ‘these are the interior - this is the interior monologue of J. Alfred, like his private thoughts that he doesn't think anyone will share.’” We’re taking the Dante perspective in this, kind of, conversation.

JACKIE: Why did he pick this name? J. Alfred Prufrock. What a, what a weird name.

RACHEL: At the time he was going by T. Stearns Eliot. So it had the same construction as his name?

JACKIE: Mmhmm.

RACHEL: But he said he had no idea where Prufrock came from, but someone said like, “Oh, there was a - there was, like, a weaver company in the town where he grew up that was called Prufrock-something,” and he said, “Oh, I guess that must have gotten in my head.”

THEO: Would you be disappointed or delighted if you found out that in his original draft, the guy's name is Jalfred Prufrock - (Rachel and Jackie laugh) and it just had a little extra dot that he made and then he saw -

RACHEL, laughing: And that's what Ezra Pound said? That was his edit?


THEO, laughing: Yeah, yeah!

JACKIE: That's why this poem was considered outlandish at the beginning.

RACHEL, laughing: It’s like, “Jalfred? What kind of a name is Jalfred?” (Theo laughing)

JACKIE: It sounds like it could be maybe a, a butler's name?

THEO, laughing: Well, Alfred.

RACHEL: You’re thinking of Alfred. (laughs)

JACKIE: I’m thinking of Jeeves and Alfred put together.

THEO: Maybe the J’butler's name could be a Jalfred. (Jackie laughs)

RACHEL: This is Jalfred, my j’butler. I'm J’Batman.

THEO, laughing: That was - that was like, the dumbest wordplay. Yeah, I’m J’Batman... the j’dark j’knight. (Rachel laughing)

JACKIE, laughing: J’knight!

THEO: Begins. (laughs) So stupid.

JACKIE: Let's go to the Strait of Braltar. I mean, Gibraltar.

RACHEL: J’Gibraltar.

THEO: Oh, okay. You reverse-engineered it.


JACKIE: That’s what I do.

RACHEL: But in a minute it will be reversed.

JACKIE: What it's about is, it's about many, many, many things. And so, like, the Wikipedia page for example, says, “It has visceral feelings of weariness, regret, embarrassment, longing, emasculation, sexual frustration, a sense of decay, an awareness of mortality.” I've also seen things saying that it might be about like, like, the industrial revolution? (laughs) Like I guess because of all the yellow smog around? I was like, ‘I don't really get that from this.’

THEO: I could understand, like, modernization, discomfort with the modern era or something like that.

JACKIE: Mmhmm.

RACHEL: “The half-deserted streets.”

THEO: Yeah! And, I, yeah.

JACKIE: I think it's the kind of thing that, anything that you are feeling, you can just put in there.

RACHEL: As long as it's negative. (laughs)

JACKIE: As long as it's not happiness, yeah. Unless you really wanted your hair to be thin!

THEO: Oh, we've been misreading this!

RACHEL: They say (sounding impressed), “Oooooh! How his hair is growing thin!” (Jackie and Theo laugh) “We love it!!” Like that.

JACKIE, in an approving tone: “Your hair has thinned!” Yeah.

RACHEL: Okay, I love the opening. “Let us go then, you and I” I think is great. He's - I feel included in the poem. Moreso than usual.

THEO: Oh, so you think he's talking to you? I thought he was talking to me!

RACHEL, laughing: He’s probably talking to anyone…

JACKIE: I - wait a second, I KNOW he was talking to me!

RACHEL, laughing: His fellow Libra.

JACKIE, laughing: Yeah.

THEO: Okay, can you just explain what a Libra is?

RACHEL: It's just an astrology thing, like you don't really need to know about it.

THEO: No, but I want to know why she's saying this! (Rachel and Jackie laugh)

JACKIE: I'm not really a believer in astrology or anything, but the idea behind it, for Libras, is that we're constantly seeking balance, and we're constantly, like, obsessed with, like, fairness and justice -

THEO: Ohh.

JACKIE: - and we have an innate understanding of the way that one thing gets destroyed, something else is created, and vice-versa. Like there's always two sides to every story, there's always, basically, options. And that's, like, one of my favorite parts of the poem, is you're trying to say something, you're trying to communicate something, but there's a million different ways that you could say it. And, depending on how y- like, you can never take it back, the, once you say it the way that you say it. (laughs) That wasn't said very well at all!

RACHEL, laughing: Well, you can never take it back.

THEO, laughing: Yeah, you can’t take it back.

JACKIE: Libras are people who can't choose anything, and so they end up just saying nothing.

RACHEL: But sometimes they write a lot of poetry instead of saying nothing.

JACKIE: T.S. Eiot’s entire body of work is... trying to say something... that he's not able to... you know? Ugh! Why is this happening to me? (laughs)

RACHEL, laughing: It's spreading from the poem to you! You're the new - it’s Jackie Alfred Prufrock!

THEO: Wow.

JACKIE, laughing: That's what the J stands for.

THEO: Jacklie Acklie Prufrock. (Rachel and Theo laugh)

RACHEL: “The overwhelming question.” Let's talk about what we think it is. I think it's ‘Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh?’ (Jackie laughs)

THEO: That's the overwhelming question?

RACHEL: Don't you think, Theo?

THEO: That's an easy question to ask!

RACHEL: But what's the answer?

THEO: That’s an easy question to ask, and you ask me, what’s the answer?

RACHEL: Yeah. (Jackie laughs) Now you're supposed to say, “Oh, do not ask what is it.”

JACKIE: “Let us go and make our visit.”

THEO: No, I don't want to do that.

RACHEL: See, it's an impossible question! Even Theo can't answer it.

THEO: No, I can, obviously Pokemon is better, but... (Jackie laughs)

RACHEL: Well, if only you could have gone back in time and told him.

THEO: That's an easily asked and answered question. Oh, I guess in his time it would be difficult to know.

RACHEL: Exactly, he couldn't put it in words!

JACKIE: Yeah. He's trying to convey the impossible choice that... is not before him.

RACHEL: Well, what do you guys think the question is? Usually people think it's him confessing his love.

THEO: Yeah, it seemed kind of like that.

JACKIE: I think that's definitely what I put onto it as a teenage girl, but I think -

RACHEL: It is a love song.

JACKIE: I don't think it is a love song!

RACHEL, laughing: It's literally The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock!

JACKIE: I know, but I don't think this is really a love poem!


JACKIE: You think it is?

RACHEL: I think it's got a lot of things in it. I think it's a poem about weltschmerz, the pain of the world. And also, you know, looove.

JACKIE: When you think about a love poem or a love song, like, you think of this overflowing of positive emotion, about another person...

RACHEL: Nooo! Not at all! Just a song about loooove.

JACKIE: Yeah, but that's what the general... society thinks of a love song, right Theo? Like -

RACHEL: Ideally, you want it to be positive.

JACKIE: The way this poem is most similar to a love song is that it's a song about... pain. (laughs)

RACHEL: That's fine.

JACKIE: Which I think is how he viewed love.

RACHEL: Okay, let's work our way down. I mean, I like that the fog is a cat. I think that's nice and cute. Jackie, I'm sure you recognize that?

JACKIE: Mee-oww.

RACHEL: I would love to have a pet cat made out of yellow fog. That would be so cute.

JACKIE: Aww! Creepy.

RACHEL, laughing: You’re thinking about it, huh?

THEO: I mean the yellow fog is from burning coal, right? So you know JACKIE with all her CATS, she would keep… burning more and more coal

RACHEL, laughing: More and more coal -

THEO, laughing: - just to get more yellow fog cats!

JACKIE: Every month and a half or so I get a new one.

RACHEL: Yeah. Ever since her boyfriend left the country she's acquired, like, five cats.

THEO: It's… it’s startling.

JACKIE: Well, five and then one has... gone on its way.

RACHEL: In a good way! It got adopted.

(Rachel and Theo laugh)

RACHEL: “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes, the yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes…” Just the repetition he uses is great.

JACKIE: Yeah, I like that.

RACHEL: I love some rhyme in a poem.

JACKIE: Mmhmm.

RACHEL: Love some rhyme.

THEO: SOME rhyme?

RACHEL: It doesn't have to rhyme perfectly the whole time. All of a poet’s work doesn't have to rhyme, but if a poet never rhymes, I look down on them.

THEO: Wow.

RACHEL: Because it's a restriction that you put on yourself, is needing to rhyme.

THEO: I don't know if I necessarily think this sort of rhyming that he does is a restriction he puts on himself, because… he’s so free about it.

JACKIE: It's very, very loose.

RACHEL: No, I'm saying if you tell yourself that ‘I need to have some rhyming in my poem’, that is a restriction.

THEO, uncertainly: Yeah…

JACKIE: I - I sort of think of things like that as gimmicks, and I think there have definitely been times when I've said, ‘Let me just put something in here, because it'll be hard to do and that will be impressive,’ or, ‘that'll be something that, you know, gives it structure or drives me forward’, but these rhymes - kind of like the internal rhymes, like, in Maria Davanni's - Dahvana-Headley’s translation of Beowulf - like I mean, they're musical, they’re... I think this is a poem that's meant to be read out loud. The repetition of the stanza “in the room the women come and go / talking of Michaelangelo,” I think the idea behind this, or at least what I've read, is that women are kind of. like, just this passing abstraction to him. He doesn't, he doesn't feel like he understands them or that they’re really something he can interact with.

RACHEL: I thought it was about how everyone else is essentially in... in a museum enjoying this piece of art, like they're all talking about the same thing, they know what they're talking about, they're enjoying it together and he can't find a way in.

JACKIE: He’s a phony. They’re a phony.

RACHEL: I have never read it as him looking down on them or thinking that they were being phony. I always saw it as him wanting to be included, but not being able to.

JACKIE: He just - he can't figure out how to relate to them.

THEO: Well I thought Michaelangelo - yeah. I mean I guess it rhymes with ‘come and go’, right?

RACHEL, laughing: It does.

JACKIE: Correct… interpretation.

THEO: Why would he pick that artist? I don’t know.

RACHEL: He’s the main guy, right? Michelangelo’s like THE artist, basically.

JACKIE: Like the main Ninja Turtle?

RACHEL: That’s the overwhelming question, is ‘which is your favorite Ninja Turtle’?

JACKIE, laughing: That’s the overwhelming question.

RACHEL, laughing: They’re all talking about Michaelangelo! But he likes Donatello, he just feels like he can't get involved.

JACKIE: When he says ‘in the room’ he means ‘in the sewers’.

RACHEL, laughing: Yes.

THEO: I don't know what point I'm trying to make, it's just that, yeah, there's like, David of course, and then - but then there's also like the Sistine Chapel, which is like these bizarrely muscular…

RACHEL: He created the ideal man for Europeans for centuries?

THEO: Yeah, with David, but I don't know about -

JACKIE: Well, you can bet that he never sculpted T.S. Eliot’s sickly, pale form with his thin arms and legs. So maybe you're right! He’s - there's some sense of in... inadequacy, that’s what I’m trying to say.

RACHEL: He would hate that bod! Who knows? Maybe it just rhymed. (laughs) So, I - I do love how preoccupied he is with how he looks throughout the poem.

THEO: It’s so good.

RACHEL: It’s so good. I KNEW Theo was going to love this poem, I knew he was! It's full of anxiety and like weird... little weird quotes, and I'm like, ‘That's Theo’s weird - wheel! His wheelhouse!” (laughs at her mistake)

JACKIE and THEO, simultaneously: His WEIRDHOUSE!

RACHEL, laughing: Yeah! (Jackie laughs)

JACKIE: “Sorry, that's a little out of my weirdhouse. I can't do that.”

THEO: My wheeled weirdhouse.

RACHEL, laughing: It’s a weirdhouse on wheels.

JACKIE: Yeah. Foot stuff, that’s out of the weirdhouse.

RACHEL, laughing: It’s in Jackie’s weirdhouse.

JACKIE: It is n- we cannot start that. That’s not a thing.

THEO: Prufrock has trouble deciding what is actually important. “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” is followed by, “There will be time to murder and create.”

RACHEL, laughing: Yeah!

THEO: To put on a face for it to like, interact with society, and then like, woah! You're deciding about who lives and who dies?!

RACHEL: Time to murder! (laughs)

THEO, laughing: Yeah!

RACHEL: “My necktie, rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.”

JACKIE: You love that line. You read it like three times.

RACHEL: It's so cute of him to be like, “Oohh! How's my pin?”

JACKIE: Simple.

RACHEL: “Is it simple enough? Is it too simple?”

THEO: He, like, has to worry about all these little ordinary things.

RACHEL: And he's constantly like, “Okay, I'm doing everything I can to look good, but I'm growing BALD and I have stick arms and legs!”

JACKIE, laughing: Stick arms!

THEO: Yeah, “And when I walk away they're going to see the bald spot,” right?


JACKIE: Yeah, so just walk backwards and…

RACHEL: Ugh, keep his back to the wall and just sidle around like a pair of ragged claws.

JACKIE: You can kind of imagine this poem, like, is the work of, like I said, an ancient mind, remembering his entire life and everything that he failed at and like, didn't do when he should have done… or everything he was too neurotic not to do, or to do?

RACHEL: Mmhmm.

THEO: Yeah.

JACKIE: You can also imagine it taking place in, like, a single minute. Like the whole thing is just an anxiety thought, like -


JACKIE: Someone is coming across the room to talk to you and you're like, “DAAAHHH!” and then that - the poem. One instant thought.

THEO: Yeah.

RACHEL: That's how he feels, right? He's like, “I'm sick of the modern world, I'm sick of trying to navigate relationships. What if I was just a freaking lobster?”

JACKIE: Mmhmm.

THEO: Oh, I thought it was a crab.

RACHEL: I mean it could be anything, right?

THEO: But I pictured crab.

RACHEL: But I feel like lobsters’ claws are more ragged than crab claws.

THEO: Hmm.

JACKIE: Yeah, the crab claws are a little pinchy.

RACHEL: But I do think lobsters kind of hang out in one place more and crabs scuttle more, so. I just - the, “For I have known them all 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…” Like, come on! That's great, that's a reason to learn how to speak. English, I got to say. (All laugh)

JACKIE: Tell me more about that. That's an interesting thought.

RACHEL: So, if someone was asking me, “Should I really learn English?” There are things that would come up first, but I would also say, “There are some... You know, there's a really good poem that you probably’d like.” (laughs)

JACKIE: “There's a really good poem!”

RACHEL, laughing: Yeah!

JACKIE: Well that’s very high praise!

RACHEL: It's a good poem!

JACKIE: It is, yeah. So the next thing, and - we've talked about the ragged claws so much, I'm skipping that, sorry.

RACHEL, laughing: Noo! There's more to say! Theo, what did you think when he said that people's eyes “pinned him to the wall, sprawled and wriggling”?

THEO: Yeah. Like a bug, right?

RACHEL: Like a bug. How did you feel about that?

THEO: Um… You know, we've all been there. (Rachel laughs)

JACKIE: What does he mean to - “How should I begin to spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?”

RACHEL: I mean what I get from that is just when people are paying attention to him, how could he possibly express himself? It’s too much. Maybe he can come close to figuring out what he wants to say when he's by himself, but then when it comes to actually having those orbs trained on him, pinning him to a wall...

THEO: Social anxiety.

RACHEL, laughing: Yeah.

JACKIE: Exactly, yeah.

RACHEL: I imagine when he's talking about the butt-ends of his days, it's just like, every day is a cigarette that you're smoking, and then you have this trash left over that he's trying to do something with.

JACKIE, in wonderment: Wow. Every day is a cigarette!

RACHEL, laughing: Sounds like something a horrible teen would say.

JACKIE: Or maybe he's thinking of the butt-ends of the days like... what your thoughts are when you're, like, alone, with your thoughts at night. Like how do you express something like that?

RACHEL: Maybe he’s thinking about butts. Who knows?

JACKIE: Maybe he's thinking about… no, we know he's - he's a foot man. (laughs)


JACKIE: Oh no! Eternal FOOT MAN!

RACHEL: (gasps dramatically) He wishes HE was the eternal footman, that's why!

THEO, laughing: “But I’M the eternal footman.”

RACHEL, laughing: Oh no!

JACKIE: A special kind of consent: holding your coat and snickering. (All laugh)

RACHEL: Okay, sorry! Now you can go to your thing after the claws, Jackie.

JACKIE: So he does a lot of repetition again and he talks about, like, the teas and the toast and the cakes and the ices, and just, like, all of these, like, kind of polite, decorous activities.

RACHEL: Sounds delicious to me.

JACKIE: Yeah, delicious, but they’re things that you eat with your pinky in the air, and with your arms by your side and your spine up straight. And… how do you express yourself? You need, like, a - like, a sloppy joe to express yourself. Like you've gotta just… get in there.

RACHEL: That’s his problem, he should have stayed in the US. They might not have invented sloppy joes by the time he left.

JACKIE: The overwhelming question could have been, “Where can I get a goddamn sloppy joe in this place?”

RACHEL: In London, yeah.

JACKIE: Yeah. “I went to London, I went to England, I went to…”

RACHEL: Same place.

THEO: “Do I dare?”

JACKIE: Yeah, but so he says, after all of this…. After all of this, um, you know, social propriety, “How will I have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” That's a great line.

RACHEL: Mmhmm.

THEO: Yeah.

RACHEL: And he talks about his head being bald again. (laughs)

JACKIE: On a platter! He says, “They're bringing my head in on a platter and, what's worse, it's BALD.”

RACHEL: Do you know what he's referencing?

THEO: John the Baptist.

RACHEL: You know what happened? Do you know how his head got cut off?

JACKIE, confidently: Yeah, it was an accident.

RACHEL: No! It wasn't an accident! (laughs hysterically)

THEO: Yeah!

RACHEL: It happened on accident and you think they like, put it on a plate?

THEO: Workplace incident! Yeah. (Jackie laughing)

RACHEL: No, it was like, a princess was dancing for the king, and he's like, “Your dancing is so cool! I'll give you anything you want, like literally, you can have anything.” And she's like, “Anything?” And he said, “Yeah, anything,” and she's like, “Cut off this man's head and bring it to me on a platter.” So he did.

THEO: All right, let's keep going.

RACHEL: All right, so we reached the part of the poem where he imagines saying something to a woman and the woman saying, “That’s not what I meant at all,” and he imagines that multiple times, and it's horrible to him. (laughs)

JACKIE: And he's saying, “Would it have been worth it to say what I want to say if this is her response?” So do you think -

RACHEL: And so far it seems like it's not worth it, because he hasn't said it yet.

JACKIE: So do you think - that’s him again, like, professing his love and she's saying like, “Oh no! Didn't mean to lead you on.”

RACHEL: “I thought we were friends. Sorry, bro.”

THEO: Yeah, that's how I took it.

RACHEL: Yeah. Oh, did we want to say something about the eternal footman? He even imagines death it- himself laughing, and making fun of him. (laughs)

JACKIE: Yeah. Yeah. That's kind of funny, right?

THEO: Yeah, I like that. Just holding his coat.

RACHEL: The problem is, it has the line, “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, and I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat, and snicker,” and you laugh, yourself, and you're like, ‘That's a hilarious line,’ and the next line is, “and in short, I was afraid.” And you're like, ‘Oh damn, sorry.’ (laughs) I always feel so terrible with that!

JACKIE: Because he does this with this little rhyme!

RACHEL: You’re like, laughing along with death, thinking, “That's so funny, what a cute little thing to think of,” but my gosh! He's afraid! That's terrible!

JACKIE: Well, and the image of his head on a platter, and being preoccupied with the amount of… the lusciousness of its hair, that's funny!

RACHEL: Ugh, I know. It's like, funny anxiety, and then it hits you with, like -

JACKIE: Funny anxiety!

RACHEL: Not-funny-at-all anxiety. (laughs)

JACKIE: Also I think it's funny - “I grow old. I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” And then he talks about all these things he's going to do when he's ancient. He's like, “I'm just going to be some fool wearing these white pants on a beach.”

RACHEL: Sounds awesome! You know when I was in college, I really wanted to be J. Alfred Prufrock for Halloween and I spent a while planning it, but I couldn't find white flannel trousers. (laughs)


JACKIE: I feel like I did a group Halloween costume with you almost every year, and I don't remember this.

RACHEL: Because that's not a group costume. That would have been a solo costume.

JACKIE: You're right. (laughs)

RACHEL: I think I did say to you, “What if I was J. Alfred Prufrock and you were a mermaid?”


RACHEL, laughing: That would be a great couple costume.

JACKIE: I don't remember that, because I would have agreed.

THEO: What about, like, you get a group of people and you're all the different... like, like one person has the tie with the pin…


THEO: One person’s a pair of ragged claws. One person -

JACKIE, laughing: Theo just wants to be the ragged claws.

THEO, laughing: Yeah, yeah!

RACHEL: If the three of us get to spend a Halloween together sometime, can you be a footman who snickers?

THEO: Oh my gosh, I love that!

JACKIE, laughing: Holding a coat in the air... Ooh, and the coat can have a little pin on it.


THEO: Oh, yeah!

JACKIE: It’s THE coat.

RACHEL: Steven could be a crab, Jackie could be a mermaid, and I'll be J. Alfred Prufrock.

JACKIE: And I think they're going to look at this and say, Two of them are ocean themed and what the fuck are these other two things?” (laughs)

RACHEL, laughing: They’ll -

THEO: I mean, but it would be great, someone would be like, “Uh, Theo, what is your costume and why are you just standing over here by the door the whole night?” And I would be like, I would explain it, and then they would say, “Oh, that makes sense. It's not your social anxiety! That's not why you're not talking to people, it’s - it’s your costume, you have to.”

JACKIE: I'm just snickering in the corner.

RACHEL: The character you're pretending to be has social anxiety. (All laugh)

THEO, laughing: The eternal footman has social anxiety?

RACHEL: I don’t know.

JACKIE: Snickering is a kind of nervous laugh, right?

RACHEL: Here’s the thing! “Do I dare to eat a peach?” That's the line in the poem where I'm a little bit like, “Mm… is he a perv?”

JACKIE: I thought he was saying, “Am I going to break my teeth on this?”

THEO: Because he's old.

RACHEL: Why can old person eat a peach?

THEO: It’s soft!

JACKIE: “I'm so old that I have to be worried that I'm going to hurt myself with this soft fruit.”

RACHEL: For most of the poem, I'm not getting perv vibes, but I get a little bit of a perv vibe from him saying, “Do I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”

THEO: I'm not getting perv vibes at all!

RACHEL: At that point, I'm thinking that it's him saying I'm an old man, but I want to hit on this young woman with white arms who's too young for me, and it will be so embarrassing because I'm bald! Because I'm thinking the peach is like, youth? Whatever, and he's thinking, like, “Should I hit on this woman who's too young for me?” I mean when he wrote it I guess he was like twenty two. Whatever! We get to the end, we're talking about Mermaids. “I've heard the mermaids singing each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me. I've seen the riding seaward on the waves, combing the white hair of the waves blown back…” It's all good, but the, the last little bit…

JACKIE: Oh man, there's so much alliteration and, and rhyming, just in those two lines.

RACHEL: It's good.

JACKIE: “Combing the white hair of the waves blown back, when the wind blows the water white and black.”

RACHEL: It’s great!

JACKIE: Wubwubwubwubwubwub. It’s so good.

RACHEL: “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea, by sea-girls wreathed in seaweed red and brown till human voices wake us, and we drown.” (Pause) Didn't have to go off like that, but you did, and I'm glad! (laughs)

JACKIE: Mic drop! (laughs)

RACHEL: It’s so good!

JACKIE: You’re just showing off now!

RACHEL: It’s just so, so good.

JACKIE: It’s so good.

RACHEL: It’s unbelievably good, I can't believe how good it is.

JACKIE: I've read this foo many times before, but when I was listening to Tom Hiddleston reading it in the shower last night -

RACHEL: Okay, Jackie! (laughs)

JACKIE: - which is true, but I swear it's not as weird as it sounds! But I was like I just want to, like, spend a lot of time,,, so I've like, listened to it several times…

RACHEL, laughing hysterically: I - I played Tom Hiddleston reading a poem on repeat while I showered last night!

JACKIE: Not on repeat!

THEO: Just the peach line. (Jackie and Rachel laugh)

JACKIE: “Do I dare to eat a peach? Do I dare to eat a peach?” (Theo laughs) Well, okay, so what I'm saying is, even having read this many times, like, when it was finished, like the actual reading of it, my mouth just dropped. Because I was just like, “Damn. A single human wrote that. And they were a KID. Like, that's just crazy. I'm just in awe.”

RACHEL: This is a good poem. It's funny. If you don't want to get depressed, you don't have to think about it like that. You can just focus on the funny lines. (laughs) It can really... You know, you can adjust it differently to suit different moods.

JACKIE: This has been The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock with your Fire the Canon hosts - Jackie!

RACHEL: Rachel!


JACKIE: And Theo!

THEO: (jumps and makes startled sound) Uhhh… is the producer. (Rachel laughs)

JACKIE: Uh, thanks so much for joining us. We hope you enjoyed this, and we would love to hear your own thoughts and interpretations of this poem, because as we know, there are many.

THEO: Please!

RACHEL: We would love to see a review that you write for us.

JACKIE: Tell us your thoughts in review form.

RACHEL: Yes, please.

JACKIE: You can send us an email at

THEO: We love you!

JACKIE: Facebook - “We love youuuu, Gmail!” (laughs)

RACHEL: We love Google!

JACKIE: We’re on Facebook as, as a discussion group and an official page for announcements at Fire the Canon Podcast! We are on both Twitter and Instagram as FiretheCanonPod. We have a website, which is AND, also,, because I messed up and gave someone the wrong link, and Stephen had to purchase a second domain. You’re welcome, listeners.

RACHEL: “Thank you, Stephen,” is what you should have said. (laughs)

JACKIE: You’re welcome, listeners! This mistake was one that I made on purpose. No, thank you Stephen for your kindness, and fixing all my mistakes. We also have a Patreon!


JACKIE: We also have a Ko-Fi. So if you would like to make a, a one-time donation to us just to say thanks….

RACHEL: We’ll buy a coffee with it.

JACKIE: Purchase as a coffee, a new microphone… You know, whatever you want to do. (Rachel and Theo laugh) K-O dash F-I dot com slash Fire the Canon.

THEO: Our audio quality is going to keep getting worse and worse until you buy us new mics.


RACHEL: And you don't have the choice to stop listening. (laughs)

THEO: All right! So now for our traditional Valentine's Day a-signoff. Here we go...

THEO, RACHEL, and JACKIE simultaneously: We looooove youuuu!

THEO: We love love in all of its forms!

RACHEL: Especially our love for you and yours for us.

* Outro music plays -