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Jewish World Review March 11, 2004 / 18 Adar, 5764

Mark Goldblatt

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Waxing Poetic: Kerry might want to reread ‘Prufrock’ | The average 600-word Maureen Dowd column for the New York Times breaks down along these lines: 500 words devoted to potshots at George W. Bush's alleged lack of intelligence; 100 words devoted to glib references to popular culture. Last Sunday's entry was therefore atypical, consisting almost in its entirety of a long, wet smooch aimed at John Kerry's derriere.

Sure, there was a gratuitous swipe at the president intellect, with Dowd snidely noting that Bush once told her that baseball was his favorite "cultural experience." But she spent most of the column singing the praises of Kerry. She assured us he was a man of the people — a sentimental slob who loved Cats and Miracle on 34th Street, a wacky cut up who enjoyed Animal House and The Blues Brothers, an incorrigible hipster who rocked out with Elvis, the Beatles, and the Grateful Dead (Hey, he even gets the marijuana reference in "Puff, the Magic Dragon"!) and a regular Joe who "never got over the image of Elizabeth Taylor in a white bathing suit in 'A Place in the Sun.'"

But Dowd's Kerry is also decidedly highbrow. He says he went through a "Fellini stage," is keen on Twain and Hemingway, and names Keats, Yeats, Shelley, and Kipling as his favorite poets. Then, for the piéce de résistance, Dowd reports that Kerry reeled off several lines from T. S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets/The muttering retreats/Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels/And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells."

We can assume Dowd swooned at this point.

The irony of Kerry, with his reputation for taking both sides of every issue, quoting from "Prufrock" seems to have been lost on both the candidate and the columnist. The two main characteristics of the Prufrock persona are his indecision and his utter inability to say precisely what he means:

And indeed there will be time To wonder "Do I dare?" and "Do I dare?" Time to turn back and descend the stair.


Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
And of course:
Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I then presume?

And how should I begin?
You might want to stick to Kipling, Senator.

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JWR contributor Mark Goldblatt teaches at SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology. His new novel is "Africa Speaks". Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Mark Goldblatt