Ragged Claws: T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock at 100

Event Date: Monday, April 6
Event Time: Contact Houghton Library for hours


(T.S. Eliot in the Harvard 1910 Class Album. Courtesy Harvard University Archives, HUD 310.04.5)

Ragged Claws:

T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock at 100

Amy Lowell Room, Houghton Library

Harvard University

6 April – 27 June 2015

For additional information, contact Leslie Morris at Houghton Library, 617-495-2449. The publication in June 1915 of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was a pivotal event in modern poetry. While many critics dismissed it at the time as unskilled and obscure, Prufrock is now acknowledged as the first masterpiece of Modernism in English, as well as Eliot’s first important publication. In both its themes and technique, Prufrock broke sharply with the conventions of Romantic and Georgian poetry.

The exhibition, curated by Carey Adina Karmel, PhD candidate at the University of London, explores the genesis of the poem by way of various manuscript and typescript reproductions, as well as “exploding” the poem by providing materials illustrating Eliot’s evocative imagery, such as an authentic magic lantern. The exhibition includes multiple printings of Prufrock, from its debut in 1915 in Poetry magazine to its first independent appearance in book form in 1917, along with books from Eliot’s library that provided source material.

The exhibition’s title is a phrase from the poem: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” It is also a metaphor for the composition of Prufrock, explains Karmel: “Eliot’s meter is ragged in the period use of the term, in the way that jazz music was originally described. Line lengths throughout Prufrock are also ragged vers libre; ‘come and go’ rhymes with ‘Michelangelo’ in a bump of three single syllable words end-rhymed with a serpentine, proper noun of five syllables. Eliot’s technique is such that the auditory pop is subterranean.”