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February 13, 2006

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Eliot, ''The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'' -- Jerz: Intro to Literary Study (EL150)

Where to start?

We read this poem last year in AP English and I absolutely loved it. I read it several times, then went back and literally ripped apart every stanza to try and find what everything meant because I think this poem has so much meaning in it's lines.

Unlike Dena and Andy, I believe the title is merely ironic. I do not think this is a love song at all. I think it is a pity poem for Alfred J. Prufrock. He suffers from indecision the entire poem and perhaps even some kind of social anxiety disorder. Does he even leave the room he’s reciting it in?

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

Wow…that is such a colorful stanza! The description makes you see, smell, hear, and even taste what the atmosphere is like. It is so stagnant and foul, which is a lot like Prufrock. He “[lingers] upon the pools that stand in drains” because he never has the guts to go inside where “the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo.”

Prufrock is also constantly delaying throughout the entire poem. He’s always saying, “there will be time”, or asking “So how should I presume?” He’s completely trapped himself in the present tense. We never see him actually do anything, only talks and talks about what would happen if he actually did. Tragically, the only thing that does progress in his life is his age. He is evidently withering away as a passionless old man and can do nothing about it.

I grow old…I grow old
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Later when he makes a reference to Hamlet, he compares himself to the “politic, cautious, and meticulous” Polonius. I wondered why he didn’t relate to Hamlet first, who was also very cautious and thought things to a fatal extent.

I thought the poem ends very sadly. Even in the lasts stanzas he still questions himself.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

In my AP English class we discussed how a fuzzy peach was a symbol for marriage (I think) in Chinese was also the symbol for female genitalia. He’s still asking whether or not to approach women or not even in the last lines of the play.

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.

When I think of mermaids I think of beauty and youth. I thought this reference to mermaids singing was also ironic. I also found it sad that Prufrock said, “I do not think that they will sing to me”. I think the poem ends perfectly with him drowning in some watery hell.

Posted by AmandaNichols at February 13, 2006 07:16 PM

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I found this poem very vivid and I'd read about the peach reference too. It feels like love can put you in hell sometimes.

Posted by: Erin at February 15, 2006 09:55 AM

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