J. Alfred Proof-rock

I’ve mentioned this fact before: when she was two, almost three, Frances would ask me to read to her at bedtime whatever I happened to be reading for myself at that time.

Thinking she might fall asleep faster if I read the Aeneid by Virgil — because I, myself, would — I started the epic poem. To my utter surprise, she enjoyed it. My plan really wasn’t working.

So, then, I thought about T.S. Eliot and started reading The Waste Land. I moved on from there to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In doing so, I began a nightly routine that lasted for several years.

It has been a long time since I last read Prufrock to her, but she clearly still remembers it as, the other day, she quipped, “Where’s the proof-rock? Get it, Mum?” She giggled and giggled.

She has a wonderful sense of humour that, I think, won’t be appreciated by everyone. I doubt that the children in her class have heard of T.S. Eliot yet.

More poetry

“How old was she?” Frances, when she was five, asked me of the lost Lenore.

Among many poems that I’ve read with my daughter, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe really stands out.

I haven’t read it to her as often as Prufrock, but it’s a close second. 

She loves the imagery and the musicality in The Raven

She even named a giant Ugly Doll stuffed animal ‘Lenore’. 

(Nowadays, her sense of the gothic can be seen in her appreciation of Tim Burton films: she loved Coraline, the Nightmare Before Christmas, and the Corpse Bride.)

Here is Wikipedia’s entry on The Raven.

Here is the poem itself on the Poetry Foundation’s site.


“Read to me some of what you’re reading,” my not-quite-three-year-old would say at bedtime.

When she first asked, I thought that I would seize the opportunity to read something that she would find boring enough to fall asleep to while listening: Virgil’s Aeneid.

Unfortunately, as I read on and on, she grew interested in it. She’d actually foiled my plan to induce sleep by epic poem.

“Okay,” I thought to myself. “If I’m going to read something to her, I may as well read something that interests me.”

At first, I started reading T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, but once The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock popped into my head, I abandoned the longer poem in favour of Prufrock.

To my utter surprise, she loved it. She asked questions; she asked me to repeat words and to repeat lines and to repeat stanzas. I read through it more than once that night — then, I read it to her every night for years.

I wrote down many of her statements and questions about the poem — here are a few.

April 29, 2012 (5 years old):

Me: ‘Am not Prince Hamlet…nor was meant to be.’

Frances: I think he is lying; I think he IS the prince.

Me: Do you mean that he is more like those people than he realizes?

April 16, 2013 (5 years old):

Frances: Who is he talking to? Maybe a princess who is about to be married?

August 24, 2013 (6 years old):

Frances: Are there other voices, other songs of Prufrock?



I have developed a habit over the last five years of reading poetry to my girls (especially during summer vacations) and I’m always excited when I’m reminded of a poem that I haven’t read to them.

This morning, I read Invictus by William Ernest Henley to Frances: 

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

She didn’t ask me to read it again, but she did say that she thought that her sister needed to hear it.