KThe Truth Behind “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
The speaker of this ironic monologue is a modern man who, like many of his kind, feels isolated and incapable of decisive action. Irony is apparent from the title, for this is not a conventional love song. Prufrock would like to speak of love to a woman, but he does not have the nerve.
The poem opens with a quoted passage from Dante’s INFERNO,
“If I thought that my reply would be to one who would ever
return to the world, this flame would stay without further
movement; but since none has ever returned alive from this
depth, if what I hear is true, I answer you without fear of
infamy.”, meaning that Prufrock speaks only because he knows no one will pay attention to him and he won’t be heard. Purfrock repeats certain phrases to clue the reader in that they are part of the story. “You and I” in the first line, suggest that you must be with him to understand his story. Furthermore, in line 12 Prufrock states, “Lets us go and make our visit” including the reader so he can follow along.
The beginning illustrates a run down neighborhood, where Prufrock resides. Describing cheap hotels and run down restaurants. Going back to line 12, the visit they make is to a place where women would gather to mingle, share a story and a drink. One hot topic would be of Michelangelo, a very creative, respected, and intelligent man, all of which, Prufrock was not. This is a direct comparison to Michelangelo, and shows that Prufrock doesn’t think highly of himself.
“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes
The yellow smoke that rub its muzzle on the windowpanes
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.”
describes the evening when this gathering would take place. This night gives Prufrock the idea that he is now able to talk to women; however he is never able to make her understand his true feelings. In his conversations, Purfrock can never push pass polite conversation for the fear of rejection. He also feels he has plenty of time because in line 23 he states “And indeed there will be time” meaning he doesn’t have to jump with both feet in, it will happen eventually.
Prufrock knew all of these people well, and he struggled with the thought that if he did advance past polite conversation that he would disrupt his circle of friends. This can be seen in lines 44 and 45, when he states, “Do I dare/Disturb the universe.” This internal conflict continues into line 70, where he starts to prepare a love speech for a particular woman and then basically says he should have been born a crab instead of a human who has to ask for love instead of taking it. The verse states “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.
If he were a crab he would never have to speak of his desires and living a solitude life would be normal.
The irony of this poem is that Prufrock demonstrates that he is capable to speak in a poetic style as shown in lines 75-78,
“And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.”
This clearly shows he is capable of speaking about love and there is no reason why he should be shy or hesitant to speak to women.
Nearing the end of this poem in line 110,
“No I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;”
Prufrock compares himself to Prince Hamlet. Hamlet was a hero that once had the same problems that Prufrock had; however, the difference between the two is that Hamlet eventually overcame his fear and was able to finally act in a decisive manner. Prufrock will never be able to overcome his shortcomings and forever long have to live with his impotence.
As one can see, Prufrock was a relatively pathetic man. Eliot demonstrated this fact numerous times but could best be summed up by line 51, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;” showing there is no excitement going on in his life. Prufrock never progressed in this poem and lead a pitiful life until his death.