"Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?..."
We have discussed the above Prufrock passage on the list before without
much agreement on the meaning of the "lonely men in shirt-sleeves". I'd like to
discuss a possible tie-in between these Prufrock lines and Inferno, canto XV.
In canto XV Dante meets a band of sodomites. He says:
Già eravam da la selva rimossi 13
tanto, ch'i' non avrei visto dov'era,
perch'io in dietro rivolto mi fossi,
quando incontrammo d'anime una schiera
che venìan lungo l'argine, e ciascuna
ci riguardava come suol da sera
guardare uno altro sotto nuova luna;
e sì ver' noi aguzzavan le ciglia
come 'l vecchio sartor fa ne la cruna. 21
As Singleton translates:
"We were already so far removed from the wood that I should not have seen
where it was had I turned to look back, when we met a troop of souls that were
coming alongside the bank, and each looked at us as men look at one another
under a new moon at dusk; and they knit their brows at us as the old tailor does
at the eye of his needle."
I realize that Singleton's translation is open to dispute. For example, in
the Temple Classics edition (the one TSE used), the translation does not
explicitly use the word "dusk":
"Already we were so far removed from the wood,
that I should not have seen where it was, had
I turned back,
when we met a troop of spirits, who were coming
alongside the bank; and each looked at us,
as in the evening men are wont
to look at one another under a new moon; and
towards us sharpened their vision, as an aged
tailor does at the eye of his needle."
Nonetheless, the image is of a group of homosexuals "eyeing" each other as
men do in the dark hours (a new moon at dusk/evening). At the end of the canto,
their punishment in the burning desert is described like this:
Di più direi; ma 'l venire e 'l sermone 115
più lungo esser non può, però ch'i' veggio
là surger nuovo fummo del sabbione.
Gente vien con la quale esser non deggio. 118
Singleton: "I would say more, but my going and my speech must not be longer,
for I see yonder a new smoke rising from the sand: people are coming with whom
I must not be."
and, as Singleton comments:
" 'nuovo fummo': The smoke, apparently rising from the sand, actually comes
from the burning feet and scorched flesh of another band of souls."
In other words, at the end of the canto, Dante sees smoke rising from what
appears to be the sands, but the smoke is actually rising from the burning
flesh of the feet of the sodomites.
Tying this back to Prufrock, I believe that Prufrock, evoking the canto XV
image of dusk and rising smoke, evokes the image of smoke rising from the pipes
of the "lonely men" -- a tragic foreshadowing of the punishment they will
surely face on Judgement day. The rising pipe smoke anticipates the rising smoke
from the burning desert in the Inferno that they face for their crimes against
nature. The Prufrock passage, seen in the context of canto XV, is a terribly
sad image of lonely men, judged in TSE's day to be unwelcome members of
society, and, much more significantly, damned by God to an eternal Hell of smoke
rising from their burning flesh.
Comments, as always, are invited.
-- Steve --
P.S. My thanks to Rick Seddon for his efforts in hand-typing the Templeton
Classics translation of the start of canto XV that I used in preparation for