Love Song Of Prufrock Essay Research Paper

Love Song Of Prufrock Essay, Research Paper

The ironic character of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," an

early poem by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) in the form of a dramatic monologue, is

introduced in its title. Eliot is talking, through his speaker, about the

absence of love, and the poem, so far from being a "song," is a

meditation on the failure of romance. The opening image of evening

(traditionally the time of love making) is disquieting, rather than consoling or

seductive, and the evening "becomes a patient" (Spender 160):

"When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized

upon a table" (2-3). According to Berryman, with this line begins modern

poetry (197). The urban location of the poem is confrontational instead of being

alluring. Eliot, as a Modernist, sets his poem in a decayed cityscape, " a

drab neighborhood of cheap hotels and restaurants, where Prufrock lives in

solitary gloom" (Harlan 265). The experience of Prufrock is set against

that of unnamed "women" (13), collectively representing womankind.

Their unattainable status is represented by their constant movement- they

"come and go"- and their "polite chitchat about Michelangelo, who

was a man of great creative energy, unlike Prufrock" (Harlan 265). We

cannot imagine that they would listen to any love song by Prufrock, any more

than they would find his name or his person attractive. "A man named J.

Alfred Prufrock could hardly be expected to sing a love song; he sounds too well

dressed" (Berryman 197)."J. Alfred Prufrock" indicates his

formality, and his surname, in particular, indicates prudery. The powerful

metaphor, a visual image of the "yellow fog" (15) in the fourth

stanza, represents the jaundiced environment of the modern city, or Eliot’s

"infernal version of the forest of Arden" (Cervo 227). The image is

ambiguous, however, because Eliot also makes it curiously attractive in the

precision he uses in comparing the fog’s motions to that of a cat who "[l]icked

its tongue into the corners of the evening" (17). We also hear the fog,

disquietingly, in that image, in the onomatopoeia of "licked."

Repetition of "time", in the following stanza, shows how the world of

Prufrock’s being is bound to temporality. "Prufrock speaks to his listeners

as if they had come to visit him in some circle of unchanging hell where time

has stopped and all action has become theoretical" (Miller 183).

"Time" is repeated, several times, but it is not only its inescapable

presence that Eliot is emphasizing, but also the triviality of the ways in which

we use it; "the taking of a toast and tea" (34). The melancholy of

Prufrock’s situation begins to emerge when he speaks of his experience of

failures in love and life. The initial vitality of his invitation to go out into

the evening is now replaced by images of the many evenings he has known, with

their same disappointing conclusions. This meditation expands to include

"mornings, afternoons" (50) – all of his life, in other words – which,

in a famous image, he has "measured out with coffee spoons" (51). The

emphasis on "I" in the poem, which we would expect in a dramatic

monologue, is also typical of Romanticism, with its celebration of the ego.

Again, in this poem, Eliot is pointedly unromantic, as the "I" that is

revealed is fit not for celebration but for ridicule, especially when Prufrock

shows that he has been repeatedly diminished, even reduced to a laboratory

specimen, by others’ evaluation of him. It is little wonder that his

self-confidence, the essential quality of a successful lover, has been

shattered. It is women, of course, who have delivered this judgement on Prufrock.

He finds them powerfully attractive, with "[a]rms that are braceleted and

white and bare" (63), but we notice that this image – like the eyes,

earlier, that "fix you in a formulated phrase" (56) – does not

indicate a whole person, but rather a fragment of a human being, almost

lifeless, like "[a]rms that lie along the table" (67). We may be

critical of Prufrock, but the objects of his desire are scarcely more desirable.

The criticism broadens to encompass a society, even civilization, and Prufrock

becomes a type of human being – modern urban man, perhaps – not merely himself.

The poem is haunted by the refrain referring to the women. Prufrock is taking

himself and us on a quest in pursuit of them, "Let us go then, you and

I" (1). It is a Romantic image, but Prufrock’s quest is frustrated by the

modern setting and by his unheroic qualities. Prufrock’s shortcomings as a

potential lover and the singer of a love song by which to woo his beloved are

evident in his physical features, his clothes and his behavior. "From an

account of his clothes, we realize that Prufrock is not, as he at first seemed,

a rebel to his surroundings" (Spender 160). Unlike the typical Romantic, he

is middle-aged "[w]ith a bald spot in the middle of my hair" (40), and

his clothes indicate a personality that is inhibited rather than passionate; his

necktie is "rich", but "modest" (43). He is apprehensive,

too, about what others – the woman in particular – will make of him. "They

will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin’" (44). After this

description, there is the profound irony of his question: "Do I dare /

Disturb the Universe" (45-46). The universe he is referring to is "his

small social circle of middle-class acquaintances" (Harlan 265). We would

not imagine that he was capable of disturbing anything. He rehearses various

conversational strategies in the hope that, at last, he will find the means to

divert the women from their "[t]alking of Michelangelo" (14). These

include images from the earlier part of the poem, such as "lonely men in

shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows" (72). However, even as he does so,

Prufrock is aware of the inadequacy of his procedure and would become a crab,

"[s]cuttling across the floors of silent seas" (74). This is another

image in the poem that is both disturbing and strangely appealing. It is an

image of escape. In the final stanzas of the poem, "Eliot brings to bear a

Prufrock’s dilemma four figures out of the spiritual history of man;

Michelangelo, John de Baptist, Lazarus and Hamlet," as images of the

disparity between what Prufrock is and what he would be – a Lazarus, or a

Hamlet, for example, figures with insights into the ultimate question of

immortality and the heroic tragedy of existence (Berryman 198). At the heart of

this is Prufrock’s self-acknowledge: "No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was

meant to be" (111). Rather, "Prufrock sees himself as more like

Polonius, the old fool from the same play" (Harlan 266). In Shakespeare,

the Fool, although dealing in nonsense and absurdity, customarily sees the truth

of a matter. The poem has been a journey into Prufrock’s psychology. The closing

image of the poem includes the principal theme of Prufrock’s relationship – or

non-relationship – with women which, in itself, represents the modernist

disenchantment with Romanticism. Prufrock would escape to a fantasy fulfillment

with the mermaids. However, even they are disappointing: "I do not think

that they will sing to me" (125). Moreover, banal and destructive reality

must be resumed as the dream subsides: "Till human voices wake us, and we

drown" (131). "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is typical in

its presentation of "modern disillusionment", a figure who has been

thwarted by life, both in terms of his own psychology and the environment of the

twentieth century wasteland world, which Eliot was to treat in detail in the

famous poem of that name (Harlan 266).

Berryman, John. "Prufrock’s Dilemma" The Freedom of the Poet.

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Dedria Bryfonski and Laurie Harris. Vol. 13. Detroit: Gale, 1982. 197-98. Cervo,

Nathan A. "Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’". Explicator.

Vol. 57, Issue 4, Summer 1999: 227. Eliot, T.S. "The Love Song of J. Alfred

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Day, and Robert Funk. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1999. 577-80.

Harlan, Judith, and Kathleen McCoy. English Literature from 1785. New York:

Harper, 1992: 265-66. Miller, Vincent. "Eliot’s Submission to Time."

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Ed. Dedria Bryfonski and Laurie Harris. Vol. 9. Detroit: Gale, 1978. 183-86.

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Detroit: Gale 1992. 159-62.