Critique/analysis of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - T.S. Eliot

S’io credessi che mia risposta fosse
A Persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza più scosse.
Ma per cìo che giammai di questo fondo
Non tornò 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 floors of silent seas.
. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched 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 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.

The Love Song critique/analysis - David W.

'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (hereafter I shall refer to the poem as 'The Love Song') is not strictly a love song. Rather it takes the shape of a personal confession with the profile of a dramatic monologue, a soliloquy if you will. The epigraph, an excerpt from Dante's 'Inferno' greets us and with it reveals the type of audience that Prufrock desires to hear his 'song'. It is someone who will listen but not betray his trust, by repeating what he or she has heard to the outside world. To further establish the environment Prufrock finds himself in, he describes his physical surroundings as ‘muttering retreats’, ‘restless nights’ and ‘streets that follow like a tedious argument, Of insidious intent’.

‘The Love Song’ would have you believe that Prufrock questions the meaning of life, ‘Oh do not ask, “What is it?” ’ and ‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’ Instead it is the meanderings of an emotionally stunted yet well educated man, who has a great fear of talking to women. We know Prufrock is well educated with his knowledge of and many references to classical literature ‘Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) and brought in upon a platter’ (reference to St John the Baptist whose head was requested by Salome after dancing for King Herod, Mark 6:19-29) ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet’ (reference to Shakespeare) and ‘To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,” ’ (Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, John 11:38-44). The fear of talking to women (we get the notion that it is just one woman however, the one that he would most like to consummate a relationship with) can be confirmed by the way he finds himself unable to refer to her as a whole. It is as if she can only be processed piece-by-piece ‘perfume from a dress’, ‘Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl’ and ‘after the skirts that trail along the floor’.

Prufrock pre-empts his failure to find love with his over analytical view of his world with perhaps the most famous line ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.’ Imagining the tea party he would attend to talk to her ‘After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me’ was to reveal his intentions “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to it’s crisis?’ and being unable to convey his thoughts ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean!’ is terrified at the thought that she wouldn’t understand him ‘Should say, “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all.” ‘ Prufrock goes on to relate his story to that of one of the most famous procrastinating ‘hero’ in Hamlet, who also errs on the side of caution, before he finally acts. Yet interestingly he contrasts himself not to Hamlet himself but to Polonius a ‘tedious old fools’ (Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2 Line 143) from the same play “Advise the prince; no doubt an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use...Almost at times, the Fool.’ At this point Prufrock decides to accept his fate and concludes just to make decisions on the more menial things ‘I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled’ and ‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.’

‘The Love Song’, at first sight resembles free verse, with seemingly random and irregular rhyme throughout. However, as mentioned in the introduction, the poem is written as a dramatic monologue. The verse breaks mimic speaking patterns, with each verse expressing an individual idea. It is with Eliot’s brilliant use of fragmentation and ironic juxtaposition, that we discover his true genius. For example in the first two verses, the drabness of his environment ‘Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells’ to the image of the upper class ‘In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.’ Just like the statue ‘David’ this poem has been meticulously sculptured with an amalgamation of assorted poetic techniques and numerous references to classical literature. With the development of a style all of his own, Eliot gave birth to the 20th century poetry. His is a style that many have attempted to imitate over the years, but it has never been matched.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

I have always had a deep connection with this poem. Primarily because it seduced me into the world of poetry and perhaps because I see a lot of myself in this poem or at least in my interpretation of it.

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