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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Analysis

Author: Poetry of Thomas Stearns Eliot Type: Poetry Views: 1106

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S'io credesse chc mia risposta fosse

A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

Questa Gamma staria senza piu scosse.

Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo

Non torno viva alcun, s'i'odo il vero,

Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

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:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question....

Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"

Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

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,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

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;

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.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"

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!")

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

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?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--

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?

And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress

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?


Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

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 doors of silent seas.


And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers.

Stretched on 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?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald)

brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet--and here's no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

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,

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,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--

If one, settling a pillow by her head,

Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;

That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts

that trail along the floor--

And this, and so much more?--

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while If one, settling a

pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

"That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all."


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,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--

Almost, at times, the Fool.

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.

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.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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\"Let us go\", demands Prufrock at the start of his \'Love Song\'. Ostensibly decisive words, however closer reading reveals otherwise: he repeats the demand a stuttering three times in the first stanza. Indeed, as the \"yellow fog\" of an \"October night\" curls about his house and falls asleep, one wonders whether Prufrock himself changes like the season he describes, falling asleep like the \"smoke\" rather than traversing \"half-deserted streets\" to a mysterious \"room\" where mysterious \"women come and go\".
By the poem\'s fourth stanza Prufrock acknowledges his own indecision rather than masking it in mock decisiveness. \"There will be time\", he states four times in six lines before echoing the word \"time\" on a further four occasions within the stanza. As the reader skips continually over these ticking repetitions he senses the \"hundred indecisions\", the \"visions and revisions\", to which Prufrock admits.
What is it that makes Prufrock so afraid to \"go\"? So afraid to ask the obscure but \"overwhelming question\" that he keeps burning within him? Eliot seems to hint that a sense of inferiority and corresponding fear of mockery are to blame. The women are \"talking of Michelangelo\" - an artistic genius - with whom Prufrock perhaps feels he cannot compare. This intellectual inferiority is echoed physically. Despite his sartorial garb of \"morning coat\" and \"necktie\" two sets of scathing parenthesis invade stanza five. Both begin \"They will say...\" and end with the adjective \"thin!\". Prufrock\'s hair is thin, his arms and legs are thin, and consequently his willingness to \"go\", to \"dare\", to \"meet\", wanes too.
Eventually he asks himself:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
The first line is emphasised simply by merit of being the shortest of the poem so far. Indeed the pause created by its striking enjambment seems to draw further attention to Prufrock\'s indecision, just as the plosive alliteration that penetrates this curt interrogative adds a self-mocking tone to his ironic words. It is not a universe that he will disturb with his \"overwhelming question\" but a small social circle with which he is seemingly bored: \"I have known them all\" he tells us.
This fear of disturbing his universe recalls the poem\'s epigraph. Eliot opens with lines 61-66 of Canto 27 from Dante\'s Inferno. In the depths of hell, Guido would refuse to speak:
\"S\'io credessi che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo\"
(If [he] thought that [he] was replying
to someone who would return to the world)
This is surely describing Prufrock\'s ideal listener. An interlocutor upon whom he can unburden himself without fear of his confessions becoming part of the murmured gossip concealed \"beneath the music from a farther room\".
Given the poem\'s cryptic quality it appears that we are not such a listener. For Riquelme, the poem is comprised of \"scenes that can with difficulty be imagined based on the minimal details provided\". It is not just the poem\'s visual scenes that are obscure: we do not even know the question Prufrock so desperately wishes to ask, or indeed to whom he wishes to ask it!
We see her - and perhaps other women - only in synechdochic fragments scattered across five stanzas: \"eyes\", \"arms\", \"long fingers\", \"skirts\". While the \"eyes\" formulate him, put him in his place in the social \"universe\", the arms and their \"light brown hair\" distract him. Williamson sees them as an \"erotic symbol\", and this is consequently the clearest hint at Prufrock\'s intentions.
Indeed, when reflecting on \'what might have been\' later in the poem, he wonders whether it would\'ve been worthwhile to have \"squeezed the universe into a ball\". There is a definite echo of Andrew Marvell\'s \'To His Coy Mistress\' in this phrase: Prufrock clearly wishes to seduce a woman into an erotic encounter. He does not want to be one of the \"lonely men in shirt-sleeves\" that he has (imagined) passing on his way to this room of \"tea and cake and ices\".
Inevitably though, he will be just that. He will never have the \"strength\" to \"force the moment to its crisis\" and ask his \"overwhelming question\". Even in his stanza ten rehearsal of his \'seduction\' speech he gets no further than three lines of verse before an ellipsis signifies his inability to act on his desires.
\"I should have been a pair of ragged claws\", he laments, \"scuttling across the floors of silent seas.\" By the poem\'s conclusion this is where he seems to end up. He will \"grow old\" and \"walk upon the beach\", but even here an internal crisis of confidence ensures women will converse entirely without him, just as they do in the \"room\". Echoing John Donne, Eliot writes:
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
Prufrock\'s assertion that he is \"not Prince Hamlet\" shows an astute self-knowledge. Despite the Danish Prince\'s initial hesitation he eventually learnt to act decisively. Prufrock never does. It is not only his refusal to engage with women that is indecisive. Even the most minor detail causes a frantic question: \"Shall I part my hair behind?\", he wonders, \"Do I dare to eat a peach?\".
As the poems final stanzas begin to break down in length, so Prufrock\'s life begins to break apart too. Indeed the final stanza acts almost as a mise-en-abyme for the entire poem. He admits he has \"lingered in ... chambers\" rather than acting as he perhaps should. He has been close to \"sea-girls\" yet remains separate from them, before eventually appearing to die or \"drown\".

| Posted on 2011-10-18 | by a guest

.: :.

profrock is like a cougar i guess..
but with no confidence! :]

| Posted on 2011-06-21 | by a guest

.: :.

T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a modernism style stream of consciousness poem about a pessimistic, socially awkward, and isolated man who wishes to court a woman, but he eventually fails to act due to his own lack of confidence and self-doubt. The name Prufrock already suggests this is not a normal “love song” considering the unromantic aspect of such a name. His irregular rhyme scheme actually follows a constant cycle throughout the poem in comparison to his characters oddity, but somehow uptight and repetitive. The refrains of “women come and go talking of Michelangelo” are displayed in such a manner to bring the reader outside of Prufrock’s consciousness, leading to another stanza of a completely different subject. The 3 stanza focuses much on “yellow fogs” and “chimneys” perhaps illustrating the repetitive lifestyle and nature living in a polluted urban town. This irritating repetitive life is further emphasized by the way he measures his life, which is in dirt plain “coffee spoons”. Prufrock’s insecurity is shown throughout the poem, at first he blames his physical beauty and “how his hair is growing thin”, he dissolves further eventually degrading his value to a worm “wriggling on the wall”. In fact one of the reasons he is afraid to act is his fear of breaking from a set daily routine that he sees so secure and controllable. His inability to decide how to initiate a conversation leads him to a more depressing internal state, in which now he introduces his loneliness in the world as suggested by his desire to be a crab “scuttling across the floors of silent seas”. All these factors lead to his final decision to remain silent as lines 75-86 show. Because of such irritable failure, he tries and approves of his decision by trying to convince himself that the future may not be worthwhile, and having a lover may not be what he wanted, considering he is content with his boring lifestyle as is. His acceptance of his failure allows him to become more intolerant of new ideas, such as that to “eat a peach”. There are two obvious allusions to Dante and Hamlet. In the allusion of Lazarus, he may be simply suggesting that that his hell is here on earth, while the allusion of Hamelet is utilized to suggest that his indecision cannot even be comparable to Hamlet, for Hamlet is a prince, and all he sees himself is a lowly attendant. Prufrock’s disgust with his own isolation and confidence causes him to imagine even mythical creatures of his own mind will not acknowledge him.

| Posted on 2010-12-14 | by a guest

.: :.

We see a hopelessly weak, and inactive middle-aged man here who is desperate to break free from the social circle he is so tightly surrounded in- and do something reckless with his life.
However,this can never been as his own pathetic thoughts expose his wasteful existance as he challenges himself by saying, \"do i dare to eat a peach?\". Prufrock wants to leave his mark on earth and be remembered like Michalengelo was, yet sadly he cannot because instead of plunging into the depth of the ocean and singing with the mermaids as artists would, Prufrock remains distant, preferring to roll his trousers up and stay on the safe side.
i love this poem!

| Posted on 2010-09-12 | by a guest

.: :.

\"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock\" is a lyrical, dramatic monologue of a middle-class male persona who inhabits a physically and spiritually bleak environment. The title of the poem is misleading since it is neither a love poem nor a song in the classical sense. Approximately 130 lines long, it follows the ramblings of J. Alfred Prufrock, the would-be suitor of an unnamed and nebulously developed woman. While Eliot provides little description of Prufrock\'s person, he does reveal a great deal about Prufrock\'s personality and state of mind.

| Posted on 2010-09-12 | by a guest

.: :.

i wish there was a more indepth analysis of this poem available.

| Posted on 2009-10-26 | by a guest

.: :.

Prufrock knowledge has encouraged him to distance himself from women. He is afraid that women are no good and could cause many problems. He has low self esteem and is afraid of being rejected.
Lindy Amerdale.

| Posted on 2009-10-26 | by a guest

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Tigrex!!! Where are you??? Plz continue ur wonderful summaries. they help me so much!!! i would fail english without you. XD

| Posted on 2009-03-04 | by a guest

.: :.

The images of the opening lines depict a drab neighborhood of cheap hotels and restaurants, where Prufrock lives in solitary gloom. In line 12 he suggests making a visit, and immediately his mind calls up an image of the place he and the reader will go-- perhaps an afternoon tea at which various women drop in and engage in polite chitchat about Michelangelo, who was a man of great creative energy, unlike Prufrock.
The next stanza creates an image of the dull, damp autumn evening when the tea party will take place. In the rest of the poem Prufrock imagines his arrival, his attempt to converse intimately with the woman whose love he seeks, and his ultimate failure to make her understand him. Prufrock has attended such parties many times and knows how it will be, and this knowledge makes him hesitate out of fear that any attempt to push beyond mere polite conversation, to make some claim on the woman's affections, will meet with a frustratingly polite refusal.

| Posted on 2007-11-12 | by a guest

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