When I was in college I went to a reading where we were supposed to respond to T. S. Eliot's line "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas" from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". It was an optional assignment and I don't think I got very far with it, but I went to the reading and then forgot about it. Until tonight as I was walking home in the dusk with the Dog and all of a sudden I heard that pair of ragged claws scuttling after me. It was just leaves, dried hard in the summer oven of Oklahoma, bouncing and clattering against the basketball court, screeching across the sidewalks, tapping feverishly over the streets toward me. And, as silly as this is, I had to fight the urge not to break into a run because for the life of me it sounded as though there was an army of crabs advancing towards me or a skeleton dragging its bony fingers along the ground as it lurched in my direction. I was--honestly--creeped out.
I can't pin-point the reason behind my momentary terror except that I have always loved the sound of autumn leaves crunching cheerily beneath my feet and this was so like but then not. The otherness was unsettling. Autumn leaves fall in their time, dried and crinkled by age, not baked prematurely stiff by the sun. They are vivid and bright, each one unique in its spray of colour while these leaves were all the same yellowed brown. By the time autumn gets here, there won't be many leaves left to change colour and fall. But I don't think that's the point and purpose of Eliot's words. It's more about looking inside of ourselves and wondering if we too are nothing more or less than a din in the darkness, an unnamed fear, perhaps for me tonight a reminder of something that could have been but wasn't.
I love Eliot, have always loved "Alfred Prufrock", but will now probably never read the poem the same way again. Isn't it interesting how our reading affects our experience and vice-versa?