Great Writers in Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

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I really had a lot of trouble understanding “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by Thomas Stearns Eliot.  I think that his play on words makes this poem particularly troublesome to understand.  I did think it was interesting, however, that he included so many references to well known works.  For instance the following quote is from Dante’s Divine Comedy:

    “S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse

     A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

     Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

     Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo

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

     Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

He also refers to many other great works, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Twelfth Night, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Lazarus’ story in the Bible.  All of these works deal with death, rebirth, and love so I think that this may be one of his themes in his poem.  He may feel that he is getting older and has had no real love in his live, but that a true love would reawaken his soul and make him more youthful again.


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While reading this poem, I thought of the various chapters in Thomas C. Foster's book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I especially related this poem to chapters 6 and 7: "When in Doubt, It's from Shakespeare..." and "...Or the Bible" There are multiple references in here to other literary works. I think that is why it's so important for us to pick up on these things as readers. I'll admit--I did not know what some of the references were until it was mentioned at the bottom of the poem. I do think it is an important skill to have though, one that I will hopefully improve upon.
P.S. I did not understand much of the poem either.

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