The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – by T.S. Eliot

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:

“If I believed that my reply were made
To one who to the world would e’er return,
This flame without more flickering would stand still;

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.

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2 thoughts on “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – by T.S. Eliot

  1. (GROUP C REPLY)

    I have to say that I agree with you on this. The translation of the beginning text gives a nice foreshadowing to the poems meaning. I didn’t focus on that text at all actually so it’s interesting to be able to understand it.

    Throughout the poem, there were numerous phrases that supports this interpretation. In paragraph four (not counting the very first paragraph in another language), the phrase “there will be time” is repeated three times and time itself is often mentioned. It’s clear that Prufrock has something he wants to say but is convincing himself that he doesn’t need to right away. By the sixth paragraph, he starts doubting himself with phrases such as “Do I dare?” Then for the next few paragraphs he is troubled with how he will “presume” and say what it is he wants to.

    In the second part of the poem, he begins pondering if it would have been worth telling. This tells us that he in fact didn’t tell anyone and is now trying to justify not doing it. The end is a bit tougher to figure out. In the first paragraph in the third part of the poem, his language is very strong and confident. No, he is not a prince and never will be. Perhaps he’s convincing himself of his own average being. However, after this paragraph, the poem becomes very somber. In the end, he is fantasizing(?) about mermaids on the beach in his old age. It’s unclear whether or not he completely regretted not telling in the past, but it is obvious that he still thinks about it even in his later years.

  2. (Group A reply)

    I can definitely see where you both are coming from with this analysis. In the first paragraph of part 1, I interpreted as Prufrock fantasizing about a world with his love interest. His opening line, “Let us go then, you and I,” sounds like he wants his lover to run off with him. Building on what bkwashburn said above, time is mentioned quite often. Prufrock is procrastinating on what he is going to ask his lover as he fears the answer, but also how to perfectly phrase it. “And time yet for a hundred indecision, / And for a hundred visions and revisions, /” is indicative that he has convinced himself that he has all time time in the world to wait for the perfect situation. This perfection he desires, however, will never come. No matter what he does, he will always be unsure of what to do and in turn, will cause him to rethink his revisions. He’ll be in a constant loop of second guessing himself. “In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions will reverse. /” The last three paragraphs are talking about him being troubled and this is due to this being unfamiliar for him. The line “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;” sticks out to me as it seems there is a sort of consistency that he prefers in his life. He would rather stick to what is familiar rather than tackle something he is unfamiliar with.

    The second part I interpreted a little bit differently. Playing off of Prufrock’s indecisiveness, I interpreted the second part as him overthinking what could possibly happen. “Asleep… tired… or it malingers, /… Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” Prufrock is thinking of a possible disaster situation here and further leads him to question whether or not his lover would be worth the time and effort, especially towards the later part where things are not as exciting as they were early on. “Would it have been worth while, / To have bitten off the matter with a smile, / To have squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it toward some overwhelming question, / To say: ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead, / Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’/”. Prufrock is scared of what could potentially happen at the end. He is afraid to know that he will potentially waste his time with someone who, in the end, is not the right person for him.

    The last part of the poem I believe it his him discussing how he was a fool originally for overthinking the situation. After years of the not getting an answer, he drives himself insane. In the time that he was overthinking his predicament, he could have easily gotten an answer had he asked. The symbolism of the mermaids is interesting as in Greek Mythology, the mermaid, or siren, would lure people in with their songs and cause the demise of the sailors that heard them. In Prufrock’s case, he fell for a similar situation, where the safety of what he knew ended up driving him to the edge of his sanity.

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