I've been thinking of London fog also because it was smog--that is, coal
smoke mixed in fog. But "Prufrock" seems to take place in Boston, and it
was written well before Eliot moved to London.
Date sent: Tue, 1 Apr 2003 21:10:35 -0600
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From: Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Prufrock's "smoke"
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When the question involves the symbolic possibilities of fog, the
classic text would seem to be the opening of _Bleak House_. Is it
relevant to Prufrock?
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in
Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the
streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth,
and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or
so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering
down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot
in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might
imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire.
Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers,
jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and
losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other
foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if
this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud,
sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and
meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of
shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on
the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the
cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the
rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small
boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners,
wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the
afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog
cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice
boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a
nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a
balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.
Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the
sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and
ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time--as the
gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.
The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy
streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate
ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar.
And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the
fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.
Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too
deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High
Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the
sight of heaven and earth.