Prufrock – The Sirens’ Song

Reading this poem, I could not help but notice the progression it seemed to follow, beginning with adolescent lust and visits to “one-night cheap hotels” moving to a more sophisticated lifestyle with toast, tea, cakes, and the loss of the speaker’s hair then progressing to a period where the speaker becomes much more philosophical about his life experiences and feels misunderstood by repeating the lines “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all.” To conclude the poem, the speaker seems to become detached from reality, almost schizophrenic.

To summarize, the theme of this poem is the different periods of a person’s life. Starting with youth, then adulthood, then feeling out-of-touch with the next generation, finally ending up old and having given up on trying to relate to the younger generations.

The part of the poem which stuck out the most to me was the final four stanzas. The speaker is focusing on describing the sea and the “mermaids” therein. I do not fully understand what they are intended to represent. I am thinking they could represent death. They sing their sirens’ song to attract the old man to come closer to the sea in a hypnotic way. He cannot pull his eyes away from them “till human voices wake us, and we drown.” I would be interested if anyone else has any different interpretations for what Eliot is intending for the mermaids and sea to represent in the piece.

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5 thoughts on “Prufrock – The Sirens’ Song

  1. While reading, I felt that the theme was similar to a life’s journey of sorts. However, towards the end, I felt as though the theme had more to do with loneliness, love and and self-confidence and image. For example, on the second page of the poem, Prufrock asks himself “Do I dare?” repeatedly. In the context of the stanza, Prufrock has major issues with his self-confidence and body image. As a person, Prufrock is distant from the reality of the world and how he perceives himself and others.
    Michelangelo is constantly referenced in the poem without any context or any conclusion. I am not sure what Michelangelo really has to do with the entire story. and I feel like it’s supposed to add to the theme of the poem but I am having trouble finding it.
    Finally, I think that the quotes you put in really resonated with your idea of the theme. While I may not agree wholly, the quotes really supplemented your analysis. The sirens are a good depiction and evidence of your theme. The siren’s song is supposed to be the song of death in literature and you analyzed that well.

    • While reading the poem, I felt the theme was much like what both of you stated. It felt like a progression of time through Prufrock’s life from the beginning to the very end. I interpreted the siren’s song portion of the poem much like both of you did. Prufrock hears the mermaids calling for him while he is walking on the beach. This reminded me of the sirens that Odysseus encountered in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. I see the sirens as a symbol of things not always being what they seem and leading to a very dangerous conclusion such as death. The poem ends on a note symbolizing death with the words “we drown” (5).

  2. I agree with you that the poem seemed to be focusing on a the different stages in a man’s life. I think that you were right that the sirens represented his death after he had become an old man. I saw the poem as showing his attitudes toward his own life at different stages of his life.

    Looking a bit more in depth on the different periods of a person’s life, the way I saw it was that early on in his life, he was fairly eager to do great things, saying he would have plenty of time to “murder and create.” He also mentioned Michelangelo several times, maybe trying to compare himself to him, though I’m not certain about that. Later on, as he got a bit older, he seemed to become a lot more indecisive, constantly asking “Do I dare?” and “How should I presume?” As he got even older, he seemed to regret not his decisions earlier in life. I think he wishes that he had accomplished more with his life, and had actually dared and presumed to do whatever he had wanted to do earlier. At the very end, he says “I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.” I think he was making peace with his life, since he had decided that maybe he wasn’t so important after all, and the world shouldn’t have revolved around him, so his life was all right after all.

    • When I first read this poem, very little of it made sense to me. Many people commented on the love aspect of this poem, but I think you two are both right in focusing on the different stages of a man’s life and his indecisiveness.
      Looking back, I find the way in which the progression of life takes place in this poem very interesting. As I’ve seen mentioned a few times, the phrase “And indeed there will be time” signifies the early years of life, when it seems that time will never go away. Then it progresses to “And I have known … already, known them all”. This is interesting because it repeats three times but I didn’t see anything about this line. I think it may be referencing the transition from a joyful youth to an old, reflective man. The line makes it seem like Prufrock is becoming jaded with the world and life. Later Prufrock becomes more reflective on his life, asking “would it have been worth it, after all” and facing his unfulfilled dreams. At the end of each stanza where he asks “would it have been worth it”, he ends with “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all,” which was mentioned in the first post.
      Finally, the sirens call out to Prufrock, symbolizing his death. One interesting line here is “I do not think that [the mermaids] will sing to me,” which I interpret two ways. The first is that Prufrock believes he will die alone, with the sirens letting him die on his own rather than luring him in with their singing. The second is a denial of death, that Prufrock is trying to deny his death by believing the sirens will not sing to him.

  3. I agree with you that the major theme of the poem is about the different stages of his life. I also agree that it showed how as the speaker aged his ability to relate to the younger generation became difficult for him.
    The poem showed the changes in his attitude towards life as he grew older.
    In my opinion, the speaker was very active and opportunistic in the first few stanzas of the poem. For example after the first stanza one of the lines say “In the room women come and go”. This possibly indicates his youthful and confident attitude towards love. In the later stanzas of the poem, he at times questions what he was doing in his youth, unsure of what he should do now that he is a much older person. This indication of regret is hinted in the poem with the line “That is not what I meant at all.”

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