This poem’s theme centers around fear and missed opportunity. The speaker dares himself to “disturb the universe” by asking a question to a lover. However, he lets time and old age get the best of him, and his dreams fade away, daring instead “to eat a peach.”
Eliot alludes to a handful of works, but the epigram’s allusion to Inferno is of particular interest. Translated below:
But inasmuch as never from this depth
Did any one return, if I hear true,
Without the fear of infamy I answer,
This is an interesting preface to this poem in that its speaker is concerned about the “infamy” his answer may achieve. Prufrock is afraid of the world (and his lover) hearing his confession of cowardice: that he was too anxious to ask his question, instead procrastinating and making and reversing revisions. Prufrock feels ashamed that he did not act before his “greatest flicker” passed and doesn’t want the world to know.