Prufrock and Peaches

The peach orchard ~ May, 2019

Poor J. Alfred Prufrock. One of T.S. Eliot’s most memorable creations, he roams the streets and rooms of his poem — “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” — haunted by a hundred indecisions.

Sometimes distressed by the grand questions of life, he becomes equally paralyzed before the smaller decisions it requires, asking “Do I dare disturb the universe?” while remaining unsure how to part his hair.

In the midst of his dithering, he asks a question I’ve always found amusing: “Do I dare to eat a peach?” At the height of our peach season, filling my baskets at a local orchard and daring to eat a peach or two as I plucked, I pondered J. Alfred’s question, and tucked this answer in with the fruit.

 

To
dare to
pluck, to sift
through leafy boughs
in seach of summer’s
bounty; to taste what heat
sends, dripping-sweet, down chins and
elbowed branches; hearing orchards
sing of rain-drenched life, of growth, of joy ~
it’s here the answer ripens as it will.

 

Comments always are welcome. For the complete text of Eliot’s poem and the context for Prufrock’s question, click here.
For more information on the Etheree, a syllabic poem containing ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click here.

97 thoughts on “Prufrock and Peaches

    1. And not only peaches: watermelon and almost over-ripe cantaloupe drip nicely, too. There’s nothing better than freshly-picked fruit, although it’s good to remember that some needs to go into the bucket to be taken home!

  1. While adding an additional syllable to each new line, you’ve also managed to maintain an almost perfect alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables. Were you paying special attention to the meter here, or did it just happen?

    1. I was paying attention, and reading each revision aloud as I went. As with haiku, counting syllables is a necessary starting point, but attending to meter and rhyme makes an etheree feel more poetic — at least, to me.

    1. A book? Maybe when I’m too old to be running the country, or otherwise get grounded. I think about it from time to time — but not very hard.

      I wish I could send you a peck of these peaches. I had some Red Haven peach preserves once, from American Spoon, and they were delicious, but nothing in the world beats a peach right off the tree. Unfortunately, our local ones are gone now, but we’ll still have some from farms a little farther north. We’re not suffering, though — the blueberries are in, and it won’t be long until the melons appear. It makes the heat worthwhile.

      1. I have a 95 yr old Russian friend who’s been working for 30 yrs on a book about her and her Chester’s* experience in German work camps during WW II. Its what keeps her going, the need to leave behind a record. She has let me read sections. It is very powerful, an important document and well written in her unique English. She can’t find a publisher because she wants the word “God” in the title, and no agent will touch it. She is thinking about mortgaging her house, which she and Chester were finally able to purchase and raise their only child in, to pay for private printing. Each friday when I visit her, I am torn between advising her about wise use of resources and encouraging her to not give up. She thinks it will be important for her grandchildren; I tell her it is important for the world. Your writing is too. Someday it should be preserved in a book. Don’t give up. Don’t stop writing.

        P.S. “Prufrock” was the first poem I could relate to in school. Even now I think of wearing my trousers rolled, and do. My shorts as well. I never understood about the peach though.

        * Chester and Nadia made it to New York on a troop ship. Eventually she became a teacher of Russian and he a successful scientist and photographer. He died about 15 yrs ago. Nadia is still in the house alone with the spiders and roaches, though her real companions are the birds who sing to her, and of course Chester’s spirit.

        * the name given him by American soldiers who couldn’t pronounce his Russian-Polish given name)

    1. I confess that ‘elbowed branches’ pleases me. Using the more mundane ‘chins and elbows’ would have kept the focus on the peach plucker — and who’s to say a tree doesn’t enjoy a little peach juice now and then?

    1. I’m not sure about that. I frequently see universes disturbed, but that’s speaking metaphorically, rather than astronomically. A disturbed universe can be a sight to behold; Prufrock’s caution is well-taken, even if he did carry it a bit far.

  2. Terrific poem, Linda!!
    I don’t think that a week goes by, that I don’t think of Eliot’s poem, with lines that sometimes strike me as poignant, other times pathetic, and then others, pretty funny. “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…” You did wonderfully with the peaches.

    1. Those coffee spoons nearly made it into this post. It’s a line that comes to mind occasionally, usually because of an encounter with someone who seems to have a matched set in a back pocket. I always laugh when I remember it.

      I love the Four Quartets, but summer is icumen in, and those are pot-roast poems: better enjoyed in winter. I’d rather eat a peach and ponder Prufrock finally rolling up those white flannels and giving a paddleboard a try. It’s the season to kick back a little, after all!

  3. That poem does have a rather ‘juicy’ rhythm to it! It is a good read aloud etheree. I like ‘to taste what heat sends dripping-sweet’….like a rhyme within.

    1. I’ve taken to reading these etherees aloud as I write and revise. I don’t do it all the time, but an occasional “audio check” can reveal things that need to be adjusted. I missed that internal rhyme — thanks for pointing it out!

      1. Not all poems rhyme and some are almost prosaic. Etherees with the discipline of syllable count can tell a story in a more prosaic way. This example though has a different kind of cadence starting with the punch of “To dare to pluck, to sift..” and then the internal heat-sweet that I liked. But, on the prose side I enjoy when the measured lines read logically one onto the next as….to sift through leafy boughs in search of summer’s bounty…. So this one flows, yet has such a pleasant cadence to it….its lively and fun like summer!! Plus it has philosophy…the answer ripens as it will….

  4. Oh, you bet I would dare to eat a peach! I wouldn’t hesitate for one minute. Peaches are one of my favorites. Not having good peaches is one of the few things I regret about living “north of north.” Over the past ten years, peaches have come to Maine, but they are not as good as the southern ones. I’m sure it’s because of the varieties farmers must use in this cold climate. But who knows? As climate change progresses, perhaps Maine will be able to grow good peaches.

    1. My iconic midwestern foods are sweet corn and tomatoes. Good, even excellent, tomatoes can be found here, but sweet corn never is as good as corn that’s fresh from a midwestern garden. When I think of Maine, I think of blueberries, of course. We have blueberry growers here now, using new varieties made for the Texas climate, but I’ll bet they’re not as good as yours.

  5. You can almost smell the peaches in that image. That’s summer. We had a peach tree at the farm when I grew up. It seemed so wonderful just to be able to go out and pick fruit off the tree instead of going through bins selecting at the grocery store. Funny, just realized so many never get that experience. We are so lucky to have orchards and farms near us still.
    I always loved that poem by Eliot.
    Yours is just as sweet.

    1. I first learned cherry, apple, and plum picking: skills that I happily transferred to peaches and dewberries when I came to Texas. Picking for pleasure (or home canning) is quite different from picking for shipping — hence the difference between the Froberg strawberries and even the best from the stores. Milk from the cow, eggs gathered in the yard: sometimes I think allowing more people experience of the best of ‘real’ food would do more than anything to help end the obesity epidemic. Once you’ve tasted truly fresh, the effort to get it would beat waiting in a fast food line every time.

      I’m glad you like the poem, and the photo, too. By the time I wanted the photo, I was afraid the trees would have been picked clean. The good news was the high branches that were inaccessible to people left me a lovely cluster of peaches.

      1. Not only knowing what real food tastes like, getting out in the sun, air, and walking the rows – bugs, spiders, prickly weeds and all – is a little reminder nature is the required basis of life – and so many never have any contact with it…You are right, grocery stores do not do it.
        (Canning. Oh the early summer mornings growing up with the kitchen already steamy trying to get it done before the day really heated things up before AC. )

    1. Isn’t it neat, the way it all came together? I started out only wanting a basket of those lovely, luscious peaches, but as so often happens, one thing led to another. I’m so glad you enjoyed the result — thank you.

    1. It’s occurred to me that, when someone asks how things are going, I’ll sometimes reply, “Just peachy.” I don’t know how that expression came to be, but it’s one of the best ways I know to describe an especially nice situation. What’s funny is that I’ve heard it used sarcastically, too. Everything depends on the tone of voice.

      Peaches, on the other hand, are always wonderful — at least, when they’re ripe, juicy, and warm from the sun. Are there particular fruits in your area that provide the same sort of pleasure? I hope so!

  6. Especially lovely imagery. I agree with everyone above. Elbowed branches? Wonderful. I can picture the sweetness running all the way down the the gnarled knees.

    1. And as soon as I read your comment, I suddenly envisioned long lines of ants following those sweet trails. The mockingbirds seem as fond of peaches as of figs, too. We humans aren’t the only ones attracted to the best of nature’s bounty.

      I like your addition of the knees, too. It’s been years since I’ve thought of the old expression that used to be used to describe an especially awkward person: “all elbows and knees.”

  7. And the Texas peaches (the ones I’ve eaten) are delish this year! Your photo captures their juicy essence: lush, rich, full of summer at its best.

    1. For years I always thought of Fredericksburg when I thought of peaches. I’m wondering if this year’s freeze cut back their crop. I certainly hope not — and I’m glad you’ve been able to find some good ones.

      You’re right that they taste like summer, although the fact that the orchards here have been picked clean is a reminder that time’s a-flying, and mid-summer’s almost here. It seems only yesterday that the first spring flowers were appearing.

      1. I wish I could take credit for choosing the peaches that we’ve had, but we belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) called Farmhouse Delivery: https://farmhousedelivery.com/ and receive a bushel of veg/fruit each week, delivered to our door. All organic, all local (withing 250 miles). The peaches we’ve had are from Lightsey Farm, Mexia, Texas.

        1. I’ve thought about joining a CSA from time to time, but there’s just too much food for one person, and I haven’t been able to find someone willing to split a membership. Lucky you!

  8. One of my favorite T.S. Eliot poems! “I grow old…I grow old” Eliot would approved of your poem. Very timely as it is peach time in the Texas Hill Country. I have often traveled to the area for peaches for cobblers. Your photo makes them look like jewels. Clever of you to combine all of these elements in a clever, unexpected way.

    1. And I’ll bet you’ve rolled your trousers a time or two — maybe for beachcombing, if nothing else.

      Just yesterday I was out at the farm where I photographed these peaches, and a woman arrived, hoping to pick some herself. She was crestfallen when she learned the trees had been picked clean, but cheered herself up with the thought of using peaches as an excuse for a trip to the hill country.
      I know dewberries have a fine reputation, but since meeting Texas peach cobblers, I’ve always thought they should qualify as the iconic Texas dessert.

      The peaches in the photo do look rather jewel-like, don’t they? They’re beautiful on the tree, but they certainly are delicious when off!

    1. Summer joy, it is. Down here, things can begin to drag a bit in July and particularly in August, when all we want is for the heat to come to an end. But now? The fruit’s ripe, the cicadas are calling, and even the humidity’s down a bit. I couldn’t help trying to capture a bit of it, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you!

  9. Ripe peaches? Already? I might just test a few at the greengrocers when I next go. This country doesn’t allow for peaches to grow, it’s too cold here. Ours come from Spain.

    And T.S. Eliot? One of my favourite poets. I love reading him out loud, the way he plays with words and ideas is just enchanting.

    1. One thing I’ve enjoyed about blogging is the glimpse it provides into the seasons around the world, not to mention the flora and fauna. When I first arrived in Texas back in the ’70s, I was astonished to learn that strawberries were available in February. With this year’s strawberries already finished, the peaches fill the gap, along with the blueberries, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers that are ready for picking. Yesterday, I checked the fig trees: the fruit’s there, but it will need a little more time before I can satisfy that urge.

      Eliot’s been a favorite of mine for years. Every spring, the flood season brings to mind the Dry Salvages, with that perfect line about the river as a “strong, brown god.”

    1. I promised you peaches — it was easier to pluck the fruit than to arrange the words, but here they are, and I’m glad you enjoyed them.

      I can’t help wondering if your comment is a sly take on William Carlos Williams’s famous poem. Whether it was meant to be or not, it brought his poem to mind, and it’s pretty darned delicious itself:

      I have eaten
      the plums
      that were in
      the icebox

      and which
      you were probably
      saving
      for breakfast

      Forgive me
      they were delicious
      so sweet
      and so cold

    1. A two-napkin pear is a thing of beauty and a joy forever — or at least a joy for as long as it lasts. Still, you have the memory of those peaches, and memory can be just as sweet. I know so little of your country — do you have fresh fruits from farther north throughout the winter, or do they have to be imported?

  10. An excellent complement to Mr. Prufrock’s query. This and The Hollow Men are favorites.

    I don’t believe I have ever picked a peach although I’ve had more than my share of chin dripping juicy peaches.

    1. There’s something for nearly everyone in Eliot, I think. Even in his longer pieces that aren’t generally appealing, I have favorite passages that have stayed with me for years. When I was young, I had no appreciation for Prufrock, but age and experience have made him more relevant, and even more appealing.

      I love picking fruit. When I still had the squirrel, I enjoyed going out and harvesting fresh acorns for him, too. Maybe that’s why I enjoy my work as I do. What others see as dull and repetitive, I experience as dull, repetitive, but somehow satisfying.

    1. At least in this case I seem to have plucked a few sweet words. They weren’t quite as drippy as the peaches, but they satisfied me just as much. Not only that, it’s easier to share the words than to get the peaches shipped to you!

  11. Beautiful words, thoughts, and images sprouting from Prufrock. That’s one of my favourite poems of TSE. I love all yours too, so juicy, especially appreciate this phrase: “to sift through leafy boughs in seach of summer’s bounty” Makes me think of my birding experience… always sifting through leaves to find a bird.

    1. And I love the way you expanded that branch-sifting image to include your hunt for birds — very nice, and appropriate now that spring and summer have come your way. I saw you’ve been birding at the pond again, and I’m anxious to see what you’ve found. I know it has to have been pleasurable just to be outdoors again. We’re having a week of lower humidity that’s a bit of an extension of spring, and everyone’s enjoying it.

  12. Oh my goodness! I have not thought about “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for decades! Our mother used to make us memorize poetry, and this one was hers (she played along, and gave herself one of the longest and toughest). I will never forget many of the lines. I remember all of my own Yeats and Tennyson and Frost and many others’ poems as well. What a fun memory. And peaches – my favorite fruit. And a short read – all I can manage these days. You’ve triple-scored!

    1. Triple-scores are good — hooray for me! Whatever you’re up to, I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I’ve been enjoying some recent short travels. I’ve thought of you a time or two, and have meant to ask whether you’ve been to Enchanted Rock. It’s getting a little hot now for hiking there, but it certainly would be a great destination when things cool off.

      I’ve read a few articles recently whose authors were breathless with excitement over a new teaching technique: memorization. I just laugh. Everything old is new again, it seems. There’s no question that our mothers and teachers left us with a rich heritage to draw on. The substitution of memes for memorization and emojis for words is a first step on the path back to the caves as far as I’m concerned, but I’m getting old and turning crotchety. So be it, sez me.

      1. I have been to Enchanted Rock, and I was enchanted! We did a quick hike there one day and found it geologically fascinating. I’ve been doing lots of hiking-specific training these days (filling my days, along with work and daily chores), and I just returned from some nice, long (10-15 miles/day) test hikes in Marin County, CA, which I managed to visit by tagging along on a paid business trip for my husband. Lucky me! Maybe I’ll get around to a post …

  13. I followed your link to the poem which I had never read before. ‘Measured out my life with coffee spoons’ – a touch of Shakespeare in that it is a phrase I knew but not the author

    1. Isn’t it funny how that happens? It’s really quite delightful that lines of poetry can move into popular culture and become common usage even among people who say they don’t like poetry. Of course, Eliot’s “The Naming of Cats” became a musical, and some lines (like “not with a bang but a whimper”) have been used in so many contexts they’re probably uncountable. Like Shakespeare, his work’s filled with such gems.

  14. I think folks miss out on a wonderful experience when all they get are peaches fresh at the grocery store, don’t you, Linda? I mean, there’s something so magical about eating fresh peaches right off the tree and letting their sweetness drip right down your face! Of course, peaches aren’t in season here yet, but everybody hopes they’ll be plentiful. Beautiful Etheree, with fantastic imagery!!

    1. That’s true with any food, I think. I brought home some tomatoes I plucked from their vines last night, and I don’t need to tell you how different they are from what comes into the stores. Even those labeled “local” or “organic” in the stores pale in comparison. It’s understandable — a warm, fully ripe tomato or peach can’t be shipped — but it’s also a reminder to search out local, seasonable produce even if it takes a little effort.

      I was a little surprised by how well this etheree worked. Now, I just hope I can do it again.

      By the way — I saw a sign along the road yesterday that said, “Start a summer band.” Do you have another concert in the works?

      1. Actually, we do, Linda! Our director hands out 8-10 new pieces every Tuesday; we run through them in practice and perform them in concert TWO days later — imagine that! Talk about Baptism by Fire, ha!!

    1. Peaches and poetry make a fine combination, don’t you think? The peaches might be sweeter, but both are nourishing. As for Eliot, I think it’s partly the combination of influences in his life that help to make his poetry so rich. From the influence of the Mississippi during his St. Louis childhood, to his conversion to the Anglican church, to his deep appreciation for eastern traditions, he formed something that’s been more enduring than perhaps even he imagined.

  15. Peaches evoke a family memory. My dad planted two peach trees at the house they bought in 1962. They bore fruit, and for a number of years (until the borers got the trees) we had that nectar of the gods, home-made peach ice cream. It was made with eggs, cream, peaches chopped and blended, and apricot nectar. I should be that rich.

    It also evoked the album of the Allman Brothers produced just before the tragic death of Duane Allman, “Eat A Peach” which title drummer Butch Trucks said was a sly reference to the above-mentioned Eliot poem.

    1. That ice cream recipe’s interesting. We made strawberry ice cream, but we never chopped and blended the berries; we only added them to the ice cream. I suspect blending the peaches and adding that apricot nectar would have made something indescribable to someone who’s never had it. Of course, even homemade vanilla ice cream is something impossible to describe to someone who’s only had ice cream from the store. I’ll never say a bad word about Bluebell, but there’s a reason they call it “Homemade Vanilla” and use country-and-family themed commercials.

      I’ve always liked “Melissa” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time,” but I didn’t realize “Eat a Peach” was the name of the album they came from. Speaking of the Allman/Trucks connection, have you ever seen the video of 13-year-old Derek Trucks opening for the Allman Band? “Layla” is good, but the jam that starts about 2:40 is unbelievable.

  16. How wonderful you are already getting fresh peaches. Oh my goodness I am craving one now. Only a few more days before the “Peach Truck” will arrive for their weekly visits. They know Wylie and will offer him a “treat”, a small slice of a fresh peach. Loved the poem. It would be wonderful to pick my own peach off the tree and eat it, but I have to settle for picking up my case of them.

    1. At least you get good peaches. Where do they come from? Are there orchards there in Kansas, or are they from… Arkansas, maybe? It tickles me that Wylie gets a peach treat, too. I’ve never known a fruit-eating dog, but of course I’ve never known one that got a potato-frosted elk birthday cake, either. I do know a cat that likes lettuce, so I guess we never know what will appeal.

      I’m just so happy to see your photos of the haying, and all those signs of summer. Some sunshine and dry weather after all that rain ought to set a lot of crops on a good course–not only the fruits!

    1. Actually, we’re almost past our peach season, although some farmers I buy from will have fruit for a few more weeks; they’re about three hours north, and come down for a farmers’ market every weekend. Blueberries are in now, and the fig trees have set fruit. If there’s anything I enjoy more than peaches from the tree, it might be figs, provided the birds don’t get them all.

  17. Well done on all accounts–the diction, the structure, the imagery. Eliot, himself, might have given you a compliment (although I am not so sure).

    1. If I could get him to roll up his trousers, come out to the orchard, and eat a peach, I’ll bet I’d get a compliment: perhaps not for the poem, but who would care about that? It would be fun to see his inner midwesterner come out again.

  18. I really like the image of an answer “ripening,” and so being fruit: first a blossom, then forming a shape, and maturing while it draws deeply from the ground over which it hangs; and slowly it matures until the time is right to take this answer and eat it. Lovely.

    1. I like that you picked up on that last line, Allen. Perhaps that’s why some of the answers being sold in the marketplace of ideas are so tasteless and bland. They weren’t allowed to ripen, but were plucked too soon by those unwilling to wait – or unable to recognize when the time for harvest had come.

  19. What a peachy keen post, photo, poem! You do have a way with words. Read your poems aloud — twice to hear and feel the rhythms. Fresh plucked fruit offers such rich flavor that cannot be matched at the store. Am reminded white peaches are presently available for which I’ve developed a taste as generally prefer the luscious yellow meat ones.

    1. The orchard where I took this photo has both white and yellow varieties, and this year the white were luscious. They were a little smaller than the yellow, so I favored them for eating out of hand and stayed with the yellow for baking and freezing; the yellow’s larger size made the tasks go more quickly.

      This poem does have a bit of a bounce to it that I really like. Part of the trick, of course, is not becoming impatient and publishing too soon, just because the syllable count is right. Even poems sometimes need to ripen a bit!

  20. You stunned me here, Linda, with your words and thoughts and the profoundness of T.S.Eliot’s poem and how it fit into your moments of the current peach season. Gorgeous photo too. Thanks for this sweet summer visit.

    1. One of the benefits of taking in music, poetry, and art more deeply than a casual glance is that they become part of us, available to be drawn on in the oddest of circumstance: like a peach orchard. Eliot’s been a favorite for decades, and one of the best things I ever did was buy a copy of his complete works. There are some gems in there that appeal to me as much as his most famous works.

      I was happy with that photo. It seemed to capture the bright liveliness of the peaches in just the right way.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I wish I’d been able to capture the scent of those ripe peaches that was wafting through the orchard. There wasn’t any need to sniff one at close range; the fragrance was discernible from quite some distance. When the air smells like peaches taste, it’s as close to perfection as I’ve found.

    1. Oh, my. Isn’t that the truth? When I used to take my mother grocery shopping, the time spent in front of the yogurt or cereal selection could be considerable. On the other hand, as the range of decision-making possibilities decreases, it may be that the pleasure of making even small decisions increases.

    1. That’s exactly right. Of course, it’s worth remembering that some answers can’t be forced. They need time to ripen, just like a peach. It’s easy to get over-eager because of anxiety or uncertainty and try to move things along — but anyone who’s bitten into a gorgeously colored, fuzzy peach and found it hard as a rock knows how valuable that extra time on the tree can be!

    1. Strange that I don’t think of fruit when I think of your country, Berries, maybe, but none of the plums, cherries, apples, and peaches that we have. I hope you have them, as there’s just nothing like fruit fresh from an orchard. I need to have a look. You certainly have the flowers and veggies!

    1. It’s so human, isn’t it? Today I suppose we call it analysis paralysis, but so much of our indecision doesn’t rise to consciousness. I’ve come to think that’s part of the power of the poem. Even as we smile at Prufrock, we recognize ourselves in his behavior and thoughts.

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