“The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock” Essay, Research Paper
My Explication of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Prufrock begins his “Love” song with a peculiar quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy. It reads: “If I believed that my answer were to a person who could ever return to the world, this flame would no longer quiver. But because no one ever returned from this depth, if what I hear is true, without fear of infamy, I answer you.” In the Divine Comedy these lines are spoken by a damned soul who had sought absolution before committing a crime. I think that Eliot chose this quote to show that Prufrock is also looking for absolution, but for what he is unsure.
“Let us go then, you and I, (1).” We are being offered an invitation into Prufrock’s world. As you read on you see what Prufrock sees and how he perceives it. Take for example, line 3, where he says “Like a patient etherized upon a table;”. On the line before he is describing the evening sky. Prufrock is feeling oppressed by the night sky, or maybe the world in general. The word “etherized” makes me think he feels helpless. Then you pass by cheap hotels, and restaurants with sawdust floors. Prufrock seems to be getting annoyed when he says, “Streets that follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent” (8-9). Will these streets never end? Is it their goal to annoy me? Are questions I can imagine him asking himself. Then the whimsy kicks in. Do these streets lead to one overwhelming question? “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’” (11) Prufrock seems to be pleading. Whatever you do, don’t ask me that question. There is no choice, whatever the destination, we must accompany him and we must make our “visit”.
“In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo” (13-14). We have arrived at our destination, a social gathering of the middle-high social class. The people at the party are gossiping, that is what is producing the “yellow fog” Prufrock describes. I don’t think Prufrock is paying the gossip any attention. The gossip just “rubs its back upon the window panes.” (15). The gossip doesn’t seem to affect him, he walks through it and it tries to tempt him, but is unsuccessful, and as the evening wares on the people at the party shake off the gossip. “Let fall upon it’s back the soot that falls from chimneys.” (19). Just when you think that the coast is clear, the gossip is gone, it shows up again and decides to stay for the night. This only adds to Prufrock’s feeling of isolation and hopelessness. His unwillingness to take part in the gossip surrounding him has made him an oddity.
“And indeed there will be time” (23). Prufrock is musing about all the time there will be for gossip later. Again the yellow smoke slides down the street, tempting Prufrock to give in. With the gossip goes the gossipers and as they arrive back at their homes you see the yellow smoke of gossip “Rubbing its back upon the window-panes” (25). Now, Prufrock has time to think about what he has to do. In the poem he seems to be in a dream-like state. He is wondering, the rhythm in lines 26-34 gives me the impression that he is pacing the floor. He is preparing to meet someone, a woman, and he is conflicted about how to tell her what he must tell her. Prufrock feels overwhelmed by what he must do, and yet he is trying his best to focus on the task at hand. Just as he is about to back out, the tea and toast arrives. The tea arriving only serves as a distraction, until something happens that seems to break him out of his reverie. A woman whispering in his ear, touching him, something. The jolt to reality, or his version of it, brings us back to the women who “…come and go/ Talking about Michelangelo” (35-36).
“And indeed there will be time/ To wonder, “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?” (37-38). He is doubting himself. He is afraid. He wants to leave. He is too old, skinny and unfashionable to do this. That is the gossip that is floating around in his head, not necessarily the gossip floating around the party. Prufrock is being very paranoid and doubtful. I also get a sense of helplessness from Prufrock that seems to be a recurring theme in the poem.
Rationalizations. That is what lines 54-60 are. Rationalizations to make himself feel better. He knows it is time for him to do what he came here for. He is confused. Doesn’t know how to tell her it’s over. He is nervous. This is what we came here for. It wasn’t the party or the gossip, it was for this. That is why we were invited along, to act as support, even if we are silent. Is it right to tell her, or should he lead her on? The doubt that is racing through his head is enough to make anyone dizzy.
From confusion and doubt to hopeless and tired. “And I have known the arms already, known them all” (61). They are all the same, and he’s tired. “Is it the perfume from a dress/ That makes me so digress?” What is it that has him making second thoughts about this one? Can I do this, he seems to be asking himself. What should I do? This question seems to be directed toward the “you” in the poem. The guests (the reader) in the poem. It is like Prufrock’s attempt to include, or maybe hide behind the guest he has invited.
In lines 70-72 he seems to be rehearsing exactly what he will say to her, but then in lines 73 and 74 he starts to wish he was something else so that he wouldn’t have this problem.
“And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!” (75). He appears to be saying that he is comfortable with her, she makes him calm. And yet again he begins to doubt himself. He has imagined all the outcomes, all the possible reactions, but he is “…no prophet…” (83), and there is no was to be positive. He is afraid. He knows he must leave, and some small part of him knows he wants to, but he isn’t sure if he can.
It would be so much easier to just marry her. Would it be worth it though? To be smothered and oppressed by the “yellow fog” that always seems to close in on him.
“It is impossible to say just what I mean!” (104). He doesn’t know what to do. The reoccurring theme in the poem, returns yet again: Hopelessness. Could he take what he needs to tell her back if he wanted to? Prufrock is not who she thinks he is.
“Am an attendant lord, one that will do/ To swell a progress, start a scent 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” (112-119)
Prufrock is describing himself as he sees himself. Honestly, and without glory. That is who HE is. In the next two lines we see his weariness with his current lifestyle. He just wants to sit back and relax. Not worry about what everyone else thinks.
He has seen social bells sing to each other, but not to him. He has seen them come and go and grow old in style. That is not what he wants.
“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea/ By sea-girls wreathed in seaweed red and brown,/ Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (129-131). We live in the delusional social world. Surrounded by beauties of all kinds. Eventually, the beauty fades and we realize what is important in life, but usually by then we are “drowning” or dying and don’t have the time to enjoy it.