Classic English Literature
Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was first published in a poetry magazine in 1915. Later Eliot published other poems in the 20th century for which he was awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. This poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a contemporary poem because it was written when Britain was considered among the modern countries of the world. This was before the beginning of World War I. It is narrated in a dramatic monologue where we find the speaker very unhappy and in mental agony. The poem became a master piece because its imagery portrays historical effects which England was facing during the period of revolution and mysterious slaughter which led to the First World War. The main character Prufrock is made to convey TS Eliot’s message to the reader. The poem portrays impotence and pointlessness and is considered extraordinary for its modern use of idioms and style, and the tone attained among descriptions of modern-day urban, middle-class tediousness, and prophet hood.
The title “A Love Song” puts an ironic picture in the poem and when we read it we find that the whole poem describes Prufrock’s feelings of indecisiveness and uncertainty rather than referring to love. Starting right from the first stanza, a sense of hopelessness and uncertainty leading to anxiety prevails. The question he wishes to ask is overshadowed by his reluctance, shyness, and anticipations of rejection. Prufrock surrenders in the end and the readers are left with suppositions and are not sure as to what led his imagination of the oppressions, something within himself or the society of his time. Prufrock’s uncertain behavior creates a doubt which is already in him which makes him unable to make decisions to do something in a social environment which leads him to autocracy; hence the reader is left to make presumptions.
The poem is amongst Eliot’s great works, and the concept portrayed in the poem focuses on Prufrock’s behavior due to psychological distress, inferiority complex and suppressed desire. All these feelings affect Prufrock’s life, hence leading him towards extreme tragedy. His failure in love leads him to mental strain and he presumes what the lady would say if he tried to approach her. His inferiority complex led him to anticipate that the lady would criticize his physique “how his hair is growing thin” “But how his arms and legs are growing thin”. (Eliot, 41 and 44) He feels embarrassed and finds shelter by fasting and praying. His entire efforts end in smoke and he finds himself in a heartbreaking trauma.
The description of the character is done remarkably by the use of enriched vocabulary. (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 sample pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”) (Eliot, 41-44)
This verse describes a person who is well dressed and fashionable along with giving glimpses of his age. Though the style of the poem is free verse without a fixed rhyming scheme, where the rhythmic “thin-chin-thin” is followed by the personification of the “pin, which asserts”. The use of the word “pin” shows that it is something very minute or of little value, unlike a brooch that is assumed as big. Here it does not refer to Prufrock’s value rather it shows his dependence on its use for being a part of his personality.
The vivid imagery and strong structure makes this piece overwhelmingly amazing. The lines 124-125, “I have heard the mermaid singing, each to each.”“I do not think they will sing to me” indicate that the rhythmic effect creates intense feelings of tragedy through the flow of words. The sonorous lines over-filled with imagery conveys T.S. Eliot’s message to the reader, through the main character Prufrock. A feeling of insecurity captures Prufrock’s mind when he fails to compel himself to speak this “overwhelming question”. (Eliot, 10) He goes into the trance and cannot break out from it and fulfill his dreams. We come across a dramatic scene where Prufrock fails to enter his lover’s chamber just to express his feelings of love. This brings him into deep rejection, so he opts to give up life, love and happiness. This portrays Prufrock as if he is an insect who is being set up for itemization “sprawling on a pin”. He makes justifications for not doing what he came for instead of facing the situation and getting done with it. He is procrastinating in various parts of the poem to avoid the situation, for instance in the following lines, “there will be time, there will be time”, “to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” and so on. (Eliot, 26-27)
Eliot’s use of imagery and symbolism in the poem portrays a modern approach. The precise language style is easily comprehended by the reader. The main theme is analyzed by the imagery. The poem begins and it is evening time “When the evening is spread out against the sky” “Like a patient etherized upon a table;” this picture prepares the reader that something worse might happen later. Prufrock takes the reader from the sky towards the floor of the sea “Scuttling across the floors of silent seas’ (Eliot, 74) where he is seen in extreme self pity and wants everyone to accompany him into where he lies in his pitiable state. He is using it as an escape for himself from the situation he is in.
Prufrock was under pressure of modern society, therefore he isolates himself from society and love hence becomes a victim of social pressure. The main theme of the poem is “Love”. Here Prufrock evaluates his life as, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”. (Eliot, 51) His life has no worth and he seems doubtful whether he is really in love as we find him ignoring this right through the poem. It could also be that he was too shy to express his love or he was in a state of complexity .This love song is one of Eliot’s best works of the century. The change in Prufrock’s character isolates him from the modern world. Eliot’s focus on Prufrock’s character is an anticipation of his forthcoming poems. The description of this misery and isolation is aesthetic.
The poem becomes an annoying experience for the reader, because of the promising commitment of Prufrock for sharing his feelings with his partner, with complexity and intimacy, however, in the end all changes. For instance in the words, “Let us go then, you and I” and then “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?” Eliot’s use of rhyme scheme and style in this verse are indeed adamant, vital, and tend to be recurring in the different lines along with his consumption of alliterations. Moreover, the lines 35-36, “In the room the women come and go” “Talking of Michelangelo” are repeating showing that Prufrock was always found in the places surrounded by women who are talking about Michelangelo, a famous painter who has painted numerous versions of love portraits. This serves as distractions for Prufrock who is deviated from his thoughts about expressing his feelings of love to the lover.
Eliot’s use of alliterations and assonances in the poem make it substantial and classy. The language rules applied in the verse, the tempo, the restricted rhythm, the traits in the lines that indicate the conclusion of his piece—-“Before the taking of a toast and tea” (Eliot, 34)— they represent the formal expressions that the poem contains and are persuading even though the reader’s irritation is imitated by them. The fast tempo of the poem and the alternation of these verses and the broad gesticulation are yet unable to determine the reverberating finality that they appear to be promising.
In the poem Prufrock has very little confidence and comforts himself that there is time “for a hundred visions and revisions”. (Eliot, 33) He aims to become a hero like ‘Hamlet’ but shows feelings of failure, “No! I’m not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”. (Eliot, 111) Here he finds himself very isolated and discouraged.
We find Prufrock as receding, fragile, neurotic, and logical who is both intimidated and perplexed by women. Hence we find Prufrock in a state of great anxiety as quoted, “pinned and wriggling”. Prufrock feels that he is disliked by the society of women, as stated in the poem,
“the mermaids singing each to each
I do not think they would sing to me” (Eliot, 124-125)
He feels paralyzed from the social norms in the women’s society. This situation in the poem leads to segregation of modernity.
J. Alfred Prufrock is a middle-aged intellectual who is unable to make prompt decisions. He takes the reader through the modern city describing everything that comes on the way as he says there is plenty of time to do things in the modern world. Eliot used fragmentation to expose the disorganized situation of the 20th century. The poem enlightens a wide range of civilizing recommendations present in the modern world. Prufrock is a perfect example of an indecisive person who is unable to convey his inner self to the outside world. This love song is one of Eliot’s best pieces of work. The startling metaphors such as, white capped waves are being compared to “white hair”, and amazing imagery where mermaids sing and sea girls wear sea weeds, made this poem the most wonderful poem of the year when it was published. We also come across a dramatic scene when Prufrock is hesitant to enter his lover’s chamber, all these create a thematic style grasping readers interest.
The Love Song by J. Alfred Prufrock is a poem very much similar to the happenings in the modern world. The use of dramatic monologue with a single narrator begins the poem with a simple line “Let us go then you and I” followed by a simile that personifies a patient in a hospital. The use of figures of speech is wonderful all leading to Prufrock’s state of mind in some way or the other. The indecisiveness and the timidity that laments his physical and intellectual behavior are portrayed in “The Yellow fog” and “yellow smoke”. The literary mechanism used in the poem makes it the most artful and wonderful piece of Eliot’s work. The unique effect is compelling the reader, the privilege to read the entire manuscript. This marked a starting point of Eliot’s career as a well known poet and Prufrock has become an influential character in modern literature.
– Elliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Bartleby.com. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.
– Griffiths, D. “Daring to disturb the universe: Heidegger’s authenticity and The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock/Die heelal durf versteur: outentisiteit by Heidegger en in The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies 30.2 (2009): 107+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.
– Trevisan, Sara. “Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Explicator 62.4 (2004): 221+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.
– Scobie, Brian W.M. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Overview.” Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.
– “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S. Eliot – Introduction.” Poetry Criticism. Ed. Ellen McGeagh. Vol. 31. Gale Cengage, 2001. eNotes.com. 9 Nov, 2012