Today, A Poem Almost Made Me Cry

Hello internet people! Forgive me, for I am about to lit major myself into a frenzy here–but it’s not just poetry, it’s personal! Probably one of the most personal posts I’ve written, in fact. So here goes…

For fun, here’s a picture of T.S. Eliot

It’s no great secret to those that know me well that I’m not a big poetry person. I know that’s probably blasphemous for a literature and creative writing major to say, but it’s just not my style. When I love a poem, however, I love it with INTENSITY. And one of my very favorite poems is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot. I have read this poem by far more times than any other, and yet every time I come back to it I find something new to fall in love with.

This is the point in the blog post where I tell that if you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s on the internet. You can even get it on for free to listen to on audio. Or youtube. Just do it.

Have you done it? Okay, good. Now you can understand where I’m coming from here. I love this poem for so many reasons, but today I was sitting in class and we were discussing it and people starting throwing around the term “social anxiety” to describe our speaker (presumably, Mr. Prufrock himself). I sat back in my chair and for a moment I wanted to cry.

Because there it was, suddenly, staring me in the face so that I couldn’t ignore it any more. I love this poem because it is essentially my anthem. It speaks to a part of me that, like Prufrock, I simultaneously want to reject and pull closer. I, too, am forever asking “Do I dare?” when it comes to the simplest things in life, be it eating a peach or saying a simple hello to someone I don’t know well. I have, of course, always known that it was largely the awkwardness to which I related, but to suddenly hear MY words in the mouths of countless other students, without my even having to raise the question, moved me almost to tears (happily, I’ve grown up some, and was able to NOT cry in public).

Me, battling with anxiety to give a speech at graduation.

I’ll admit it. I get a little itchy when other people start talking about social anxiety. I worry that they will say something that will offend me–they often do. I know it isn’t intentional, but for many people I feel it is simply impossible to understand why someone would spend so much time worrying about what others think, to the point where you feel as if you are “pinned and wriggling on the wall” with everyone staring at you, watching your every move  and, more importantly, judging you for every little thing you do.

I mean, yes, of course everyone experiences this at one point or another (I assume). But in my life I have struggled with the simplest actions, things that people take for granted–I have trouble saying hello to people I know, because what if they don’t hear me and other people see that I’ve been snubbed? If I see an attractive guy, everything in me freezes up and I can’t even SMILE at him, let alone flirt, no matter how much I want to. This of course leads to deeper fears of dying alone with a cat (provided I can in fact speak to someone about buying a cat) and becomes a sort of self-perpetuating cycle of self-doubt.

It’s an inner struggle, me versus my inner Prufrock, forever asking ” ‘Do I dare? and ‘Do I dare?’ ” And that is why, every time I read this poem, I am more and more overjoyed to see the words here, to see that Eliot could capture feelings which I myself experience on a daily basis. To see that I am NOT the only one who feels this way, no matter how often it feels that I do. And to hear others recognize that it is a valid part of the human experience for some, to hear others say “social anxiety” and understand (in theory, at least) what that means… that’s really something, isn’t it?

Perhaps I, too, shall have time “For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” Certainly I have known myself to proclaim proudly in my head “I will now proceed to say hello!” and find that no words come out. I have known myself to play out scenarios in my head that, even as I plan them, I fear I will never have the courage to seize. And yet when I read the words which I have contained in so many anthologies and in my book of Eliot poetry, I am comforted. Indeed, there will be time. And it’s okay to take some of that time over-analyzing, because I am not alone, and though there are many times I do not, there are times when I do in fact dare to disturb the universe. And that, if I may quote another bit of poetry, has made all the difference.


2 thoughts on “Today, A Poem Almost Made Me Cry

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