Once my Advanced Placement English Literature students have read Hamlet, they are able to understand a wonderful allusion from lines 111-119 in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, 115 Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool.
So I do wait until after we read Hamlet to read the poem. I usually use the YouTube recording of Eliot reading the poem, but before they listen, I make them write down Eliot’s quote: “Poetry communicates before it is understood.”
- “This is about a man who fears death.”
- “Sad walk with someone who obsesses about what others think instead of living his life.”
- “He is not even worth the mermaid’s song.”
- “A balding man who eats tea and cakes and worries about peaches will never disturb the universe.”
All proof that T.S. Eliot was right; he can communicate before being understood.