Background of poet
Thomas Stearns Elion was an American-British scholar. The man was a jack of all trades with influences as an essayist, publisher, social and literary critic, playwriting and a major poet of the twentieth century. His work has been widely acclaimed with the pinnacle being the Nobel Prize in Literature, an accolade that was bestowed upon him in 1948 in recognition of his pioneer and outstanding contribution and influence on the present-day poetry. Other pieces of work written by the poet include the Waste Land, Murder in the Cathedral, The Hollow Men and Four Quartets among others. The love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of his best literary works and is the basis of this essay.
Prelude to the Poem
The work on the poem began in 1910 although it was not published until 1915. A poem that was initially regarded as offensive and shocking is now the herald to a paradigmatic shift in culture from the Georgian lyrics and nineteenth century romantic verse to modernism. The poem is a dramatic soliloquy of an urban man who is disturbed by feelings of utter isolation and the lack of decisive action. The poem is the epitome of the impotence and frustration of the modern person because it represents the modern disillusionment and resignation and the thwarted desires of modern man.
The poet uses different aspects of literature to help him achieve his intent. These range from the themes embodies, stylistic devices, language and narration. However, of all these aspects, fragmentation stands out as the tool of delivery that helps the poem communicate its message intently. Fragmentation is a very potent tool in modern literature. It is a style where numerous images, sounds and words are accumulated more often than not to a chaotic effect. Through the fragmentation of sounds, words and images, the author coherently establishes the chaos, disillusionment and the frustration suffered by man in the modern life that he leads.
As espoused earlier, Eliot’s work in this poem is the herald to the paradigmatic change in culture from the ancient to modernism. It is probably for this reason, and that he is a modernist that he employed fragmentation to communicate the chaos in the modern world. The success of this aspect in the poem is probably based on his belief, alongside other scholars of modernist literature that meaning can be derived from the fragments used in literary pieces. From his poem “The Wasteland”, "These fragments I have shored against my ruins" (431) arguably the most defining modernist poem, Eliot points out that from the ruins of the fragments, one can establish some degree of coherence.
Even in the literal sense, fragmentation gives a glimpse of the modern in which we live. The city in which Prufrock resides is very fragmented in its layout. The layout of the city shows the fragmentation of the lives of the residents and by extension the people in the modern world. In the worlds of the poet, "Streets that follow like a tedious argument" (8) shows the perception he has of the modern life. The images of a tedious argument here also serve to show the quality of lives that the residents lead. Above these streets, the poet describes "lonely men in shirt-sleeves" (72) who peep from the windows of their isolated houses. The author uses other fragmented images to show the isolation, loneliness and the lost nature of the lives that people in the city lead. The poet likens the sterile skyline of the night to a "patient etherized upon a table" (3).
As intimated above, most of the fragmentation in the poem is achieved through the exquisite imagery employed by the poet. The poet subliminally draws a comparison between the feline movement, conscious dissection of how Prufrock is "pinned and wriggling on the wall" (58), by the boring eyes of women and the haze "that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes" (16). Additionally, the poet characterizes the self-debasement that Prufrock undergoes as a "pair of ragged claws" (73). These images are not coincidentally scattered through the text. These fragmented images are apt allusions of nineteenth century symbolists.
Through the concept of objective correlative, Eliot embeds emotional meaning onto inanimate objects. Through these fragmented images, Eliot divorces his persona and character from the poem and emphasizes the character of Prufrock. This is in reference to his arguments in his essays where he maintains that an artist continually and progressively kills his personality through actions of self-sacrifice. Through this effect, the reader is able to see and hear exclusively from the character in the poem-Prufrock- and not from the author of the poem. This is very effective because it removes any bias a reader would have towards the poet, and thus the issues illustrated in the poem imbues into the readers conscious for eventual reflection.
Further fragmentation is further shown throughout the poem by Prufrock’s train of thought. Throughout the poem, his train of thought is consistently interrupted by self-consciousness and self-interrogation with persistent instances of looping back. The constant fragmentation of thought gives us an insight into his mind and also helps us appreciate the state of the modern world. The internal monologue that interrupts the train of thought emphasizes his loneliness and his failure to achieve his desires.
Through the fragmented internal monologue, the reader has a glimpse of the intellectual and physical inertia of which Prifrock laments. Additionally, the fragmented monologues tell the reader of lack of spiritual progress and the lost opportunities. The persona in the poem is haunted by the constant and persistent reminders of his unattained carnal love. The visceral feelings of embarrassment, weariness, longing, sexual frustration, regret and longing all serve to intimate the awareness of mortality and a sense of decay as experienced in the modern world.
As espoused earlier, the poet uses fragmentation to show among other things the inability to act on the part of Prufrock as a depiction of the disease that ails many in the modern society. This has been a chief source of frustration in the persona’s life. His inability to act has cost him numerous opportunities in life, be they of an economical sense or matters carnal. Prufrock’s character in the poem epitomizes the impotence and frustration of the individual living in the modern world. Through the use of phrases like “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons” (51), the poet captures the unheroic sense of life in the modern times. The feelings of isolation are vividly brought out as Prufrock feels like a fragmented piece of the society that detached and fell off the isolated world in which he lives.
Prufrock perceives everyone to share his predicament. Although he is depressed and shameful at the voice of women conversing about Michelangelo while he cannot, Prufrock dresses himself like the upper class as seen in these parts of the poem, My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,(42). My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin–(43). Prufrock shares the same situation with other people in the city Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets (70). And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes (71) and of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of window (72). There is a lot of significance in these excerpts from the poem. Prufrock sees that the other people are the same with him and that he is a fragment of the society. The significance of this is that the society is made up of many fragments of people sharing the same prevailing circumstances.
It was espoused earlier that the poet uses fragmentations of different sorts in the form of images, words and sounds. Of note is the fact that although the fragmentation provokes a lot of anxiety in the poem, it is nevertheless productive. The different kinds of imageries that the poet uses show that some coherence can be derived from ruin. The string of hypothetical encounters with these fragmented imageries is discontinuous and iterated. Nonetheless, they lead to an epiphany. The entire poem may be unallocated and fragmented. The poem is not messy although it is disordered.
Additionally, the poet authors a pleasingly asymmetrical piece of modern literature. It is noteworthy that all the contents of the poem are not joined by logical writing but by the expression of emotion through the use of fragmentation. Through the use of associated mediation, the poet brings together the aspects of the poem that appear to be unconnected, although they express and embody the same feeling. The fragments scattered throughout the poem communicate the theme of disillusionment, frustration, spiritual debility and the isolation and fragmentation of not only the modern individual but also the society in which he lives. Although the poem looks disordered and mess due to the effect of fragmentation, the author uses the style effectively to communicate his message.
Eliot T. S. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” London. .The Egoist LTD. 1915.Print.
Eliot, T S. The Waste Land and Other Poems. London: Faber and Faber, 1943. Print.
Eliot, T S. The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. Print.