The Love Song of J. Alfred
T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)
Born in St. Louis, Missouri
Died in London
7th and youngest child
New England Family
Attended Harvard University, The University of Paris, Oxford and
Detached from wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood
American-English poet, playwright, editor, literary critic, and leader of the modernist
movement in Literature.
Wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock when he was only 22. The poem is
considered one of the most influential poetic works of the 20th century.
Won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948
The term “modernism” refers to a movement that began in the late 1800’s, merging
with WWI, and continued to be influential after WWII.
Modernism was a reaction to WWI and the Victorian ideals.
Modernist poets were concerned with breaking rules and traditions and finding a
contemporary way of expression through variations of form and style.
Poets attempted to describe the world they saw before them in poetry, rather than
create a fictional world for their readers.
The world was seen as breaking apart and the meaning of things were being
Modernism struggled with the fragmentation and complexity brought about by such
Their works were often harshly realistic, incoherent, and unnecessarily dark.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is the first masterpiece of modernism as it
examines, through the narrators self-analysis, the emptiness and soulless quality of
an exposed social world surrounding him.
“The Love Song” is a modernistic poem in the form of a dramatic monologue.
Breakdown of social norms and cultural traditions
Stream of consciousness
Dislocation of meaning and sense from its normal context
Valorization of the despairing individual in the face of and unmanageable future
Borrowing from different cultures and languages
Unconventional use of metaphors
The title suggests that the focus of the poem will
be J. Alfred Prufrock’s declaration of love to
However, most titles that have the phrase, "Love
Song" are deceiving and likely to be the opposite
of what the title advertises.
The name, J. Alfred Prufrock, is ironic and not
romantic, giving insight to the characters relation
to the opposite sex.
“If I thought my answer were to one
who could return to the world, I would
not reply, but as none ever did return
alive from this depth, without fear of
infamy I answer thee.”
The first part of the poem is an introduction into
the characters world. Prufrock is inviting the
reader to walk with him into the streets. He
notices a social gathering of women discussing
Renaissance artist Michelangelo. Smoke and fog
spreads across the city. He compares the fog to
a cat, rubbing its head on and licking objects,
and curling up to sleep. He tells himself that
there will be time to do many things. There will
be time to do things before sitting with a woman
to take toast and tea.
The second part of the poem deals with Pruforck reflecting on
his actions and being bothered by the manner in which other
people perceive him. He says there will be time to ponder,
whether he dares to go near a woman. He thinks about
turning back. His hair is going bald and his arms and legs are
thin. He even doubts the acceptability of his clothes and
begins to feel self conscious. He will make a decision and
then reverse it. Prufrock realizes that the people here are the
same as the one’s he has already met, so why bother doing
anything? He wonders how he would present himself to them-
his unexciting, average life. He says he knows women like
this before, and the smell of their perfumes makes him think
of them. Will he tell women, that he watched as he walked
down the narrow streets, how lonely men leaned out of their
windows observing life go by but taking no action. Time
passes by peacefully. He thinks, should I take a change and
live a little? He remembers how much he has suffered. The
opportunity is passing. He sees death up close and admits his
fear of it.
In the final part of the poem, Prufrock mediates if
he had acted without question, then would
women still reject him regardless. Would it have
been worthwhile not to be alone? He compares
himself to Hamlet; both are indecisive. Prufrock
lacks Hamlet’s charisma and majesty. Therefore
he connects more with Polonius, the attendant
lord. Prufrock realizes that time is passing as he
grows older. He is going through a middle-age
crisis. He considers changing his hair and
clothes. Like Odysseus, he has heard songs of
the sirens. However, they are not singing to him
and he cannot break free of his bonds.
Anaphora: Line 91-95
Hyperbole: Line 92-93: The universe becomes a ball that is rolled up.
There will be time (line 23): “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell. In
Marvell’s poem, the speaker encourages the mistress to seize the moment,
and take advantage of youth. Prufrock on the other hand, can’t even approach
a woman and keeps deluding himself that “there will be time”.
Mermaids (line124): In Homer’s, The Odyssey, sailors attracted by the
mermaids song, will listen to them until they die. Odysseus is tempted by sea
nymphs, but instead asks to be ties to the boat to resist temptation. He then
passes the island without being able to go. Prufrock relates to this feeling of
wanting something but not being able to act on it.
Twelfth Night: Dying fall (line 52)
Hamlet (metaphors): Prince Hamlet (line 112): Prufrock is indecisive like Hamlet.
Attendant lord (line 113): Prufrock worries that his words that the words he
speaks will make him look dimwitted like Polonius. Fool (line 119): Prufrock also
makes a comparison to Yorick; as if he were being ridiculed for his appearance
or beliefs just as a court jester would be.
Symbolism, Imagery and Words:
Streets: Prufrock invites the reader to take a walk
with him, however, there is no romantic feel to it.
Instead the streets seem to be in the worst part of
town. They are misleading and seem to go
nowhere, like Prufrock
Imagery: The streets are contrasted to the proper
middle-class life he leads.
Lines 4-7: Personification: “retreats” and
“muttering”, “night” and “restless”
Lines 8-10: Simile
Lines 13-22: Extended Metaphor: Fog to Cats
Lines 70-72: Imagery
Symbolism, Imagery and Words (cont’d):
Tradition: “The Love Song” is a parody of the easy-
going British tradition of eating and drinking (tea and
biscuits). Prufrock is constantly talking about what he is
or will eat/drink.
Line 51: Metaphor/Synecdoche: Spoons used for
measurement of tea are like the measurements of life.
The spoon is a synecdoche for the process of sitting
down in the afternoon to drink tea.
Line 81: Irony: It is ironic for Prufrock to say he has
fasted, knowing how much he thinks about food.
Line 91: Metaphor: The “matter” is being compared to
taking a bite.
Symbolism, Imagery and Words (cont’d):
Body Parts: Prufrock is a very self-conscious man and
prefers to not stand out in public. He reduces people,
in his mind, especially women, to body parts.
Line 27-29: Faces: People don’t meet faces, they meet
a whole person.
Line 55-58: Eyes: Eyes can’t “formulate”; people can.
Line 62-67: Arms: Arms sand for a woman.
Line 40-44: Symbolism: Bald spot is symbolic of his
middle age, just as nice clothes are symbolic of social
Line 82: Metaphorical allusion: John the Baptist’s, from
the Bible, decapitation regarded as an example of
Christian sacrifice. Prufrock is comparing his own
sacrifice to John’s.
Symbolism, Imagery and Words (cont’d):
Room Imagery: Prufrock spends much of the poem in
rooms. He is either eating, listening to other people, or
fantasizing about women.
Line 13-14 and 35-36: Repetition: He repeats the
phrase” “In the room the women come and go, talking
of Michelangelo”. The repetition suggests that life is
repetitive and dull.
Lines 75-79: Personification: The evening is
personified as a person who is sleeping next to
Line 129: Diction: “Chambers” can refer to many
things: a cavity in an organ, or a bedroom. Chambers,
in this case, seems to exemplify that Prufrock’s perfect
room would be at the bottom of the ocean.
Melancholic: Lines 2-3
Ironic: line 81
Despair: “And we drown”
Dark (loneliness, sadness)
Regretful (things he didn’t accomplish; how will he be
remembered and for what)
Train of thought: The train of thought shifts abruptly to resemble the
way the human mind works. (line 70/75)
Topic of Discussion: The narrative can go from discussing Prufrock’s
bald spot and clothes to time and the universe. (line 40)
Universal to Particular: Throughout the poem, there are shifts from
Universal diction to Particular diction. Universal diction includes: “the
muttering retreats”(line 6) and “the women come and go” (line 13).
Particular diction includes: “Michelangelo”(line 14) and “October”(line
Obvious Allusions to Oblique Allusions: Prufrock is constantly making
references to historical or fictional characters, places or things.
Obvious allusions include: “Michelangelo” (line 14) and “Hamlet”
(line111). Oblique Allusions include: : “to have squeezed the universe
into a ball” (line 92) is a variation of a line written by poet Andrew
Marvell. Eliot wanted to show that Prufrock was well read and held
onto bits and pieces of what was in his memory, like all of us.
Originally called “Prufrock among the Women”
One of the definitions of “Love Song” is narrative poem, which the poem
is. It presents a moment in the life of the tittle character.
The work has characteristics of a love song through repetition, rhyme
Focus on the womanly love that avoids Prufrock
J. Alfred Prufrock is mimicking of the way T. S. Eliot signed his name: T.
Prufrock was the name of a furniture company in Eliot’s hometown
Only place where Prufrock’s name is mentioned
Title is pretending to be serious
Past and future
Revolves around his social and sexual anxieties
Inability to act
Of the future and aging
Lines 13-14 and 35-36
Tendency to get stuck on a problem
Key term in modern literature
The accumulation of numerous and varied signs
The city Prufrock describes is fragmented: scattered collections of streets
The population is fragmented: alone and lost
Fragmentation evident in imagery: specific and symbolic.
Fog and cat (16)
Eyes and pins (58)
Prufrock and claws (73)
Describe the person Eliot creates in Prufrock. How does Prufrock fulfill or
contradict stereotypes of modern intellectuals?
How do Guido da Montefeltro and the epigraph from Dante’s Inferno fit into the
The poem ends with Prufrock drowning in the sea. Was it real or a dream?
How does it relate to the rest of the poem? Does it make sense? Is it supposed
How does Eliot use the relationships between men and women to comment on
society and culture?
Which Shakespearean character does Prufrock most identify with?