I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

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smige2
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I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by smige2 » Sun Feb 08, 2015 2:11 pm

I’ve always been intrigued by Frank’s frequent references to the poet T. S. Eliot in his lyrics. In fact, Frank’s Prufrock reference was one of the reasons I picked up a book of Eliot’s poems when I was 17, and my consequent fascination with Eliot’s poetry led me to study English at university.

I thought it would be interesting to pick out the references to Eliot’s work in Frank’s lyrics and consider their significance. Here, then, is a list of all the Eliot references I am aware of in Frank’s work along with my thoughts on what they mean in the context of the songs. As with all interpretations of lyrics or poetry, this is of course completely subjective and I could be wrong about some or even all of them. It is also possible that there are some references I have overlooked, so please do let me know if there are any I haven’t mentioned!

(I spent quite a while compiling this list as it’s something I happen to find interesting, so please no replies of ‘you need to get a life/hobby/girlfriend/whatever’.)

The four poems Frank references are The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1917), The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925) and Journey of the Magi (1927). Frank has also recorded a reading of The Dry Salvages.


Sleep is for the Week


Beneath the CD on Frank’s debut is the epigram which precedes Eliot’s masterwork, The Waste Land:

"Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis
Vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
Σιβυλλα τι θελεις; respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.”

The epigram translates as: “I have seen with my own eyes the Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her "What do you want?" She answered,"I want to die."” Frank has stated that he wasn’t in a good place when he made this album, and so the allusion might reflect his depressed state of mind at the time.


Love Ire & Song

I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous

Perhaps Frank’s most well-known Eliot reference is this titular nod to Prufrock, the anxious, indecisive protagonist of Eliot’s first major work, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. I’ve spent a long time wondering what the connection is between Frank’s song and Eliot’s poem. Rock Genius offers an interesting interpretation:

“Prufrock is a man who, as he grows old, continues to live his mundane life and doesn’t do the things he really wants to do, reminiscing about lost opportunities. This is exactly the point of the song: revolutions planned, but not carried out; people stuck on “the B-List”; etc. However, Frank maintains that that’s what life is all about: living, despite our little failures.”

In addition, I think there is a comic irony in the implication that Prufrock, who in Eliot’s poem is certain he is doomed to fail, would go on to become famous. More amusing still is the notion that anyone would brag about knowing the pre-fame Prufrock to gain credibility by association, much like the ‘Almost-famous old friends of the stars’ mentioned in the lyrics. If the destined-to-fail Prufrock can become successful and revered, Frank implies, then so can anybody. Yet in suggesting this, Frank also undermines the very concept of success; Prufrock’s heroism is a direct result of his failure, and so a successful Prufrock is not really heroic at all. This reference thus subtly reinforces the song’s message: that life isn’t about ‘waiting to be famous’ or envisioning an idealised future, but about living in the moment and appreciating life as it is right now; our flaws and setbacks are part of who we are.

Imperfect Tense

In the conclusion of Eliot’s ‘The Love Song...’, Prufrock laments, “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me.” The final verse of Imperfect Tense is evocative of these lines:

“It's not meant to be
I am lost at sea
So mermaids, sing to me
Of the better times and the things that can be
And of islands in the Mediterranean sea
And of eating and sleeping at times when I should
And of washing the drink and the drugs from my blood”

Like Prufrock, Frank is yearning for the salvation offered by the seductive song of the mermaids. Prufrock ‘drowns’ on his realisation that the mermaids are merely a dream, which may suggest Frank’s desire to get his shit together is equally unfeasible.


The First Three Years


Sea Legs

The line “Oh darling thou pluckest me out” is similar to “O Lord Thou pluckest me out”, a line in the ‘Fire Sermon’ section of The Waste Land. Eliot actually lifted this from St Augustine’s Confessions:

“but Thou pluckest me out, O Lord, Thou pluckest me out; because Thy loving-kindness is before my eyes.”

Augustine advocated asceticism - the surrender of earthly pleasures in favour of spiritual enlightenment - and Eliot uses the reference to lament the demise of these values in Western culture. Frank might be suggesting that the addressee of the song - presumably a lover - allowed him to reach a state of enlightenment similar to that bestowed upon Augustine by God before he became estranged from her.


Poetry of the Deed

It hadn’t occurred to me, until Bella pointed out on this forum, that the swallows on the artwork of Frank’s third LP are a possible Eliot allusion. Here’s what Bella suggested:

“Frank also enjoys myths and is also a huge TS Elliot fan - In "The Waste Land", T. S. Eliot quoted the line "Quando fiam uti chelidon [ut tacere desinam]?" ("When will I be like the swallow, so that I can stop being silent?") This refers to a version of the myth of Philomela in which she turns into a Nightingale and her sister Procne into a Swallow.”

In addition to the artwork, two of the songs on POTD feature Eliot references.

Sons of Liberty


In this song, Frank attacks governments which curtail personal privacy, liberty and freedom by referring to them as ‘The Hollow Men’. This is a reference to Eliot’s poem ‘The Hollow Men’, in which the poet laments the spiritual emptiness of society in the wake of the Great War (much as he does in The Waste Land). Read politically, Eliot’s poem might be understood as an attack on the politicians responsible for the War, who he felt had lost sight of core human values. Frank therefore implies that governments which undermine their citizens’ privacy and personal freedoms have similarly misunderstood what it means to be human.

Journey of the Magi

This track borrows its title from a poem written by Eliot soon after his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism, describing the arduous journey of the three wise men (magi). One of the magi was Balthazar, who Frank refers to in the final verse of his song - yet Frank subverts the religious themes of Eliot’s poem by suggesting Balthazar merely found ‘a virgin defiled / no king, but a child / too small for a crown.’ Whereas Eliot’s magi end the poem disillusioned and alienated (“I should be glad of another death”), Frank’s Balthazar is grateful for his experiences despite the disappointing outcome of his quest, stating “In the end, the journey’s brought joys that outweigh the pain.”

It is worth noting that Moses and Odysseus, mentioned in the first and second verses of Frank’s song, weren’t technically magi and don’t, as far as I know, have any obvious connection to Eliot’s poem.


Tape Deck Heart

Whilst England Keep My Bones was the first of Frank’s solo albums not to feature any Eliot references, the allusions were back with a vengeance on his heartbreak record.

The Fisher King Blues

One of the central myths alluded to in The Waste Land is that of the Fisher King. In Arthurian legend the Fisher King is a keeper of the holy grail who is made impotent due to an injury to his legs or groin. As a result of the king’s impotence, his kingdom becomes infertile and is reduced to a wasteland. In The Waste Land, Eliot places the Fisher King in postwar London and depicts him “fishing in the dull canal,” suggesting modern society has become metaphorically infertile: hedonistic, loveless and spiritually empty. Frank similarly places the Fisher King in a modern context, sitting in the abandoned Battersea Power Station “ponder[ing] on his ruin,” suggesting the problems discussed by Eliot pervade today.

In the Arthurian legend, it is necessary for the Fisher King to be healed in order for his lands to be restored and made fertile. Interestingly, Frank reverses this idea in his song, suggesting that those wounded by love must recover in order to heal the king: “All you broken boys and girls / With your tattered flags unfurled / Fix yourselves then fix the Fisher King.”

Anymore

The chorus “Not with a bang, but with a whimper” alludes to the famous ending of ‘The Hollow Men’:

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Poetry Genius neatly sums up Eliot’s meaning here:

“Throughout human history, it has often been assumed that our end will come through some great and climactic reckoning (such as the events described in the Book of Revelation). Eliot brings us back to reality in suggesting that the world as we know it will end through the paralysis of human communication, the loss of human interaction, resulting in our final “whimper.””

Frank therefore suggests his relationship ends in a similarly anticlimactic way following the realisation that he doesn’t love his partner any more.

Broken Piano

The wording of second verse of this track echoes the Fire Sermon section of The Waste Land. Compare:

“As I have wandered through this city,
Like a child lost in the London fog,
From Highgate Hill, down to the river,
Then washed downstream past the Isle of Dogs,”

“The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.”

More generally, the song’s references to the Thames and to a miserable London are evocative of The Waste Land, particularly the Fire Sermon section.


Million Dead

Frank was alluding to Eliot before he went solo, and there are several references on the group’s second album, Harmony No Harmony.

Cathagio Est Delenda

The first line of this song, “To Carthage then I came,” can be found in the Fire Sermon section of The Waste Land. This is actually another reference by Eliot to St Augustine’s Confessions, taken from the same lines as the reference in Sea Legs:

“To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest
burning.”

Murder and Create

The title of this song is taken from Prufrock: “There will be time to murder and create.” The refrains of “How should I begin?” and “How should I presume?” are also lifted directly from the same poem.
Last edited by smige2 on Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
22.08.08, 29.10.08, 19.01.09, 07.03.09, 30.08.09, 29.10.09, 24.03.10, 19.06.10, 19.07.10, 10.12.10, 21.04.11, 27.05.11, 27.11.11, 13.04.12, 25.04.13, 12.09.14, 26.03.15, 29.03.15, 31.07.15

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darlenet.
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by darlenet. » Sun Feb 08, 2015 3:05 pm

smige2 wrote:Whilst England Keep My Bones was the first of Frank’s solo albums not to feature any Eliot references, the allusions were back with a vengeance on his heartbreak record.
I'm not sure I would call it a reference, but Balthazar, Impresario always put me in the mind of Gus, the Theatre Cat from Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
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smige2
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by smige2 » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:10 am

Good spot, I hadn't made that connection.

I've tried to update my first post with links to the poems but I think you can only post up to three links per post. So here's The Waste Land and Frank's reading of The Dry Salvages.
22.08.08, 29.10.08, 19.01.09, 07.03.09, 30.08.09, 29.10.09, 24.03.10, 19.06.10, 19.07.10, 10.12.10, 21.04.11, 27.05.11, 27.11.11, 13.04.12, 25.04.13, 12.09.14, 26.03.15, 29.03.15, 31.07.15

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darlenet.
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by darlenet. » Sat Feb 14, 2015 8:48 pm

I have read that Balthazar was inspired by Joseph Grimaldi, but the vibe of the song always reminded me of the vibe of the poem. Really nice job on those interpretations, by the way.
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smige2
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by smige2 » Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:21 pm

Thanks, I'm glad you liked them. I can see why you would link Gus with Balthazar - there's definitely an overlap of themes. Perhaps that poem was a subliminal influence on Frank's song.
22.08.08, 29.10.08, 19.01.09, 07.03.09, 30.08.09, 29.10.09, 24.03.10, 19.06.10, 19.07.10, 10.12.10, 21.04.11, 27.05.11, 27.11.11, 13.04.12, 25.04.13, 12.09.14, 26.03.15, 29.03.15, 31.07.15

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Bobstains
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by Bobstains » Mon Feb 16, 2015 2:08 pm

Interesting read, thanks for that.

ToTheWest
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by ToTheWest » Tue Mar 10, 2015 4:22 am

Hey, smige-- I studied English as well and I'm impressed. Had I but known about Frank's music during my undergraduate years [though he was still with Million Dead at the time], I might have occupied myself with doing the same. As it was, the best I did was dedicating two different essays to Bad Religion [one comparing their lyrics to e.e. cummings poems], which worked out surprisingly well for me grade-wise. Nerds unite.
Last edited by ToTheWest on Wed Sep 09, 2015 2:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
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smige2
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by smige2 » Thu Mar 12, 2015 5:59 pm

ToTheWest wrote:Hey, smige-- I studied English as well and I'm impressed. Had I but know about Frank's music during my undergraduate years [though he was still with Million Dead at the time], I might have occupied myself with doing the same. As it was, I dedicated two different essays to Bad Religion [one comparing their lyrics to e.e. cummings poems], which worked out surprisingly well for me grade-wise. Nerds unite.
That sounds really interesting. I've actually emailed the contents of my post to one of my old tutors and he reckons they could form the basis of a chapter of a PhD on Eliot's influence on contemporary lyrics and poetry - I'm going to discuss it with him in a few weeks!
22.08.08, 29.10.08, 19.01.09, 07.03.09, 30.08.09, 29.10.09, 24.03.10, 19.06.10, 19.07.10, 10.12.10, 21.04.11, 27.05.11, 27.11.11, 13.04.12, 25.04.13, 12.09.14, 26.03.15, 29.03.15, 31.07.15

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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by Fridaythe13th » Wed Sep 02, 2015 2:13 am

So interesting. Thanks for breaking it down for us not-so-literary folks!

hnoor0033
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by hnoor0033 » Tue Feb 02, 2016 8:21 am

I dedicated two different essays to Bad Religion [one comparing their lyrics to e.e. cummings poems], which worked out surprisingly well for me grade-wise. Nerds unite.

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smige2
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by smige2 » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:31 pm

hnoor0033 wrote:I dedicated two different essays to Bad Religion [one comparing their lyrics to e.e. cummings poems], which worked out surprisingly well for me grade-wise. Nerds unite.
Nice!


I keep meaning to update this post with the Eliot references on the new album. We have The Angel Islington which features a bridge about the Fisher King abdicating; Frank's introduction to this song on tour confirms that Broken Piano was also about the Fisher King, and that The Angel Islington picks up where that song left off. Then we have The Opening Act of Spring which mentions "cruel April" in reference to the first line of The Waste Land. That's it from memory...
22.08.08, 29.10.08, 19.01.09, 07.03.09, 30.08.09, 29.10.09, 24.03.10, 19.06.10, 19.07.10, 10.12.10, 21.04.11, 27.05.11, 27.11.11, 13.04.12, 25.04.13, 12.09.14, 26.03.15, 29.03.15, 31.07.15

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tamarateaches
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Re: I knew Prufrock before he got referenced

Post by tamarateaches » Thu Jun 23, 2016 9:47 pm

This is very cool! Thank you! I'm in a teacher training for AP English Literature and although I was an English major, I didn't focus on the classics as much as I (now) wish I had. I LOVE the connections and that I can, yet again, use Frank's song lyrics in my classroom. Last year we studied Transcendentalism and were in the midst of reading "Into the Wild". One weekend while on a long drive and listening to Journey of the Magi, I thought the song might be fun to bring to my classroom and so I thought, "Hmmm, did Frank mean to make this transcendental? IS it transcendental? What would my students think? SO...I emailed Mr. Turner and like a giddy 43 year old fan, I was so elated when he wrote back. Frank didn't answer my question though. He told me he was happy to hear I was using it but that literary interpretation is paramount in learning and that the meaning of the song is for my students and I to figure out. In the end a good chunk of kids thought it was transcendental (these kids, I feel, didn't research the 3 magi enough and relied on the last verse that suggests to "take to the road" and follow your heart. Those who really researched the background of the magi did not find it transcendental. Needless to say, I loved teaching this, loved playing the music for them, and enjoyed watching them struggle to interpret it.

SO...THANKS! I plan on using your site to do some lesson planning.

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