A literary analysis
A literary analysis
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is one of the earliest of T.S Eliot’s works, published in 1915 (Sparknotes, 2013). This poem has been perceived by different reviewers differently. Several poets, readers and reviewers did not approve of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as a piece of good poetry. Newspaper columnist and radio host, Garrison Keillor has criticised the poem as follows: “This poem pretty much killed off the pleasure of poetry for millions of people who got dragged through it in high school (‘The Old Scout’, 2007)”. Many poets consider this poem to be of very smallest importance to anyone, even to T.S Eliot. The things described in the poem seem to them to certainly have no relation to poetry (Shmoop.com). But, it is not necessary that every reader would consent with the reviewers who disliked “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Exactly opposite to the popular reviews, in a personal opinion, this poem is one of the finest and most out of the ordinary works of T.S Eliot. Through a very prolific use of poetic devices like imagery, phrasing, metaphors, irregular rhyming and word music, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a brilliant poem which keeps the reader engrossed from the beginning to end through its poignant representation of T.S Eliot’s unenthusiastic appraisal for the society of 20th century.
It’s Meaning and Word Music
It’s not compulsory for ordinary poets and readers to judge a poem as per reviews of renowned reviewers. A poem they bill as ‘unpoetic’ can seem wonderful to others. As a matter of fact, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a very striking poem which makes the use of strong imagery, effectual catchphrases and several poetic devices. The simile in the very first line compares the evening to be spread over the sky like an etherised patient in table. It may seem daunting to those who expect poetry to reveal only beautiful comparisons. It is clear the ‘J. Alfred Prufrock’ is talking to his lover about a visit around the city but he is deeply hurt and not fond of the real face of this world. His frustration is evident in every stanza and every time he mentions his dissatisfaction in the place. So, he has described the spread-out evening as a patient ‘etherised’ rather than a lady intoxicated in love. It shows in the very beginning, his cynical and negative outlook towards the place, the society. There is no fixed rhyming scheme but it exists expressively throughout the poem in an irregular yet appealing manner. Also, T. S Eliot has not stressed on ‘pure rhyming’ like most of the poets of his time. He in fact, chose slant rhyming at times but his focus was to maintain the message and word music which is surely excelled at thoroughly. There is very interesting and subtle use of alliteration, assonance and consonance in phrases like ‘certain half-deserted streets’, ‘restless nights in one-night..’, ‘sawdust restaurants’, ‘muttering retreats’, ‘insidious intent’, ‘smoke that slides along the streets’, ‘seagirls reed with seaweeds red and brown’ and ‘taking of a toast and tea’.
Those who criticise the poem to be insignificant poetically should try to read it aloud, catching the tone and tenor of Prufrock- talking to lover yet pessimistic and irritated about the
society. It has excellent word music. The imagery is excellent. So is the structure of the poem!
A reader would glide through the well-crafted phrases and its emotions on how he finds thing dire yet speaks in way that it seems poetic. E.g. Phrases like ‘Yellow fog’, ‘Yellow smoke’, ‘bald spot in the middle of my hair’ and ‘armsdowned with light brown hair’ tell how he seeks the negativity hidden in every aspect of this world. He has poignantly expressed his discomfort and dissatisfaction with the repetition of ‘Do I dare’, ‘Do I dare disturb the universe’, ‘How should I presume?’, ‘That is not it, at all’ and ‘I don’t think that they’ll (mermaids) will sing to me’.
Why is it disliked?
Throughout the poem, there is excellent use of imagery. The phrases like ‘to have squeezed the world into a ball’ and ‘measured out my life with coffee spoons’ are so creative and contemporary that one has to appreciate its beauty. But again, it depends on the personal opinion of the reviewer. Unlike what popular reviews take this poem to be, in a personal estimation, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a very appealing poem which shows the disappointment of a young man in his city and its traits. It shows how he is either bored, fed up or critical of the place due to its many aspects like judgemental people, wrong women and a morbid aura. But the poem
is concluded with a question that starts a thread for thoughts. He expresses that while this world is at the bottom of a sea- with mermaids singing, one day the human voices shall wake everyone up but then, all shall drown. He has indicated that the mermaids won’t sing to him which means he is already awaken. And he has inspired to bring a change before it’s too late. Reading this poem is a dark yet delirious experience for those who don’t only go for conventional, classic works of literature. It is rich in poetic essence as well as message. And through J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S Eliot has certainly represented his unenthusiastic appraisal for the society of 20th century.
- Keillor, Garrison. “ The Old Scout- Choosing the right partner.” 2007. Retrieved on 22 Mar 2013 from Web
- Shmoop. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Retrieved on 22 Mar 2013 from Web http://www.shmoop.com/love-song-alfred-prufrock/
- Sparknotes. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Retrieved on 22 Mar 2013 from Web http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/section1.rhtml