The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

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					"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

1. How does this poem represent nature? What is the relationship between the
humans in this poem and their environment?

2. How does this poem describe the passage of time?

3. What keeps the speaker from acting or even making decisions?

4. How do lines 122-end affect your understanding of the speaker's situation?
How do you interpret the symbolism involved in these lines?

Guiding Questions

      What are several key characteristics of literary modernism? What were the
       effects of these influential factors?
      What are several historical, social, and cultural forces that prompted the
       modernist movement?



Modernist poetry often is difficult for students to analyze and understand. A
primary reason students feel a bit disoriented when reading a modernist poem is
that the speaker himself is uncertain about his or her own ontological bearings.
Indeed, the speaker of modernist poems characteristically wrestles with the
fundamental question of “self,” often feeling fragmented and alienated from the
world around him. In other words, a coherent speaker with a clear sense of
himself/herself is hard to find in modernist poetry, often leaving students
confused and “lost.”

Such ontological feelings of fragmentation and alienation, which often led to a
more pessimistic and bleak outlook on life as manifested in representative
modernist poems such as T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
(1917), were prompted by fundamental and far-reaching historical, social,
cultural, and economic changes in the early 1900s. These changes transformed
the world from one that seemed ordered and stable to one that felt futile and
chaotic.

In this lesson, students will explore the role of the individual in the modern world
by closely reading and analyzing T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock.”
Pre-Modern World (e.g., Romantic,              Modern World (early 20th century)
Victorian Periods)
Ordered                                        Chaos

Meaningful                                     Futile

Optimistic                                     Pessimistic

Stable                                         Unstable

Faith                                          Loss of Faith

Morality/Values                                Collapse of Morality/Values

Clear Sense of Identity                        Confused Sense of Identity and Place in World



           Point out to students that the poetic term “stanza” also means a “room” or
            “habitation.” Before reviewing “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” with
            students, mention that they should spend some time in each “room” to
            gain their footing before attempting to analyze the poem at large.
           Lead a full class discussion on the poem, using the guiding questions on
            the worksheet to walk through each stanza/”room” of the poem.
        
               o   Now ask students the following questions: Is “Prufrock” really a love
                   poem? What elements get in the way of Prufrock’s “love”? Students
                   might suggest any of the following: his digressions, his fear of
                   socializing, his bitterness toward the social world, his linguistic
                   impotence, his self-questioning, his repetition, his social paralysis,
                   his fear of aging, his self-doubt, his fear of women, and so forth.
               o
           Ask students to write a typed, one-page personal ad that describes J.
            Alfred Prufrock as an individual seeking love. The ad should be rooted in
            the poem itself, and you should use descriptive adjectives.
           Ask students to write a character sketch of J. Alfred Prufrock. How do they
            picture him, and why? How would they describe his relationships with
            other people?
           Write a typed, three-page paper on the following topic, “Describe
            modernist poetry as you understand it, using concrete examples from T.S.
            Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
From the Paper:
"To begin teaching this complex work, the teacher must begin with its form. As a poem,
students are likely to feel some alienation with the work at first. Perhaps their only
associations with poetry are those formed when exposed to the literary from in previous
classes. Perhaps they have written angst-filled poetry and are about sensitive about the topic.
They may think that poetry is hard to understand, silly, useless, or even a "disgusting" way to
express "mushy" feelings. Confronted with the title of this poem, they may groan in reaction to
"another love poem," but just a simple reading of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" will
show them that this is not just another silly love song. Thus, it is important to gather student
reactions to or assumptions about poetry before the first initial reading. "

In order to discuss the contents of T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
we must first acknowledge the introduction of the poem. In her essay entitled "The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Comic Elements in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", Marisa
Pagnattaro describes that "The poem opens with an epigram from Dante's Inferno in which
Guido de Montefeltro, who is consumed in flames as punishment for giving false counsel,
confesses his shame because he believes that it cannot be reported back on earth." I believe
that Eliot entered this particular excerpt to the introduction to illustrate that Prufrock feels
free to open his heart and mind to the reader without fear. Eliot's intention must have been
to explain why such a scared and introverted Prufrock would dare to allow us to enter the
depths of his soul.


When the poem begins, Prufrock invites his lover (and us) on what seems to be a magical
journey, only to compare the night sky to a "patient etherized upon a table." The comparison
can also be viewed as Prufrock's portrayal of his own condition. He may be viewing himself
as passive, powerless, and above all, paralyzed. This metaphor acts as a disruption of the
rhyme scheme of the poem as well as our ideas about what a love-song should be. The lines
following this metaphor speak of "cheap hotels", run down restaurants and "Streets that
follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent." This portion of the poem is describing
the setting of our journey as obviously unpleasant and shadowy, while also signifying that
this will be not a physical voyage, but one through Prufrock's mind. Prufrock then brings us
to an "overwhelming question" but does not describe what this question is. Instead, he
forbids us to inquire about it, demanding that we continue with him on his quest.


There have been many speculations made on this "overwhelming question." My favorite
explanation for this question is that it is Prufrock's marriage proposal. "The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock: Prufrock's Dilemma." is a composition in which the author, John Berryman
states that "The poem pretends to be a love song. It is something much more practical. It is a
study-a debate by Prufrock with himself- over the business of proposing marriage..." At this
point in the love song, we are not yet sure of whether or not this proposal will be made. We
find ourselves sidetracked once again when Prufrock springs the following line upon us: "In
the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo." What are we to make of this?
Who are these women and why Michelangelo? The answer will become more apparent in
later parts of the poem. Prufrock continues us on our journey through the seemingly dirty
city that is filled with yellow fog and smoke, which is compared to a cat, giving it a sexy,
feline-like feel. He ensures us that there will be time for his question throughout the evening,
"Before the taking of a toast and tea." Here, Prufrock does not seem to want to act hastily,
instead, he hesitates, going over his many "visions and revisions" until he once again brings
us to the ladies talking of Michelangelo. After closely analyzing and researching these lines
and their context in the poem, I have come to the following conclusion: Prufrock views the
women that speak about Michelangelo as simply coming and going, making their talk seem
like meaningless babble, thus making the immense talent of the artist look trivial. So how
does this connect with Prufrock? It appears to me that our fearful and passive Prufrock is
terrified of the way these ladies would view him, and what they could potentially do to his
"overwhelming question."


Eventually, Prufrock begins to wonder "Do I dare?" in reference to asking his question. He
asks himself, "and 'Do I dare?", (run away) when noticing that he still has "time to turn back
and descend the stair" before he enters this dinner-party. His self-consciousness gets the best
of him, and he realizes that if he turns around to walk down the stairs, the guests at this party
may notice his thinning hair and deteriorating body. Prufrock then asks himself an even
bigger question, "Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?". This further proves his cowardice, he is
afraid to shake up the balance of his society, of the pompous ladies at the party, with his
"overwhelming question" of love.


At this point in the poem, Prufrock seems to fall into some sort of sadness and digression,
describing his all-too-familiar world and his unchanging life that he has so carefully
measured out with "coffee spoons." He envisions himself as an insect pinned upon the wall,
with all eyes on him. He expands on this theme of this worn out familiarity of his life, and his
inability to change it. I believe that this theme is so developed because it acts as a
foreshadowing to the end of the poem. He seems to be looking for some kind of a justification
for the abandonment of the plan of his proposal. Prufrock views himself as an old, lonely,
balding and even barren man who is quickly digressing. He states: "I should have been a pair
of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." He obviously wishes that he was
further down the chain of existence, he would rather be an untroubled creature than a man
torn by this decision that he is so unwilling to make.


After his digression, Prufrock returns to the matter at hand, asking himself "Should I, after
tea and cakes and ices,/ Have the strength to force the moment of crisis?" Once again he
begins to seem at least a little optimistic about his actions but ends up admitting that he is
afraid. The next two stanzas end in the same way; Prufrock envisions his love-object rejecting
him by saying "This is not what I meant at all./ That is not at all." He asks if his
embarrassments would have been worth it if she chooses to refuse him. He explains that he is
no prophet, and when comparing himself to Lazarus he states that he has "come from the
dead." This further proves the passive, dead-like state that he is in.


The poem has a confusing conclusion. Prufrock explains that he is not Prince Hamlet,
making a play on words when saying "nor was meant to be" (as in Hamlets famous "to be or
not to be..." soliloquy) as to say that he was not meant to make this decision. Prufrock sees
himself as growing old and shriveled, having to roll the bottoms of his trousers. He then tells
us that "he has heard the mermaids singing." In her essay, Pagnattaro explains that
mermaids symbolize "mystical sea creatures believed to coax sailors out to sea with their
seductive songs sing to each other in Prufrock's world; they will not enchant him into action."
He seems to only be able to view these mermaids "combing the white hair of the waves brown
back", he can not enter their fairy-tale world of love, and he can not force himself to act.
Prufrock has entered a dream-world with mermaids, where he is able to walk on the beach,
and love. When the human voices of real life wake him, he drowns. This leads me to believe
that Prufrock is only able to engage in his wishes in his imagination, and that he will never
ask his "overwhelming question." In the last stanza of the poem, he uses the term "we", he
has not used plural pronouns since he extended the invitation to make a visit into his mind. I
believe that the "we" pronoun is used to show that the union between him and his love can
only be made in his dreams, and when reality wakes him that union drowns and dies.
Ultimately, I can not assume that Prufrock ever asks his question, instead, I believe that he
comes to terms with himself growing old and dying alone.


In the beginning of this essay, I chose to emphasize the introduction of the poem, which was
taken from Dante's Inferno. I believe that T.S. Eliot created the character of Prufrock from
his knowledge of the trimmers of Dante's work. Trimmers were destined to stay in the foyer
of hell forever because they have never truly lived. They never did bad or good, so they could
not be sentenced to either heaven or hell. In their time on earth, trimmers were, like
Prufrock, half-dead and above all, they never made any decisions. It is obvious from all my
observations that Prufrock's love-song does not have a happy ending. Clearly, Prufrock
continues on his path of passivity, never making any decision. Like the trimmers are forced
between heaven and hell, Prufrock is stuck in the middle of his own existence, never going
this way or that, never really living.

Explanation of the Title
.......T. S. Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) originally entitled this poem "Prufrock Among the Women."
He changed the title to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" before publishing the poem in
Poetry magazine in 1915.

Love Song
.......The words "Love Song" seem apt, for one of the definitions of love song is narrative poem.
And, of course, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a narrative, presenting a moment in the
life of the title character. It is also a poem. In addition, the work has characteristics of most love
songs, such as repetition (or refrain), rhyme, and rhythm. It also focuses on the womanly love that
eludes Prufrock.
Origin of the Name Prufrock
.......Eliot took the last name of the title character from a sign advertising the William Prufrock
furniture company, a business in Eliot's hometown, St. Louis, while he was growing up. The initial
J. and name Alfred are inventions, probably mimicking the way Eliot occasionally signed his
name as a young adult: T. Stearns Eliot. Type of Work: Dramatic Monologue


......."The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a modernistic poem in the form of a dramatic
monologue. A dramatic monologue presents a moment in which a narrator/speaker discusses a
topic and, in so doing, reveals his personal feelings to a listener. Only the narrator,
talksu0097hence the term monologue, meaning "single (mono) discourse (logue)." During his
discourse, the speaker intentionally and unintentionally reveals information about himself. The
main focus of a dramatic monologue is this personal information, not the speaker's topic.
Therefore, a dramatic monologue is a type of character study.

Publication
.......Eliot published "Prufrock" in Poetry magazine in 1915 and then in a collection of his poems,
Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917.
The Speaker/Narrator
.......The poem centers on a balding, insecure middle-aged man. He expresses his thoughts about
the dull, uneventful, mediocre life he leads as a result of his feelings of inadequacy and his fear of
making decisions. Unable to seize opportunities or take risks (especially with women), he lives in
a world that is the same today as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow as it is today.
He does try to make progress, but his timidity and fear of failure inhibit him from taking action.

Setting
.......The action takes place in the evening in a bleak section of a smoky city. This city is probably
St. Louis, where Eliot (1888-1965) grew up. But it could also be London, to which Eliot moved in
1914. However, Eliot probably intended the setting to be any city anywhere.

Characters
J. Alfred Prufrock: The speaker/narrator, a timid, overcautious middle-aged man. He escorts his
silent listener through streets in a shabby part of a city, past cheap                  hotels




and restaurants, to a social gathering where women he would like to meet are conversing.
However, he is hesitant to take part in the activity for fear of making a fool of himself.
The Listener: An unidentified companion of Prufrock. The listener could also be Prufrock's inner
self,    one      that    prods      him   but     fails   to    move      him      to   action.
The Women: Women at a social gathering. Prufrock would like to meet one of them but worries
that            she             will          look            down            on            him.
The Lonely Men in Shirtsleeves: Leaning out of their windows, they smoke pipes. They are like
Prufrock in that they look upon a scene but do not become part of it. The smoke from their pipes
helps form the haze over the city, the haze that serves as a metaphor for a timid catu0097which
is Prufrock.

Themes
Loneliness and Alienation: Prufrock is a pathetic man whose anxieties and obsessions have
isolated                                                                                    him.
Indecision: Prufrock resists making decisions for fear that their outcomes will turn out wrong.
Inadequacy: Prufrock continually worries that he will make a fool of himself and that people will
ridicule him for his clothes, his bald spot, and his overall physical appearance.
Pessimism: Prufrock sees only the negative side of his own life and the lives of others.


              The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
                                           By T. S. Eliot

            With Stanza Summaries, Annotations, and Explanations of Allusions



S'io credesse che mia riposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s' i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.
Translation: If I thought my answer were to one who could return to the world, I would not reply,
but as none ever did return alive from this depth, without fear of infamy I answer thee. The words
are spoken by Count Guido da Montefeltro, a damned soul in the Eighth Circle of Hell in Dante's
Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto 27, lines 61-66.)
Translator and Quotation Source: G.B. Harrison et al., eds. Major British Writers. Shorter ed.
New York: Harcourt. 1967, page 1015.
Comment: Eliot opens "The Love Song" with this quotation from Dante's epic poem to suggest
that Prufrock, like Count Guido, is in hell. But Prufrock is in a hell on earthu0097a hell in the form
of a modern, impersonal city with smoky skies. The quotation also points out that Prufrock, again
like Count Guido, can present his feelings "without fear of infamy."
1
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats 5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question u0085 10
Oh, do not ask, u0093What is it?u0094
Let us go and make our visit.
1
Summary, Interpretation: The speaker invites the listener to walk with him into the streets on an
evening that resembles a patient, anesthetized with ether, lying on the table of a hospital
operating room. (Until recent times, physicians used etheru0097a liquid obtained by combining
sulfuric acid and ethyl alcoholu0097to render patients unconscious before an operation.) The
imagery suggests that the evening is lifeless and listless. The speaker and the listener will walk
through lonely streetsu0097the business day has endedu0097past cheap hotels and restaurants
with sawdust on the floors. (Sawdust was used to absorb spilled beverages and food, making it
easy to sweep up at the end of the day.) The shabby establishments will remind the speaker of
his own shortcomings, their images remaining in his mind as he walks on. They will then prod the
listener to ask the speaker a question about the speaker's lifeu0097perhaps why he visits these
seedy haunts, which are symbols of his life, and why he has not acted to better himself or to take
a wife.
Allusion, overwhelming question (line 10): Eliot appears to have borrowed this phrase from
James Fenimore Cooper's 1823 novel, The Pioneers, one of five novels that make up The
Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841), about life on the frontier in early America. When he was a
youth, Eliot read and enjoyed The Pioneers. In the novel, one of the characters, Benjamin, asks a
series of questions ending with the "overwhelming question." Following is the passage:
.......u0093Didu0092ee ever see a British ship, Master Kirby? an English line-of-battle ship, boy?
Where didu0092ee ever fall in with a regular built vessel, with starn-post and cutwater, gar board-
streak and plank-shear, gangways, and hatchways, and waterways, quarter-deck, and forecastle,
ay, and flush-deck?u0097tell me that, man, if you can; where away didu0092ee ever fall in with a
full-rigged, regular-built, necked vessel?u0094
.......The whole company were a good deal astounded with this overwhelming question, and
even Richard afterward remarked that it u0093was a thousand pities that Benjamin could not
read, or he must have made a valuable officer to the British marine.
2
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
2
Summary, Interpretation: At a social gathering in a room, women discuss the great
Renaissance artist Michelangelo. Prufrock may wonder how they could possibly be interested in
him when they are discussing someone as illustrious as Michelango.
Allusion, The Women . . . Michelangelo (lines 13-14): Eliot borrowed most of this line from the
Uruguayan-born French poet Jules LaForgue (1860-1887). In one of his works, LaForgue wrote
(in French): Dans la piece les femmes vont et viennent / En parlant des maîtresde Sienne. Here
is the loose translation: In the room the women go and come while speaking of the Siennese
(painting) masters.
Michelangelo: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), Renaissance sculptor,
painter, and architect and one of the greatest artists in history. He sculpted the famous David for
the Duomo Cathedral in Florence, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, and
designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, also in Vatican City.
3
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, 15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, 20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
3
Summary, Interpretation: Smoky haze spreads across the city. The haze is like a quiet, timid cat
padding to and fro, rubbing its head on objects, licking its tongue, and curling up to sleep after
allowing soot to fall upon it. The speaker resembles the cat as he looks into windows or into "the
room," trying to decide whether to enter and become part of the activity. Eventually, he curls up in
the safety and security of his own soft armsu0097alone, separate. What this stanza means is that
Prufrock feels inferior and is unable to act decisively. He consigns himself to corners, as a timid
person might at a dance; stands idly by doing nothing, as does a stagnant pool; and becomes the
brunt of ridicule or condescension (the soot that falls on him).
4
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; 25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate; 30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
4
Summary, Interpretation: There's no hurry, though, the speaker tells himself. There will be time
to decide and then to actu0097time to put on the right face and demeanor to meet people. There
will be time to kill and time to act; in fact, there will be time to do many things. There will even be
time to think about doing thingsu0097time to dream and then revise those dreamsu0097before
sitting down with a woman to take toast and tea.
Allusion, there will be time (line 23): This phrase alludes to the opening line of "To His Coy
Mistress," by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678): "Had we but world enough, and time." In Marvell's
poem, the speaker/persona urges his beloved not to be coy but instead to seize the
momentu0097to take advantage of youth and "sport us while we may." Prufrock, of course,
continually postpones even meeting a woman, saying "There will be time."
face (line 27): affectation; façade.
Allusion, works and days (line 29): Works and Days is a long poem by Hesiod, a Greek writer
who lived in the 700's B.C. "Works" refers to farm labor and "Days" to periods of the year for
performing certain agricultural chores. The poem, addressed to Hesiod's brother, was intended to
instruct readers, stressing the importance of hard work and right living and condemning moral
decay.
5
In the room the women come and go 35
Talking of Michelangelo.
5
Summary, Interpretation: The women are still coming and going, still talking of Michelangelo,
suggesting that life is repetitive and dull.
6
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, u0093Do I dare?u0094 and, u0093Do I dare?u0094
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hairu0097 40
[They will say: u0093How his hair is growing thin!u0094]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pinu0097
[They will say: u0093But how his arms and legs are thin!u0094]
Do I dare 45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
6
Summary, Interpretation: Prufrock says there will be time to wonder whether he dares to
approach a woman. He feels like turning back. After all, he has a bald spot, thinning hair, and thin
arms and legs. Moreover, he has doubts about the acceptability of his clothing. What will people
think of him? Does he dare to approach a woman? He will think about it and make a decision,
then reverse the decision.
simple pin (line 43): Pin inserted through the tie and shirt to hold the tie in place.
7
For I have known them all already, known them all:u0097
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
7
Summary, Interpretation: Prufrock realizes that the people here are the same as the people he
has met many times beforeu0097the same, uninteresting people in the same uninteresting world.
They all even sound the same. So why should he do anything?
Evenings, Mornings, Afternoons: This phrase, as well as others focusing on time, refers
obliquely to the philosophy of Henri Bergson (1859-1941), author of a revolutionary and highly
influential work, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. In this
work, he argued that the mind perceives time as a continuous process, a continuous flow, rather
than as a series of measurable units as tracked by a clock or a calendar or by scientific
calculation. It is not a succession, with one unit following another, but a duration in which present
and past are equally real. Ordinarily, we think of a day as consisting of morning, evening, and
afternoonu0097in that order. But, since time is a continuous flow to Prufrock, it is just as correct
to think of a day as consisting of morning, afternoon, and evening as a single unit.
Allusion, dying fall (line 52): Phrase borrowed from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Duke Orsino
speaks it in line 4 of Act I, Scene I. Here is the passage in which the phrase appears:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!
8
And I have known the eyes already, known them allu0097 55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? 60
And how should I presume?
8
Summary, Interpretation: He has seen their gazes before, many timesu0097gazes that form an
opinion of him, treating him like a butterfly or another insect pinned into place in a display. How
will he be able to explain himself to themu0097the ordinariness, the mediocrity, of his life?
fix (line 56): Evaluate.
9
And I have known the arms already, known them allu0097
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress 65
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?
9
Summary, Interpretation: Yes, he has known women like these before, wearing jewelry but
really bare, lacking substance. Why is he thinking about them? Perhaps it is the smell of a
woman's perfume.
Arms that lie along table (line 67): This phrase echoes line 3.
should I then presume? (line 68): This clause repeats words in lines 54 and 68.
how should I begin? (line 69): This clause repeats words in line 59.
10
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets 70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
10
Summary, Interpretation: Will he tell a woman that he came through narrow streets, where
lonely men (like Prufrock) lean out of windows watching life go by but not taking part in it? He
should have been nothing more than crab claws in the depths of the silent ocean.
smoke that rises from the pipes (line 71): The smoke becomes part of the haze.
11
And the afternoon, theevening, sleeps so peacefully! 75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep u0085 tired u0085 or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? 80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophetu0097and hereu0092s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, 85
And in short, I was afraid.
11
Summary, Interpretation: The time passes peacefully. It is as if the afternoon/evening is
sleeping or simply wasting time, stretched out on the floor. Should the speaker sit down with
someone and have dessertu0097should he take a chance, make an acquaintance, live? Oh, he
has suffered; he has even imagined his head being brought in on a platter, like the head of John
the Baptist. Of course, unlike John, he is no prophet. He has seen his opportunities pass and
even seen death up close, holding his coat, snickering. He has been afraid.
evening . . . floor (lines 75-78): This metaphor/personification echoes the simile in lines 2 and 3.
cakes (line 79): Cakes or cookies.
ices (line 79): Ice cream.
Allusion, head brought in upon a platter (line 82): Phrase associated with John the Baptist,
Jewish prophet of the First Century AD who urged people to reform their lives and who prepared
the way for the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. John denounced Herod Antipas (4 BC-AD 39),
the Roman-appointed ruler of Galilee and Perea, for violating the law of Moses by marrying
Herodias, the divorced wife of his half-brother, Philip. (Herod Antipas and Philip were sons of
Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea.) In retaliation, Herod Antipas imprisoned
John but was afraid to kill him because of his popularity with the people. Salome, the daughter of
Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, danced at a birthday party for Herod Antipas. Her
performance was so enthralling that Herod said she could have any reward of her choice.
Prompted by Herodias, who was outraged by John the Baptist's condemnation of her marriage,
Salome asked for the head of the Baptist on a platter. Because he did not want to go back on his
word, Herod fulfilled her request. John was a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Accounts of
his activities appear in the Bible in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and in the Acts
of the Apostles.
prophet (line 83): Another allusion to John the Baptist.
Footman (line 85): Servant in a uniform who opens doors, waits on tables, helps people into
carriages. The footman is a symbol of death; he helps a person into the afterlife.
12
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while, 90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: u0093I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you allu0094u0097 95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: u0093That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.u0094
12
Summary, Interpretation: Would it have been worth it for the speaker while drinking tea to try to
make a connection with one of the women? Would it have been worth it to arise from his lifeless
life and dare to engage in conversation with a woman, only to have her criticize him or reject him.
porcelain (line 89): glassware or hard, brittle people
Allusion, To have squeezed the universe into a ball (line 92): This phrase is another allusion to
Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress." (Click here to see the previous comment on Marvell's poem.) In
the last stanza of that poem, the speaker/persona says, " Let us roll all our strength and all / Our
sweetness up into one ball." In Eliot's poem, the speaker asks whether it would have been worth
it to do the same thing with a woman of his choosing.
Allusion, Lazarus (line 94): Name of two New Testament figures: (1) Lazarus of Bethany, brother
of Martha and Mary. Jesus raised him from the dead (Gospel of John, Chapter 11: Verses 18, 30,
32, 38); (2) Lazarus, a leprous beggar (Gospel of Luke, Chapter 16: Verses 19-31). When
Lazarus died, he was taken into heaven. When a rich man named Dives died, he went to hell. He
requested that Lazarus be returned to earth to warn his brothers about the horror of hell, but his
request was denied.
13
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while, 100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the flooru0097
And this, and so much more?u0097
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen: 105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
u0093That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.u0094
13
Summary, Interpretation: Would it have been worth it, considering all the times he would be with
the woman at sunset or with her in a dooryard? Would it have been worth it after all the mornings
or evenings when workmen sprinkled the streets (see sprinkled streets, below), after all the
novels he would discuss with her over tea, after all the times he heard the drag of her skirt along
the floor, after so many other occasions? Would it have been worth it if, after plumping a pillow or
throwing off her shawl, she turned casually toward a window and told him that he was mistaken
about her intentions toward him?
sprinkled streets (line 101): This may be a reference to the practice of wetting dirt streets with oil
or water to control dust.
magic lantern (line 105): Early type of slide projector. The magic lantern (also called sciopticon)
projected an image from a glass plate.
14
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use, 115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculousu0097
Almost, at times, the Fool.
14
Summary, Interpretation: Prufrock and Hamlet (the protagonist of Shakespeare's Hamlet,
Prince of Denmark) are both indecisive. But Prufrock lacks the majesty and charisma of Hamlet.
Therefore, he fancies himself as Polonius, the busybody lord chamberlain in Shakespeare's play.
Allusion, Prince Hamlet (line 112): Hamlet, the protagonist of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of
Denmark, famous for his hesitancy and indecision while plotting to avenge the murder of his
father, King Hamlet, by the king's brother, Claudius. Prufrock is like young Hamlet in that the
latter is also indecisive. However, Prufrock decides not to compare himself with Hamlet, who is
charismatic and even majestic in spite of his shortcomings. Instead, Prufrock compares himself
with an unimpressive character in the Shakespeare play, an attendant lord, Polonius. (See next
entry.)
Allusion, attendant lord (line 113): Polonius, the lord chamberlain in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
Polonius, a bootlicking advisor to the new king, Claudius, sometimes uses a whole paragraph of
important-sounding words to say what most other people could say in a simple declarative
sentence. His pedantry makes him look foolish at times. Prufrock, of course, is worried that the
words he speaks will make him look foolish, too.
Allusion, progress (line 114): In the time of a Shakespeare, a journey that a king or queen of
England made with his or her entourage,
Allusion, high sentence: The high-flown, pretentious language of Polonius (See Allusion,
attendant lord, just above.)
Allusion, Fool (line 119): Eliot capitalizes this word, suggesting that it refers to a court jester (also
called a fool) in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. There is no living fool in Hamlet, but there is a dead
one, Yorick. In a famous scene in the play, two men are digging the grave of Ophelia when they
unearth the skull of Yorick while Hamlet is present. Picking it up, Hamlet says,
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
In the courts of England in Shakespeare's time, a fool was a comic figure with a quick tongue who
entertained the king, the queen, and their guests. He was allowed tou0097and even expected
tou0097criticize anyone at court. Many fools were dwarfs or cripples, their odd appearance
enhancing their appeal and, according to prevailing beliefs, bringing good luck to the court.
15
I grow old u0085 I grow old u0085 120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
16
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
17
I do not think that they will sing to me. 125
18
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
19
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown 130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
15-19
Summary, Interpretation: The speaker realizes that time is passing and that he is growing old.
However, like other men going through a middle-age crisis, he considers changing his hairstyle
and clothes. Like Odysseus in the Odyssey, he has heard the song of the sirens. However, they
are not singing to him.
wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled (line 121): look youthful and jaunty.
Allusion, mermaids (line 124): In Homer's Odyssey, sea nymphs who sit on a shore and sing a
song so alluring that it attracts all passing sailors who hear it. Then the sailors sit on the shore,
transfixed by the song, until they die. But Odysseus plugs the ears of his men with wax, so that
they are unable to hear, after ordering them to tie him to a mast. Thus, as they pass the island,
Odysseus himself hears the song but cannot go ashore, though he wants to, because he cannot
break free of his bonds.


Style
......."The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a modernistic poem that expresses the thoughts of
the title character via the following:Conversational Language Combined With the Stylized
Language of Poetry. For example, the poem opens straightforwardly with "Let us go then, you
and I." It then presents a bizarre personification/simile with end rhyme (lines 2 and 3), comparing
the evening to an anesthetized hospital patient. End rhyme continues throughout most of the
poem, as does the use of striking figures of speech. The figures of speech generally refer in some
way to Prufrock. The anesthetized hospital patient, for example, represents the indecisiveness of
Prufrock. The yellow fog and yellow smoke of lines 15 and 16 are compared in succeeding lines
to a timid cat, which represents the timidity of Prufrock.
Variations in Line Length and Meter. Some lines contain only three words. Others contain as
many as fourteen. The meter also varies.
Shifts in the Train of Thought: The train of thought sometimes shifts abruptly, without transition,
apparently in imitation of the way the human mind works when it dreams or daydreams or reacts
to an external stimulus.
Shifts in Topics Under Discussion: The subject under discussion sometimes shifts abruptly, from
trifling matters one momentu0097Prufrock's bald spot, for example, or the length of his
trousersu0097to time and the universe the next.
Shifts From Abstract to Concrete (and Universal to Particular): The poem frequently toggles
between (1) the abstract or universal and (2) the concrete or specific. Examples of abstract
language are muttering retreats (line 5) and tedious argument of insidious intent (lines 8-9).
Examples of phrases or clauses with universal nouns are the muttering retreats and the women
come and go. Examples of concrete language are oyster-shells (line 7) and soot (line 19).
Examples of particular (specific) language are Michelangelo (line 14) and October (line 21).
Shifts From Obvious Allusions or References to Oblique Allusions or References: Prufrock
quotes, paraphrases, or cites historical or fictional persons, places, things, or ideas. Some of his
references are easy to fathom. For example, everyone with a modicum of education knows who
Michelangelo was (line 14). Other references are difficult to fathom. For example, few readers
realize that To Have Squeezed the Universe into a Ball (line 92) is a variation of a line written by
poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). In his use of allusions, Eliot apparently wanted to show that
Prufrock was well read and retained bits and pieces of what he read in his memory, like all of us.
Use of Repetition
.......Eliot repeats certain words and phrases several or many times, apparently to suggest the
repetition and monotony in Prufrock's life. Notice, for example, how often he begins a line with
Andu009720 times. He also repeats other words as well as phrases and clauses, including the
following:

Let us go
In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo
There will be time
Do I dare
Should I presume
I have known
Would it have been worth it
Figures of Speech: Examples From the Poem
Simile: Lines 2-3

When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table
(Prufrock uses like to compare the evening to a patient)
Personifications, Simile: Lines 8-9
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
(Personification 1: Streets become persons because they follow. Personification 2: An argument
becomes a person because it has insidious intent. Simile: Use of like to compare streets to an
argument)
Metaphor: Lines 15-22
Yellow fog and yellow smoke are both compared to a living creature. It is obvious that the
creature is a cat. (It licks its tongue, leaps, and curls up.) /
Metaphor: Line 51
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
(Life is compared to coffee.)
Alliteration
Lines 20-21: Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Line      34:      Before      the       taking       of       a      toast       and       tea
Line        56:         fix       you          in          a        formulated          phrase)
Line 58: When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall

Metaphor: Line 58
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall
(Prufrock compares himself to an insect preserved for display in a collection)
Personification/Metaphor: Line 75
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
(Personification: The evening is a sleeping person; Metaphor: The evening is compared to a
person.)
Anaphora (Lines 91-94)
Tohave bitten off the matter with a smile,
Tohave squeezed the universe into a ball
Toroll it toward some overwhelming question,
Tosay: u0093I am Lazarus, come from the dead
(For a definition of anaphora, see Literary Terms.)
Hyperbole and Metaphor: Lines 92-93
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question
(Hyperbole and Metaphor: The universe becomes a ball that is rolled.)
Study Questions and Essay Topics

       Are such vapors as yellow fog and yellow smoke (lines 15-16) apt metaphors for a cat?
      Does the month of the year, October (line 21), mean that the speaker is running out of
       time to make something of his life or to find the right woman?
      Prufrock says he sees lonely men leaning out of windows? How does Prufrock know they
       are lonely? Is it possible that he misinterprets their state of mind?
      T.S. Eliot believed that readers should interpret a poem without attempting to link it to the
       life of the author or to cultural or social conditions at the time the author wrote the poem.
       In other words, a poem should stand on its own. Write an argumentative essay that
       defends or opposes Eliot's position. Include in your essay opinions of other authors, as
       well as literary critics, on this subject.
      Do you believe Prufrock suffers from a psychological affliction, such as paranoia,
       depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder? Explain your answer.
      Write an essay that attempts to fathom Prufrock's psyche.

T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

                                                                     Motikala Subba Dewan

                                                                           Associate Professor

Abstract-This piece of writing is for the bachelor level students of English in
Nepal. It tries to give brief glimpse about T.S. Eliot and his poem “The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, which is one of the prescribed poems in Major
English BA course. This is only a commentary on the poem and does not cover
each and every detail about T. S. Eliot’s works and life. It is purely academic
research based on works citation from the websites and books. It will be useful
for the students or any individual to gain basic knowledge on elements of poetry
and its figure of speeches. And it is also very helpful for the English teachers to
get the idea about the poem for classroom teaching. “The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock,” often called “the first Modernist poem. The poem centers on the
feelings and thoughts of the persona. The poem is composed of Prufrock’s own
neurotic and lyrical associations. Indeed, over the course of the poem, he sets
up analogies between himself and various familiar cultural figures, among them
Hamlet. This establishes a connection with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy (“To be or
not to be?—That is the question”). Prufrock’s doubt that he deserves the answer
he desires from the woman transforms the poem into a kind of interior
monologue or soliloquy in which “To be or not to be?” is for Prufrock “To be
what?” and “What or who am I to ask this woman to marry me?”

Poem’s Synopsis

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is commonly known as Prufrock. The poem
is described as a “drama of literary anguish,” presents a stream of consciousness
in the form of a dramatic interior monologue. With its weariness, regret,
embarrassment, longing, emasculation, sexual frustration, sense of decay, and
awareness of mortality, Prufrock has become one of the most recognized voices
in modern literature. This poem is inner monologue, which means that
everything in the poem is spoken from inside of Prufrock’s mind. It presents a
moment in which a narrator/speaker discusses a topic and, in so doing, reveals
his personal feelings to a listener. Only the narrator talks and intentionally and
unintentionally reveals information about him. The speaker expresses his
thoughts about the dull, uneventful, mediocre life he leads as a result of his
feelings of inadequacy and his fear of making decisions. Unable to seize
opportunities or take risks (especially with women), he lives in a world that is the
same today as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow as it is today. He
does try to make progress, but his timidity and fear of failure inhibit him from
taking action.

Setting

The setting of the poem is in the evening in a bleak section of a smoky city. This
city is probably St. Louis, where Eliot grew up or also could be London, to which
Eliot moved in 1914. However, Eliot probably intended the setting to be any city
anywhere.

Characters

J. Alfred Prufrock: The speaker/narrator, a timid, overcautious middle-aged
man who escorts his silent listener through streets in a shabby part of a city, past
cheap hotels and restaurants, to a social gathering where women he would like
to meet are conversing. However, he is hesitant to take part in the activity for
fear of making a fool of himself.

The Listener: An unidentified companion of Prufrock, could also be Prufrock’s
inner self, one that prods him but fails to move him to action.

The Women: Women at a social gathering whom Prufrock would like to meet
one of them but worries that she will look down on him.

The Lonely Men in Shirtsleeves: Leaning out of their windows, they smoke
pipes. They are like Prufrock in that they look upon a scene but do not become
part of it. The smoke from their pipes helps form the haze over the city, the haze
that serves as a metaphor for a timid cat, which is Prufrock.

Themes

Loneliness and alienation (Prufrock is a pathetic man whose anxieties and
obsessions have isolated him),

Indecision (Prufrock resists making decisions for fear that their outcomes will
turn out wrong), Inadequacy (Prufrock continually worries that he will make a
fool of himself and that people will ridicule him for his clothes, his bald spot, and
his overall physical appearance) and
Pessimism (Prufrock sees only the negative side of his own life and the lives of
others).

Figurative Speeches

It presents a bizarre personification/simile with end rhyme (lines 2 and 3),
comparing the evening to an anesthetized hospital patient. There are odd simile
of lines 1-2: Let us go then you and I,/When the evening is spread out against the
sky/Like a patient etherised upon a table. How can the dusk look like a patient
on a surgeon’s table about ready for the scalpel? In lines (8-9), streets become
persons because they follow an argument becomes a person because it has
insidious intent (personification) and use of like to compare streets to an
argument (simile). Lines 11-12 suggest Pruforck’s destination, his intent in the
poem, Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit. In the context
of the poem, where is Prufrock walking? Where may he be going? Like the first
three lines, lines 13 -14 always throw students In the room the women come and
go / Talking of Michelangelo. Why are these two lines here, in the middle,
suddenly? What do they have to do with Prufrock’s thoughts? It might be easier
to consider oppositions. How do the two lines suggest a very different
environment from the preceding lines?

In lines (15-23), yellow fog and yellow smoke are both compared to a timid cat,
which represents the timidity of Prufrock (metaphor). This passage is an
example of imagism, when a poet uses “pictures,” visual “images” of usually
natural aspects of the world to convey mood, impressions, meaning. Eliot was
very influenced by “imagist’ poetry at the time, poets who would write very short
poems that often would focus on just one image. In many ways, The Love Song
of J. Alfred Prufrock is a long series of imagist poems, linked together like a
collage, in this case a sort of imagist-tapestry of Prufrock’s thoughts. Why fog is
yellow? What does the yellow fog resemble in Eliot’s description? When it rubs
its muzzle and licked its tongue and Curled once about the house and fell asleep.
 Why does Eliot compare the yellow fog to such resemblance? In lines 24- 34,
Prufrock repeats There will be time, six times. What type of mentality does
Prufrock exhibit by repeating this line? What kind of anxiety is he expressing?
Why might he be expressing this particular type of anxiety? When does a
person, prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet? What does he mean
by, time yet for a hundred indecisions /And for a hundred visions and revisions?
In lines 37-49, Prufrock offers the first real details about the place /event he is
possibly walking to. As he imagines what might happen if he goes. What is
Prufrock self-conscious of? even paranoid about? What does his anxiety say
about his supposed “crisis”?

In line (51), life is compared to coffee (metaphor). Most of the lines in the poem
have followed alliteration such as in lines (20-21), Slipped by the terrace, made a
sudden leap, And seeing that it was soft October night, in line (34), Before the
taking of a toast and tea, in line (56) fix you in a formulated phrase, in line (58),
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall. In this line, Prufrock compares
himself to an insect preserved for display in a collection (metaphor). In line (75),
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! here, the evening is a
sleeping person ( personification) and the evening is compared to a person
(metaphor). In lines (91-94), poet has used anaphora; To have bitten off the
matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it toward
some overwhelming question, To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead.
There are use of hyperbole and metaphor in lines (92-93); To have squeezed the
universe into a ball, To roll it toward some overwhelming question, these lines
show the universe becomes a ball that is rolled.

Up until lines 110, what type of scenario does he imagine as possibly might have
happened in the future? What situation does he imagine could have happened?
 What does it say about Prufrock’s anxiety? What clue does it give us as to why
Prufrock is old and alone? Lines 111-119 are famous, beginning with No! I am
not Prince Hamlet and the Fool. Notice the movement–from Hamlet to the Fool.
 This is a kind of movement that happens a lot in the poem. Notice the shift in
mood, tone and rhythm in the final stanzas of the poem, lines 120 – 131. How
does the mood, tone and rhythm of the poem change? How might it reflect a
change in Prufrock’s frame of mind? How does the setting of seashore
contribute to the change in tone? Why does Prufrock bring up mermaids? What
do mermaids symbolize (they have to be symbols, since mermaids don’t exist)?
 Why does he shift from mermaids in the very end to “sea-girls”? The last two
stanzas of this poem are the most beautiful in any poetry. When Eliot says, We
have lingered in the chambers of the sea, and Till human voices wake us, and
we drown? Why do we linger Why do we drown? Why is it human voices?
 What other kinds of voices can there be?

Eliot repeats certain words and phrases several times, apparently to suggest the
repetition and monotony in Prufrock’s life. For example, how often he begins a
line with And-20 times. He also repeats other words as well as phrases and
clauses-Let us go, In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo,
There will be time, Do I dare, Should I presume, I have known, would it have
been worth it.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a modernistic poem that expresses the
thoughts of the title character via the following:

   1. Conversational Language Combined With the Stylized Language of Poetry: For
      example, the poem opens straightforwardly with Let us go then, you and I.
   2. Variations in Line Length and Meter: Some lines contain only three words.
      Others contain as many as fourteen. The meter also varies.
   3. Shifts in the Train of Thought: The train of thought sometimes shifts abruptly,
      without transition, apparently in imitation of the way the human mind works
      when it dreams or day dreams or reacts to an external stimulus.
    4. Shifts in Topics Under Discussion: The subject under discussion sometimes shifts
       abruptly, from trifling matters one moment. For example, one time Prufrock talks
       about the bald spot or the length of his trousers another time he talks about the
       time and universe.
    5. Shifts From Abstract to Concrete (and Universal to Particular): The poem
       frequently toggles between (1) the abstract or universal and (2) the concrete or
       specific. Examples of abstract language are muttering retreats (line 5) and
       tedious argument of insidious intent (lines 8-9). Examples of phrases or clauses
       with universal nouns are the muttering retreats and the women come and go.
        Examples of concrete language are oyster-shells (line 7) and soot (line 19).
       Examples of particular (specific) language are Michelangelo (line 14) and
       October (line 21).
    6. Shifts From Obvious Allusions or References to Oblique Allusions or References:
       Prufrock quotes, paraphrases, or cites historical or fictional persons, places,
       things, or ideas. Some of his references are easy to fathom. For example,
       everyone with a modicum of education knows who Michelangelo was (line 14).
       Other references are difficult to fathom. In his use of allusions, Eliot apparently
       wanted to show that Prufrock was well read and retained bits and pieces of what
       he read in his memory, like all of us.

Therefore, try to understand the poem as an assembly or collage of images that
all somehow reflect Prufrock’s state of mind. By the end of the poem, he is on
the seashore, admitting his failure to reach his destination. Seen as simply the
romantic agonizing of a young man (Eliot was eighteen when he began the
poem) over a woman he loves, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock would have a
distinctly limited appeal. However, the poem moves from this specific situation to
explore the peculiarly modernist alienation of the individual in society to a point
where internal emotional alienation occurs in loneliness.

This video introduces T.S. Eliot's poem, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.' It outlines the
general setup of the poem, its enigmatic lead character and its stylistic characteristics. It also
highlights key passages.

T.S. Eliot's Prufrock
So, we're learning about the The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. And let's get it out right now:
Prufrock. That's kind of a silly name, right. Say it a couple times - Prufrock, Prufrock, Prufrock.
Okay I think we're good now.

This is a poem, and it's a pretty significant poem by T.S. Eliot. As a poem, it's awesome, short
and accessible. I recommend it - for T.S. Eliot, it's a key thing to read. Now, this is his first poem
that was published in a non-school journal setting, so it was his first big break poem. It was
published in 1915, and it's interesting, since it was while he was still living in America in 1914
before he moved to Britain. Prufrock is in a city, and a lot of critics think it might be in Boston.
There isn't anything specific that hints at that location, but basically, this is an American poem.
What happens in this poem is we follow around the speaker or narrator as he wanders around
town. He also wanders through his memories. One of my favorite lines that really sums up the
poem is 'I've measured out my life in coffee spoons.' Think about what that means; it's about
looking back and assessing but using this really inadequate tool. It gives a sense of this
mundane existence, this unremarkable life, but it's also a really beautiful line of poetry. It uses
this beautiful imagery to describe a mundane thing, which is something that keep coming up in
Prufrock but also throughout T.S. Eliot's poetry in general: the elevation of the normal or
decrepit through beautiful language. It's really a non-linear plot; we just get his thoughts as he
goes.

Modernism
I mentioned earlier in the overview of Modernism, that Modernism is concerned with voices
and consciousness as well as placing speakers or multiple speakers. This poem really begins in
a way that might make you uncomfortable as a reader, since you're not really sure where you
stand in relation to this voice that is speaking to you. And the poem begins like this:

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

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

First off, who is you and I? Is it you as the reader or someone else off-stage who he's
addressing? We don't know, so we're already uncomfortable. We're not sure where we stand.
And this transition that he puts - when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient
etherized upon a table - that's not something you'd expect right after against the sky. It sets the
tone, and it's really jarring transition, a jarring simile (that's when you compare something using
the word 'like'). This opening tells us that, while we may think we're comfortable touring the city
with this guy, there is a characterization with the cheap one-night hotels and half-deserted
streets - that's all fine, but that opening tells us that we're not in Kansas anymore. We're going
to have a contrast between what we expect and what we're getting throughout the poem - the
romanticized sky and then the patient etherized upon the table. There's that basic discomfort
along with the 'you and I' and not knowing who the 'you and I' is.

Poem Features
Some other things to keep in mind - this poem is written in free verse, since it doesn't have any
set length or set rhyme scheme. It's kind of just like whatever Eliot felt like writing. At the same
time, it has these half-rhymes and these internal rhymes even though there's no real structure.
A really cool example of that is these three lines:

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea

You can see there all of these -isions. Some of them are at the end of the line, and some of
them, like visions and revisions, are in the middle of the line. And taking of a toast and tea has
no -isions at all. The irregular sprinkling of it at the end and throughout the middle is really
characteristic of early Eliot. You see that throughout the poem.

He also likes to throw around these repetitive phrases. One that you see is in the room the
women come and go, talking of Michelangelo. That literally just comes, and it puts you in a
different place than you were during the line before it. There's also variations on these
questions and comments that come throughout it. We have and how should I presume?
Another one that comes back a lot is I have known them all already, known them all. One that's
especially sad-seeming is that's not what I meant at all. You can see in the context of a poem
that that is a powerful line, since poems are generally economical and constructed to say what
you mean in a small amount of words. So, to have the narrator say that's not what I meant at all
has a powerful effect.

All of these repetitive phrases emphasize that narrator's inability to act or really do anything.
Near the end, he references Prince Hamlet, saying No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant
to be. And he brings that up, since Hamlet is this traditional character who doesn't do anything,
who's indecisive. To be or not to be, right? He doesn't know what he's doing. And Prufrock is
saying that he's not Hamlet. He's not even committing to being Hamlet, although he's something
semi-related to Hamlet. So, he's really not able to get up and go. That's an example of an
allusion, and literary allusion that Modernists like to use a lot. That allusion really emphasizes
the indecisiveness that is present throughout the rest of the poem, just by throwing in that word
Hamlet that puts you in that mindset.

It all has that sort of overarching mood and tone of regret. This all brings into view this role of
the aging protagonist. And he mentions:

I grow old…I grow old…

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each

I do not think that they will sing to me
You can see that theme of being old, and the questions are mundane but given this significant
attention. So, you can see this contrast of being old and having all these questions that stay
unresolved. It's ultimately a beautiful poem, and I encourage you to read it. It's very beautiful
poem about a very mundane thing: a man growing old in the city. That's really what Eliot is best
at: elevating something that is normal, even potentially pathetic, into something that can be
beautiful. So, that is The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock.
At the beginning of T. S. Eliot' s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, there stands an
epigraph from Dante's Inferno, Canto 27. This epigraph unifies the text and brings, through
its imagery and context, a deeper understanding of Eliot's poem. Prufrock represents both of
the characters in this section of the Inferno, corresponding to Dante in the first section and
Guido da Montefeltro in the second and third.


Dante represents the antithesis of Prufrock as well as the ideal that Prufrock strives for. The
flame-bound Guido da Montefeltro represents through his words and condition, the isolated
and wasteful state that Prufrock has condemned himself to inhabit. In this manner, the
epigraph brings the poem full circle, allowing the reader to grasp firmly the extent of
Prufrock's internal collapse.


The context of the epigraph reveals Prufrock as the antithesis to the heroic ideal that Dante
represents; an ideal that Prufrock strives for and fails to achieve. Several stanzas earlier than
the epigraph, Dante writes of his first reaction to the inflamed sinner, Guido da Montefeltro,
who has addressed him: "I still was downward bent and listening / When my Conductor
touched me on the side, / Saying: 'Speak thou: this one a Latian is.' // And I, who had
beforehand my reply / In readiness, forthwith began to speak:"(Inferno, Canto 27). Dante
does not hesitate long, and he pours forth his response to the shade with alacrity, and for
several stanzas.


In the opposite vein, Eliot's Prufrock also has a prepared speech, a speech he agonizes over
with great trepidation, saying, "Do I dare? and, Do I dare? / ...Do I dare / Disturb the
universe?" Prufrock has so little confidence in his words that he comforts himself with the
thought that there is time "for a hundred visions and revisions" before he must give his line.
Up until the final moment before he would speak Prufrock's questions linger, asking in the
last stanza of the first section, "And should I then presume? / And how should I begin?"
Given Prufrock's apprehension, Dante's heroicism in descending to Hell represents the
antithesis of Prufrock, as he says: "No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; / Am
an attendant lord, one that will do / To swell a progress, start a scene or two, / Advise the
Prince; no doubt, an easy tool..." Prufrock's attempt to ask the "overwhelming question," to
become Dante or Hamlet, passes without event, and with a pathetic acceptance on the part of
Prufrock.


Prufrock, in seeking and failing to become a hero in his own life, therefore condemns himself
to ultimate waste and isolation. The epigraph tells the reader about the kind of condemnation
this entails in the personal condition of Guido himself. Guido has been wrapped in a tall
flame for his sins, and must speak through the tongue of that flame. Through Prufrock's
inability to speak this "overwhelming question," he gives up his chance to live, love, and
communicate with happiness. Prufrock says he has "heard the mermaids singing, each to
each // I do not think that they will sing to me."


The latter sentence, separated out with a period punctuating its finality, represents a self-
condemnation; Prufrock separates himself from the mermaid's singing, as evidenced by the
use of 'I' and 'me.' Guido's tongue of flame becomes Prufrock's self-inflicted punishment, a
lifetime without the ability to communicate true feelings, and a lonely death at the hands of
the "eternal footman" who "snickers" at his cowardice.


Finally, Guido's words, which appear in the epigraph, complete the reader's picture of
Prufrock and his fate. When Dante asks Guido to identify himself, he says "If I thought my
reply were / to someone who would ever return to the world, / this flame would stop
flickering. / But since no one has ever / returned alive from this pit, if what I hear is true / I
answer you without any fear of infamy." Prufrock, who has condemned himself, shall never
"return to the world." If Prufrock had asked his question, had become a hero in his own life
like Hamlet or Dante, the flame in which he has suffered would have subsided.


However, the epigraph also makes a social comment about how modern life can isolate and
destroy individual self-worth. Prufrock does not ask "the overwhelming question" because he
fears judgment and rejection. His self-consciousness, produced by the society around him,
brutalizes him from within. He says, "With a bald spot in the middle of my hair / (they will
say: 'how his hair is growing thin!')" and "My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a
simple pin / (They will say: 'how his arms and legs are thin!')" Prufrock has been filled with
painful insecurity because he has been "formulated, sprawling on a pin" by the people around
him. Therefore, to "return alive from this pit" as Guido says, would mean to rise above the
constrictions and cruel judgementalism of modern life: a truly heroic act.


Prufrock, crushed under the pressures of modern life, crumbles from within. He shuts
himself off from society and the woman that he loves: all because of his deep self-loathing
and fear. This internal catastrophe describes the isolating and lonely nature of modern
existence, where cultural norms become internalized and people watch themselves, as from
the guard tower of a prison, hoping to catch themselves in the act of individualizing before
becoming a deviant in the eyes of society.


The poem's epigraph fuses all of these concepts and figures together into a summation that
brings the reader a deeper and richer understanding of the poem, and another powerful set
of images to describe Prufrock's self-victimization and downfall in the face of social pressure.

In order to discuss the contents of T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
we must first acknowledge the introduction of the poem. In her essay entitled "The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Comic Elements in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", Marisa
Pagnattaro describes that "The poem opens with an epigram from Dante's Inferno in which
Guido de Montefeltro, who is consumed in flames as punishment for giving false counsel,
confesses his shame because he believes that it cannot be reported back on earth." I believe
that Eliot entered this particular excerpt to the introduction to illustrate that Prufrock feels
free to open his heart and mind to the reader without fear. Eliot's intention must have been
to explain why such a scared and introverted Prufrock would dare to allow us to enter the
depths of his soul.


When the poem begins, Prufrock invites his lover (and us) on what seems to be a magical
journey, only to compare the night sky to a "patient etherized upon a table." The comparison
can also be viewed as Prufrock's portrayal of his own condition. He may be viewing himself
as passive, powerless, and above all, paralyzed. This metaphor acts as a disruption of the
rhyme scheme of the poem as well as our ideas about what a love-song should be. The lines
following this metaphor speak of "cheap hotels", run down restaurants and "Streets that
follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent." This portion of the poem is describing
the setting of our journey as obviously unpleasant and shadowy, while also signifying that
this will be not a physical voyage, but one through Prufrock's mind. Prufrock then brings us
to an "overwhelming question" but does not describe what this question is. Instead, he
forbids us to inquire about it, demanding that we continue with him on his quest.


There have been many speculations made on this "overwhelming question." My favorite
explanation for this question is that it is Prufrock's marriage proposal. "The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock: Prufrock's Dilemma." is a composition in which the author, John Berryman
states that "The poem pretends to be a love song. It is something much more practical. It is a
study-a debate by Prufrock with himself- over the business of proposing marriage..." At this
point in the love song, we are not yet sure of whether or not this proposal will be made. We
find ourselves sidetracked once again when Prufrock springs the following line upon us: "In
the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo." What are we to make of this?
Who are these women and why Michelangelo? The answer will become more apparent in
later parts of the poem. Prufrock continues us on our journey through the seemingly dirty
city that is filled with yellow fog and smoke, which is compared to a cat, giving it a sexy,
feline-like feel. He ensures us that there will be time for his question throughout the evening,
"Before the taking of a toast and tea." Here, Prufrock does not seem to want to act hastily,
instead, he hesitates, going over his many "visions and revisions" until he once again brings
us to the ladies talking of Michelangelo. After closely analyzing and researching these lines
and their context in the poem, I have come to the following conclusion: Prufrock views the
women that speak about Michelangelo as simply coming and going, making their talk seem
like meaningless babble, thus making the immense talent of the artist look trivial. So how
does this connect with Prufrock? It appears to me that our fearful and passive Prufrock is
terrified of the way these ladies would view him, and what they could potentially do to his
"overwhelming question."


Eventually, Prufrock begins to wonder "Do I dare?" in reference to asking his question. He
asks himself, "and 'Do I dare?", (run away) when noticing that he still has "time to turn back
and descend the stair" before he enters this dinner-party. His self-consciousness gets the best
of him, and he realizes that if he turns around to walk down the stairs, the guests at this party
may notice his thinning hair and deteriorating body. Prufrock then asks himself an even
bigger question, "Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?". This further proves his cowardice, he is
afraid to shake up the balance of his society, of the pompous ladies at the party, with his
"overwhelming question" of love.


At this point in the poem, Prufrock seems to fall into some sort of sadness and digression,
describing his all-too-familiar world and his unchanging life that he has so carefully
measured out with "coffee spoons." He envisions himself as an insect pinned upon the wall,
with all eyes on him. He expands on this theme of this worn out familiarity of his life, and his
inability to change it. I believe that this theme is so developed because it acts as a
foreshadowing to the end of the poem. He seems to be looking for some kind of a justification
for the abandonment of the plan of his proposal. Prufrock views himself as an old, lonely,
balding and even barren man who is quickly digressing. He states: "I should have been a pair
of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." He obviously wishes that he was
further down the chain of existence, he would rather be an untroubled creature than a man
torn by this decision that he is so unwilling to make.


After his digression, Prufrock returns to the matter at hand, asking himself "Should I, after
tea and cakes and ices,/ Have the strength to force the moment of crisis?" Once again he
begins to seem at least a little optimistic about his actions but ends up admitting that he is
afraid. The next two stanzas end in the same way; Prufrock envisions his love-object rejecting
him by saying "This is not what I meant at all./ That is not at all." He asks if his
embarrassments would have been worth it if she chooses to refuse him. He explains that he is
no prophet, and when comparing himself to Lazarus he states that he has "come from the
dead." This further proves the passive, dead-like state that he is in.


The poem has a confusing conclusion. Prufrock explains that he is not Prince Hamlet,
making a play on words when saying "nor was meant to be" (as in Hamlets famous "to be or
not to be..." soliloquy) as to say that he was not meant to make this decision. Prufrock sees
himself as growing old and shriveled, having to roll the bottoms of his trousers. He then tells
us that "he has heard the mermaids singing." In her essay, Pagnattaro explains that
mermaids symbolize "mystical sea creatures believed to coax sailors out to sea with their
seductive songs sing to each other in Prufrock's world; they will not enchant him into action."
He seems to only be able to view these mermaids "combing the white hair of the waves brown
back", he can not enter their fairy-tale world of love, and he can not force himself to act.
Prufrock has entered a dream-world with mermaids, where he is able to walk on the beach,
and love. When the human voices of real life wake him, he drowns. This leads me to believe
that Prufrock is only able to engage in his wishes in his imagination, and that he will never
ask his "overwhelming question." In the last stanza of the poem, he uses the term "we", he
has not used plural pronouns since he extended the invitation to make a visit into his mind. I
believe that the "we" pronoun is used to show that the union between him and his love can
only be made in his dreams, and when reality wakes him that union drowns and dies.
Ultimately, I can not assume that Prufrock ever asks his question, instead, I believe that he
comes to terms with himself growing old and dying alone.


In the beginning of this essay, I chose to emphasize the introduction of the poem, which was
taken from Dante's Inferno. I believe that T.S. Eliot created the character of Prufrock from
his knowledge of the trimmers of Dante's work. Trimmers were destined to stay in the foyer
of hell forever because they have never truly lived. They never did bad or good, so they could
not be sentenced to either heaven or hell. In their time on earth, trimmers were, like
Prufrock, half-dead and above all, they never made any decisions. It is obvious from all my
observations that Prufrock's love-song does not have a happy ending. Clearly, Prufrock
continues on his path of passivity, never making any decision. Like the trimmers are forced
between heaven and hell, Prufrock is stuck in the middle of his own existence, never going
this way or that, never really living.

As one of T.S. Eliot's best-known (and certainly most frequently analyzed) poems, The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock has had many themes and meanings assigned to it since its 1915
publication. The frustration and ennui of a Europe slouching towards war, one man's
psychological dissonance, an examination of libidinous violence: all of these interpretations
and more are available in the critical studies of this work. One aspect of this work, however,
that is frequently not addressed is the philosophical change that Western cultures were
experiencing due to then-recent scientific advances, specifically the theory of relativity and
the concomitant rise of quantum theory. In looking at Prufrock, one can see a great deal of
textual evidence that Eliot was using the very concepts of modern physics as psychological
metaphors in the construction of this poem, such as singularities and the uncertainty
principle, in some cases before their popular conceptions became well-known.
Eliot's integration of what were undoubtedly considered esoteric concepts into the subtextual
underpinnings of Prufrock may seem unlikely at first, but one has to keep in mind the time
period in which Prufrock was written. Albert Einstein had already published and made waves
with the theory of relativity, which had set the old Newtonian model of the universe on its ear
with the radical idea that certain events were dependent on one's position relative to the
event. Quantum theory had been developing since roughly 1900 ("Quantum Theory-Early
Developments," 1), and the basic concepts were readily available (if not always
understandable) to the educated public, a stratum of society in which Eliot would certainly
have been considered a member.


Although Eliot was not a scientist by inclination, he was certainly familiar with scientific
concepts, as Jeffrey Walker pointed out when describing Eliot's "famous account of the
poetic mind as a catalytic 'platinum shred' inserted into the crucible of tradition" (65),
illustrating at least a passing familiarity with a few basic chemistry principles. Given the
philosophical questions that the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics were raising in
the early part of the century, it seems highly unlikely Eliot would not have been at least
passingly aware of them, and more than likely ready to use what was understood about them
then metaphorically. The fact that some of what Eliot wrote in Prufrock is illustrative of
concepts that had not yet been formally defined can be seen not only as evidence of Eliot's
understanding of the early concepts, but in his skill in utilizing them as imaginative, yet
logical, metaphors.


Although not delving into the specifics of the connections between modern physics and
Prufrock, other critics have made note of related aspects, such as how Eliot manipulated
concepts of space and time in fashions other than the linear. In an essay printed in the 1965
collection Poets of Reality, J. Hillis Miller noted that the narrator, similar to his ability to
relate to other consciousnesses in the poem, "has an equally unhappy relation to time and
space... However far Prufrock goes, he remains imprisoned in his own subjective space"
(Esty, 1). Miller goes on to make a similar argument about Prufrock's relationship to time,
which makes sense in that modern physics recognizes space and time to be integral parts of
the fabric of the universe, but what is important to recognize in Miller's statement is the idea
that Prufrock's conception of space and time - his own continuum, if you will - is a subjective
one.
In fact, this conception of space-time is so completely subjective that an objective flow is not
perceptible; that is, there is no clearly defined external linearity in the poem. Through this
enforced subjective time frame, Prufrock has in fact altered his own apparent procession
through objective time, such that "Prufrock's prospective confidence in the fullness of time
becomes a retrospective condition that 'I have known them all already, known them all'"
(North, 77). By itself, this is an interesting observation, but Miller also raises the question of
physical movement, stating that "...one of the puzzles of the poem is the question as to
whether Prufrock ever leaves his room. It appears that he does not, so infirm is his will" and
later asserting that because of his inability to perceive an objective space, "all his experience
is imaginary" and Prufrock is in fact paralyzed in the space-time continuum (Esty, 1). Thus,
his observance of one condition (specifically, time) has spread to affect his status of another
condition (space).


Miller's analysis of Prufrock's subjective space-time frames illustrates what would become
known, more than a decade after Prufrock first appeared, as Heisenberg's uncertainty
principle. Heisenberg gave a succinct definition of his principle in a 1927 paper where he
stated: "The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is
known in this instant and vice versa" (Cassidy, 1). In other words, the more attention is paid
to where an observed event is, the less is known about its movement, which is exactly the
condition we see ascribed to Prufrock. Eliot makes oblique reference to this lack of
movement at different points within Prufrock with lines such as "When I am pinned and
wriggling on the wall" (Line 58). As we see in Miller's and North's analyses of Prufrock, the
narrator has succeeded in stilling his movement in space through his forced subjective time
sense, one that is decidedly non-linear - notice how Eliot moves back in forth through time
using different tenses within stanzas; as an example, from "And the afternoon, the evening,
sleeps so peacefully!" in line 75 to "And would it have been worth it, after all" in line 87. As
another critic puts it, within Eliot's poetry, "space and time refuse to remain discreetly in the
background" (Albright, 229); these conceptions take an active part in Prufrock.


Another concept from the world of physics that Eliot illustrates with great metaphorical
effect is the concept of singularity. In analyzing the stanza that begins on line 49 with "For I
have known them all already, known them all," North points out that "to know 'all' already is
to be paralyzed, disabled, because 'all is not full of possibility but paradoxically empty," and
later, describes the movement as one that "expresses the emptiness between, the gap
between dispersed parts and an oppressive whole" (77). In other words, the breakdown of
order, a paradoxical state where all is nothing and normal rules do not hold true.


What many critics have seen to be a portrayal of the old order breaking down also happens to
describe, in a metaphorical sense, what modern physics holds to be the state of affairs inside
a singularity, which is defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as "a point or
region of infinite mass density at which space and time are infinitely distorted by
gravitational forces and which is held to be the final state of matter falling into a black hole."
Further cementing the idea, Eliot actually gives a now-commonly held conception of a
singularity (often referred to as a black hole) form when the narrator says "Would it have
been worth while / To have bitten off the matter with a smile / To have squeezed the
universe into a ball" (Lines 90-92) {emphasis mine}. While the use of the word "matter"
can be interpreted a number of ways, it takes on the mien of a sly play on words if we
examine its placement before the line about the universe being squeezed. Such concepts,
predicted by Einstein's theory of relativity and thus several years old by the time Prufrock
was written, would likely have been discussed publicly by the leading scientific lights of the
day (if not necessarily fully grasped), and it seems well within the realm of possibility that
Eliot would quickly grasp their metaphoric uses.


(As an aside, it is furthermore interesting to note that just two stanzas later, the narrator
avers that he is "not Prince Hamlet," (Eliot, line 111), who as Shakespeare scholars may recall,
himself said in conversation with the couriers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he "could
be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space" (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2).
In and of itself, such a term could be said to be a fair description of a singularity. However,
ascertaining the depth of knowledge William Shakespeare may have possessed regarding
astronomy and quantum physics is beyond the scope of this paper.)


However, in order to understand the metaphorical richness Eliot draws from quantum
physics and utilizes to excellent effect, it is necessary to turn in a direction that Eliot himself
would have greatly appreciated: cats. Although this particular cat would not make an
appearance in the physics journals for another twenty years or so, its footfalls echo in a very
definite fashion through Prufrock.
Most traditional essays and analyses of Prufrock focus on the overall feelings of impotence
and ennui that the poem excels in expressing; one critic aptly describes Prufrock as a
"portrait of a middle-aged man whose life is one of endless indecision" in which "Eliot
anticipated the uncertainty and debilitation engendered by World War I" (Woodward, 3-4).
But, when considering how Eliot integrated physics concepts into the poem, the term of
special interest in that description is not "middle-aged," "uncertainty" or "debilitation": it is
"indecision," a term that carries not only one of the master themes of the poem, but also one
of the keys to how Eliot uses physics concepts to deepen his meaning. Everything Prufrock
does (or, keeping in mind North's analysis, doesn't do) is shaped and defined by his inability
to decide, and it is this indecision that keeps Prufrock locked in his subjective space-time
frame, unable to progress or step into an objective reality.


It is this indecision that provides the strongest link between Prufrock and the concepts of
quantum physics, although the actual formulation of this link would not be created for
another twenty years. In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger, a contemporary of Einstein and rival of
Heisenberg, described the following thought experiment as a way of illustrating the
ramifications of quantum mechanics:


"A cat is placed in a box, together with a radioactive atom. If the atom decays and the Geiger
counter detects an alpha particle, a hammer hits a flask of prussic acid, killing the cat. Before
the observer opens the box, the cat's fate is tied to the wave function of the atom, which is
itself in a superposition of decayed and undecayed states. Thus, said Schrödinger, the cat
must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive states before the observer opens the box,
"observes" the cat, and "collapses" its wave function" (Louis, 1).


Now we can see a correlation Eliot might have enjoyed: Prufrock becomes the poem's very
own Schrödinger's cat. Trapped by his inability to decide, he exists in a state of superposition
between subjective and objective frames of reference, between desire and action. Prufrock's
"wave function," as it were, is locked into this indeterminate state, alternating between
opposing self-views. On one hand, early in the poem, Prufrock thinks his "mind is enormous,
stretching up from the argumentative streets, up through the licking fog, all the way up to the
etherized sky," but later, when the women are mentioned in the stanza beginning with "And
indeed there will be time," Prufrock "becomes, not infinite, but infinitesimal: a pair of ragged
claws" (Albright, 230). In neither case does Prufrock reach a collapsed function and reach an
objective reality; his indecision prevents the observer (in this case, Prufrock himself) from
opening the box.


This state of superposition is also reflected in Eliot's repetition of the word "time" in the
fourth stanza, particularly in the stanza's last four lines, where Prufrock relates there will be
"Time for you and time for me / And time yet for a hundred indecisions / And for a hundred
visions and revisions / Before the taking of a toast and tea" (Lines 31-34). Again using the
concept of indecision, Eliot explicitly outlines the Schrödinger's cat scenario here: there is
room in Prufrock's subjective timeframe for many choices and redactions, because the state
of indecision has not forced a collapse of possibilities into action. Prufrock even identifies an
event that would open the box, so to speak, and force the end of that series of "visions and
revisions": toast and tea.


To outline the concept further, Eliot expands on the idea in the sixth stanza's final lines,
where Prufrock agonizes over his indecisiveness, and gives it voice: "Do I dare / Disturb the
universe? / In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will
reverse" (Lines 44-47). Here, Eliot all but underlines the fact in bold black strokes that
Prufrock recognizes, at some level, that he knows a decision will force an action that shakes
him loose from his subjective haze of timelessness and/or spacelessness; i.e. that his personal
wave function will collapse, and one way or the other, he will have a new state of existence to
accept and deal with. With this realization, Prufrock does nothing, in keeping with his
indecisiveness to date, in fact does not stop to ponder it further. After all, if he was to observe
it too long, it might change his momentum (or lack thereof) in his subjective frame in
accordance with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and as Eliot was surely aware, Prufrock
isn't willing to let that happen.


By embedding scientific concepts and metaphors throughout Prufrock, Eliot did more than
simply find fresh imagistic territory to mine in a search for the perfect appropriate metaphor.
The concepts of quantum theory, as utilized in Eliot's first major poem, also provided potent
psychological thematic elements, so much so that the concepts themselves have been
validated without dependence on how they were expressed. Eliot was able to achieve
universality with ideas that even today, nearly ninety years after Prufrock's first publication,
are not necessarily public intellectual currency, and in addition, was able to find imagistic
expressions of ideas that were yet to be expressed.


In bringing science to his art, Eliot was able to help create a new vocabulary for ideas. And,
although he didn't intend it, he even managed to get a cat involved in the mix.

T.S. Eliot's title character in "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" questions whether he should
attend a social gathering, his insecurities toward facing women as a single man one cause of
his hesitation. However, in examining Prufrock's argument for avoiding the party, one
discovers that his distress is not truly due to his intense feelings or his shyness towards a
specific woman or even women in general. Prufrock's anxiety lies not with the prospect of a
relationship but with the acknowledgement of his aging self and of society's perception of
what a full life coming to its end should entail. Prufrock's many character traits reveal him as
a man whose main concern is with the passing of time.


Prufrock's obsession with the time he has left to life is apparent in his insistence that he is an
older man. His psychological and emotional traits find their roots in the physical and the
visual because it is his outside layer which is exposed for judgment. While Prufrock may have
encountered individuals who degraded him for his appearance, it is Prufrock, himself, who is
constantly aware of the flaws of age, and it is his own insecurity with his appearance which
leads him to conclude that others view him the same way:


Time to turn back and descend the stair,


With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-


(They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!')


My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,


My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin-


(They will say: 'But how his arms and legs are thin!') (37-44)
Prufrock imagines what the other guests will say about him and none of the imagined
exclamations involve who Prufrock was as a younger man or state that Prufrock simply has
lower taste or a personality flaw; Prufrock imagines the guests will point out the faults which
have developed due to his age. His insecurities about his out-of-date dress come from his
current state, what he wears to the party, but the imagined responses from the guests at the
party concern what he can not fix, his bald spot and the loss of muscle in his limbs which
occurs as humans lose their youthful roundness. The way Prufrock views himself, as well as
the way Prufrock believes the world views his body, and his behavior reveals his anguish
toward aging, in turn his unease with the passing of time.


Prufrock's anxiety is not limited to the physical evidence of his body's aging but also appears
in his mental obsession with time itself. Eliot writes Prufrock's dramatic monologue with
precision, capturing Prufrock's worry in even the slightest repetition. One example of
Prufrock's obsession leaking through his unconsciousness and spilling out in his monologue
is the repetition of the word "And" at the beginning of twenty-one lines and of the word "all"
at the end of several lines. Prufrock's use of "And" shows the passage of time as the poem
follows a linear story, but "And" disappears from the beginning of lines during the last
segment as Prufrock hints at life coming to its end. Interestingly, the repetition of "all"
appears most concentrated before this segment, perhaps as a note that at the end of the
poem, at the end of life, "all" is accounted for and examined as an accumulation of the body
of work's worth. Prufrock regrets that at his old age, his "all" amounts to very little: "I have
measured out my life with coffee spoons;" (51).


Several of Prufrock's other repetitions also reveal his concern with time. The most obvious
repetition concerning his feelings toward age is the repetition in line 120, "I grow old . . . I
grow old..." However, the repetition which initially provides the evidence of Prufrock's
concern with time is the insistent notion that "there will time" (23, 26, 28, 37). The words
alone might convince one that Prufrock does not worry about time, but upon examination,
the opposite is true. "There will time" is an ironic allusion to Andrew Marvell's seduction
poem "To His Coy Mistress," a poem in which a man attempts to seduce a woman by noting
that there isn't enough time to wait, in essence attempting to convince her that life is short so
one should take immediate action in order to live out every moment. Prufrock's insistence
that he has time is a way of making his procrastination excusable, but he repeats the words in
an attempt to convince himself that he does have time. Like Marvell's narrator, Prufrock is
using the echo as a means of persuasion; though, Prufrock is attempting to convince himself
instead of a woman. If Prufrock had no concern for time, he would not have to convince
himself of as much.


Another repetition appears when Prufrock discusses the unfortunate prospect of having to be
examined by the eyes of the female guests at the party and when he inserts his own
recollections of what the women look like. He repeats the word "known," ending two lines
with "known them all-" (55, 62). To have known something is to have already lived through
an experience, so, in this case, one can assume that Prufrock is once again concentrating on
the passage of time by elaborating that he has experienced people and social gatherings to
the point of predictability. A similar repetition which exhibits a concern for time comes in an
earlier line when Prufrock predicts what the women will be doing at the party: "In the room
the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo." (13-14, 35-36). Aside from the element of
predictability, Prufrock also uses the words "come and go" which is further evidence of
events in Prufrock's life passing him by as he ages. The reference to Michelangelo does not
simply allow for the idea that the women are discussing art and trends but also hints at
Prufrock's concept of what the women speak in favor of-Michelangelo is a historical figure
who was able to leave a legacy of art behind. Prufrock has no such legacy and appears
hopeless that he will ever leave his own mark in time or be the object of favorable discussion
amongst the women.


While these repetitions are evidence of Prufrock's subconscious obsession with time,
Prufrock also makes several allusions associated with aging and with a life coming to a close.
One such allusion appears with Prufrock's reference to John to Baptist's murder: "Though I
have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,/ I am no prophet-and
here's no great matter;" (82-83). Another allusion comes after Prufrock's imagined reaction
from the woman he would approach at the party: "No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was
meant to be;/ Am an attendant lord, one that will do/ To swell a progress [...]" (111-113). In
both allusions, Prufrock tells what he is not, and in examining what Prufrock is not and
including the idea that Prufrock is unhappy with his aging self, one can discover what
Prufrock's concerns are and what he needs to feel satisfied. Prufrock is not simply stating a
fact in these lines; it is already obvious that he is neither a prophet nor the fictional Hamlet.
Prufrock examines what he is missing from his life through these conclusions. A prophet has
a relationship with time through prophecy and through people remembering his
prophesying, just as Hamlet is remembered through his tragic actions. Much like Prufrock's
reference to Michelangelo, both of these allusions concern individuals who conquer time by
living on through their achievements; Prufrock's achievement could be obtained by having a
wife to carry on his name and his legacy, but he doubts he will ever have such an achievement
due to his dwindling years. Also, Hamlet and John the Baptist were both taken before a
natural end, unlike Prufrock who is given years to suffer from the effects of aging.


Aside from the Biblical and Shakespearean allusions, another allusion which is never fully
recognized reveals Prufrock's concerns about aging. In the last segment, within the last four
stanzas, as Prufrock walks along the beach, imagining mermaids, there is an allusion to tales
of sirens calling sailors out to sea. Sadly, Prufrock says, "I do not think that they will sing to
me." (125). One could interpret this allusion as an echo of a segment from The Odyssey in
which Odysseus is isolated on an island with the sea nymph Calypso who wants the warrior
to remain with her as her lover and promises him immortality if he stays. In considering
Calypso and Odysseus, Prufrock's woe toward the sirens is cemented by his inability to have a
lover who wants to be with him, much less a way of becoming immortal, even through the
achievement of companionship. Prufrock has no Calypso to call him out to sea and give him
eternal life, and he has no Penelope to lure him back to land with the promise of a life
fulfilled. Prufrock, it would appear, is no Odysseus, Hamlet, or prophet. Prufrock has lost his
repetition of "all" by this final allusion and the accumulation of his life is simply the aging
man's anticipation of impending death: "[...] and we drown." (131).


Eliot's Prufrock is characterized by his inability to act and his insecurities, but it is his need
for a fulfilled life and his anxiety toward watching his time disappear which establishes him
as a tragic case of life coming to its twilight era too soon. Prufrock's age would not be his
concern if he was able to take action, but it is his fear of being rejected due to his age which
stops him from obtaining a companion and security in his future. Prufrock is drawn to "dare"
(38) because his time for action is fading, yet it is time which aged him, instilling in him the
worry that stops him from taking action-time conquers J. Alfred Prufrock.
T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" centers around a man narrating an inner
monologue, contemplating whether or not to confess his love for the woman of his dreams.
The poem itself is somewhat clear-cut in its intentions, as Prufrock speaks of fantasies of
holding the woman in his arms, spending restless nights with the woman he has feelings for,
before correcting his foolish notions of initiating any type of conversation with her. However,
a suspicious symbol works its way into the poem fifteen lines in, when Eliot introduces the
concept of "the yellow fog." Initially, the reader can assume that the fog is symbolic of a cat,
as its thoroughly described actions seem to mirror cat-like qualities. However, what does the
cat-like fog in itself symbolize? As compared the analysis entitled "The Yellow Fog of
'Prufrock,'" by John Hakac, the fog and Prufrock himself can be interpreted many different,
and very interesting, ways.


Upon reading "The Love Song," I decidedly interpreted the yellow fog to be somewhat of an
enigma before concluding that its cat-like motions seemed to symbolize the elusive nature of
love. Through J. Alfred Prufrock, Eliot narrates about the humble man's misfortunes on the
subject, and centers the entirety of the poem on his utter lack of luck. Prufrock is a timid, shy,
and frightened man who does not dare speak to the woman of his dreams, though he often
contemplates doing so. His physical relationship with her is no more than a simple fantasy,
and seems to escape him whenever he draws near. Much like a cat, love pounces away when
approached, slipping into tight spaces for a resting period. Prufrock sees this fog and its
elusive tendencies as a sort of intangibility; he does not know that it physically exists, but he
chooses to believe it does. While contemplating confessing his love for his beloved but distant
woman, the fog suddenly becomes transparent and non-material, causing his to grasp at air.
With each subtle blow of reality comes a declining lack of confidence, as he slowly talks his
way out of anything risky.


Eliot draws a very solid and clear image by comparing the yellow fog to a cat, personifying
the fog by giving it cat-like motions. It "rubs its back upon window panes," and "its muzzle on
the window panes," it "Lick[s] its tongue into the corners" (Eliot ll. 15-17). The reader can
quickly draw conclusions that Eliot is creating a juxtaposition between the "cat" and love,
however, the third element of the fog is somewhat unclear. Why is it yellow? How does it
correlate to Prufrock's true feelings? The color yellow often symbolizes cowardliness, which
seems to fit Prufrock quite well. Similar to MacBeth and his hallucinations of a bloody
dagger, Prufrock sees the yellow fog creep in on little cat feet, he can sense its presence, and
feels that it is real. He sees his misfortune and perhaps even guilt dangling in front of him,
nearly tormenting him with his reluctance. The yellow smoke "slides along the streets" (ll.
24) and entrances him wherever he goes. Much like the supposed curse of the black cat,
Prufrock sees himself as doomed in its shadow.


I found John Hakac, author of "The Yellow Fog of 'Prufrock,'" to have somewhat of a
different take on Eliot's intentions. Hakac sees Prufrock as becoming weak due to the perils
of a society that has so often forsaken him, and this crisis of faith has lead him to be a
cowardly, timid man (Hakac 1). With this learned faithlessness, Prufrock has
"Subconsciously... associate[d] the cat-fog's provocative behavior with what he most desires:
love" (1). In this, Prufrock's inner fantasies and desires have retrogressed into something
animalistic, according to Hakac. However, arguably, it does not seem that his lusts are not
justified by some form of eloquence. The fact that he contemplates confessing his emotions
so entirely suggests that his intentions are, for the majority, noble, and he desires no more
than her love. But Hakac proceeds, "Sexual desire of some force is obviously not dead in the
man." While suppressed humanistic tendencies are always present in men, I doubt any of
them have ever written such lovely poetry on the matter.


Hakac continues on with the theme of underlying sexuality, expressing that Eliot carefully
clothed the implication with a subtle hint of symbolism and perfectly placed it into the poem.
He then brings to attention something that I was able to conclude only after careful
observation, and perhaps a bit of compromising thinking. He draws the concrete conclusion
that Eliot states "three distinct phases of love." The cat-like fog is personified by these stages
as it "woos, experiences a climax, and rests" (2). Hakac provides examples directly in the
poem, but I decided to do the some analyzing myself. I skipped over the quotes he marked to
see if I could find for myself just what these three stages are that he suspects to be so utterly
distinct. Relating to the "wooing," I would assume that he can only mean the instance when
the cat-like fog rubs its back upon the widow-pane, perhaps in a somewhat seductive way. In
regard to the "climax." I pinpointed the line about the cat's "sudden leap." As for the resting,
bit, I assumed he could only mean the instance where the cat "curled once about the house,
and fell asleep" (Eliot ll. 22). However, if I may criticize the critic for jumping to the
conclusions of the typical male ego, Hakac's points seem to be a bit of a stretch. An intangible
cat-like yellow fog is hardly seductive, and the likes of a cat rubbing its back upon a window-
pane hardly tends to fire the hormones. Hakac's "three distinct phases of love" seem to be
more akin to "three distinct phases of love-making."


Hakac chooses to highlight a few previously documented misconceptions as to the matter of
the yellow fog. He states, "According to Grover Smith, for example, Prufrock's observation of
the yellow fog is merely a way the man has of diverting himself for a few moments from the
prospect of a visit. For George Williamson, the passage has more, but negative importance.
He sees the cat-fog image as a suggestive of desire which ends in inertia" (1). Williamson
nearly joins Hakac in his sexual idealism, but perhaps a bit less harshly. However, Hakac
seems to denounce Williamson's endeavors, offering that there is more to be analyzed, and
that his take on the poem has never quite been tackled. I can only wonder why.


While Hakac's notions are justifiable, I don't find them to be entirely accurate. I believe the
cat-like yellow fog to have no implications of sexuality or animalistic desires, but merely acts
as symbolism for the intangibility of love. Cats are elusive and easily scared, and fog
possesses physical and non-physical qualities. J. Alfred Prufrock cannot seem to get a hold of
his emotions and commit to a confession of love, therefore showing his meek and timid self. I
can hardly seem to correlate the meek and timid as having lusty, animalistic desires, no
matter how human. And if Prufrock did possess such qualities, it was not T.S. Eliot's
intentions to let us know. However, that might be naïve of me to think that not everything a
man does is fueled solely by his hormones.

The first one mentioned (by none other than my LitKicks co-editor Jamelah) happens to be my
own favorite. T. S. Eliot began writing his poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in 1910,
when he was a 22 year old philosophy graduate student. Five years later it was published in
Poetry Magazine, and it became his first famous work.

Nearly a hundred years later, it's still puzzling and fascinating us. On the surface it is an ugly
little poem, a satire about a "hollow man" presumably from T. S. Eliot's own hometown of St.
Louis, Missouri (to where the name "Prufrock" has been traced). The poetic style appears at
first clumsy, intentionally malformed, and certainly unmusical. Except that, by the third
reading or so, the music starts to creep up on you. And the naive phrases, the crude
brushstrokes of an inelegant man, start to become elegant.

The poem is notable as a literary milestone in several ways. Like James Joyce's "Ulysses", which
was published a few years later, it is an intense interior monologue, a modernist stream of
consciousness. Eliot's narrator compares himself to a bug wriggling on a pin before Franz Kafka
began to dream up "Metamporphosis". And, Eliot composed the poem as a cut-up, a cubist
mental collage, half a century before William S. Burroughs began to make the "cut-up" style
famous.

"Prufrock" is an incredibly innovative and important poem, but that's not why I want to write
about it.

I want to write about T. S. Eliot's strange poem because it captures the insanity, intensity and
sheer length, width and breadth of human feelings more than any other poem I have ever read.
The author holds nothing back. We're inside the head of J. Alfred Prufrock, a thin, middle-aged
man from a notable upper-class family. He seems to be a type we've all met, an ineffectual and
frightened snob, who probably listened to everything Mother and Father said as a child and
then failed to grow out of this as an adult.

He never married, and in his middle age is probably either a virgin or close to it. He haunts tea
parties and dances, feeling ridiculous and alone, and dreaming of making love to the women in
the room. This poem is his brain scan, as he wanders from room to room.

He wants to ask a woman to dance, or catch someone's eye. He knows he is eligible enough to
interest a woman, but his inner thoughts and fears won't allow him to risk a moment of sexual
vulnerability, despite his raging desires. His thoughts veer wildly from the warmly romantic to
the coldly clinical, as in the opening lines:

Let              us            go            then,               you             and           I
when         the       evening       is      spread        out         against      the      sky
like a patient etherized upon a table

We hear this and we instantly know that Prufrock has problems. He may be mentally ill -- he
hints to the reader of dark secrets, hallucinates that his city's polluted fog is actively
oppressing him, and imagines himself beheaded like John the Baptist. But there is something in
his language, in his odd turns of phrase, that endears him to us, and hints at a higher purpose.

Like P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster, Eliot's Prufrock is a supposedly dull character whose
private language -- the words he uses to narrate his experiences to us -- reveal an entirely
different dimension. Prufrock may be a lousy conversationalist, but he can sure sing to us:

And               indeed                there               will             be             time
For        the      yellow       smoke        that        slides       along      the     street
Rubbing             its            back            upon              the           window-panes;
There          will         be          time,          there          will        be        time
To      prepare      a     face      to      meet       the      faces     that     you    meet
There          will        be         time          to          murder         and       create.
And        time       for      all       the      works         and       days      of     hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate

A chaste prude, Prufrock imagines sex as a cataclysmic, orgasmic confrontation with the
universe itself. This poem reminds us that, in some deep sense, to make love to another person
is to make love with existence itself, to engage with the world, to touch outside yourself. This
is what the poem is about. In line after line, Prufrock departs from the flesh and blood around
him -- departs from the surface of the planet, it seems -- to soar into twisted, psychedelic,
almost comically overblown realms of imagination.

should         I,         after       tea            and          cakes          and         ices
have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
Do                                              I                                                dare
Disturb the universe?

I       should         have         been        a        pair         of          ragged        claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas

Would                 it                have                       been                    worthwhile
to       have       bitten        off      the            matter           with        a        smile
To have squeezed the universe into a ball

Some writers -- bad writers -- could depict entire orgies of wild sex and make us feel that none
of it matters. In Eliot's poem, everything matters. To Prufrock, a reader imagines, a kiss on the
cheek would feel like an earthquake. This is as it should be.

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

In the last verses, the party winds down and we can tell that Prufrock will not be getting lucky
tonight, or any night soon. But he continues to torture himself, desperately trying to find a way
to reconfigure his persona and find his lost confidence:

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I love this parting shot in the final section, not only because it's a hilariously innocent image, a
good sexual innuendo, and the inspiration for an Allman Brothers album. I love it because T. S.
Eliot had the nerve to write such a childish thought. To present such poetic inanity in the
service of truth is no less than an act of courage.

				
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