Let us go then, you and I,When the evening is spread out against the skyLike a patient etherized upon a table;
This forms the opening lines of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot. Prufrock, supposed to be a middle-aged, unimpressive bachelor, expresses here his desire to go to propose to a woman, chosen by him. He states here the state of the evening in which he is to go to accomplish his task in the company of another, not clearly mentioned or indicated (but possibly his own other self.)
Prufrock asks his companion to go to do what he intends. This is evening, calm and free, almost in a state of unconsciousness. Prufrock describes the evening by means of an analogy. The sky is compared to a patient, lying unconscious on an operation table, under the effect of ether, used for anaesthetics. The landscape is covered gradually with the shadow of the evening, extended to the horizon. As the patient, under the effect of anaesthetics, lies still and quiet so the evening, that is settling down, is completely calm and still.
The word, ‘etherized’ is used both in the clinical sense and in the romantic. This means under the influence of ether, used once as anaesthetics. At the same time, this serves to indicate a romantic description of the scene of an evening, still and quiet. The simile of the evening, as an etherized patient, has the undertone of a metaphysical conceit. The etherised patient is, however, the symbolic representation of an urban man, turned to emotive barrenness in a mechanised setting.
Also read; The Lucy Poems by William Wordsworth