T. S. EliotThomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)Born in St. Louis, MissouriDied in London7th and youngest childNew England FamilyAttended Harvard University, The University of Paris, Oxford andDetached from wife Vivienne Haigh-WoodAmerican-English poet, playwright, editor, literary critic, and leader of the modernistmovement in Literature.Wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock when he was only 22. The poem isconsidered one of the most influential poetic works of the 20th century.Won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948
ModernismThe term “modernism” refers to a movement that began in the late 1800’s, mergingwith 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 acontemporary way of expression through variations of form and style.Poets attempted to describe the world they saw before them in poetry, rather thancreate a fictional world for their readers.The world was seen as breaking apart and the meaning of things were beingquestionedModernism struggled with the fragmentation and complexity brought about by suchstates.Their works were often harshly realistic, incoherent, and unnecessarily dark.“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is the first masterpiece of modernism as itexamines, through the narrators self-analysis, the emptiness and soulless quality ofan exposed social world surrounding him.“The Love Song” is a modernistic poem in the form of a dramatic monologue.
Characteristics of ModernismThematic Characteristics Breakdown of social norms and cultural traditions Stream of consciousness Dislocation of meaning and sense from its normal context Disillusionment Valorization of the despairing individual in the face of and unmanageable futureFormal Characteristics Open form Free Verse Discontinuous narrative Juxtaposition Intertextuality Classical allusions Borrowing from different cultures and languages Unconventional use of metaphors Fragmentation
TitleThe title suggests that the focus of the poem willbe J. Alfred Prufrock’s declaration of love tosomebody.However, most titles that have the phrase, "LoveSong" are deceiving and likely to be the oppositeof what the title advertises.The name, J. Alfred Prufrock, is ironic and notromantic, giving insight to the characters relationto the opposite sex.
ParaphraseDante’s Inferno: “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.”
ParaphraseThe first part of the poem is an introduction intothe characters world. Prufrock is inviting thereader to walk with him into the streets. Henotices a social gathering of women discussingRenaissance artist Michelangelo. Smoke and fogspreads across the city. He compares the fog toa cat, rubbing its head on and licking objects,and curling up to sleep. He tells himself thatthere will be time to do many things. There willbe time to do things before sitting with a womanto take toast and tea.
ParaphraseThe second part of the poem deals with Pruforck reflecting onhis actions and being bothered by the manner in which otherpeople perceive him. He says there will be time to ponder,whether he dares to go near a woman. He thinks aboutturning back. His hair is going bald and his arms and legs arethin. He even doubts the acceptability of his clothes andbegins to feel self conscious. He will make a decision andthen reverse it. Prufrock realizes that the people here are thesame as the one’s he has already met, so why bother doinganything? He wonders how he would present himself to them-his unexciting, average life. He says he knows women likethis before, and the smell of their perfumes makes him thinkof them. Will he tell women, that he watched as he walkeddown the narrow streets, how lonely men leaned out of theirwindows observing life go by but taking no action. Timepasses by peacefully. He thinks, should I take a change andlive a little? He remembers how much he has suffered. Theopportunity is passing. He sees death up close and admits hisfear of it.
ParaphraseIn the final part of the poem, Prufrock mediates ifhe had acted without question, then wouldwomen still reject him regardless. Would it havebeen worthwhile not to be alone? He compareshimself to Hamlet; both are indecisive. Prufrocklacks Hamlet’s charisma and majesty. Thereforehe connects more with Polonius, the attendantlord. Prufrock realizes that time is passing as hegrows older. He is going through a middle-agecrisis. He considers changing his hair andclothes. Like Odysseus, he has heard songs ofthe sirens. However, they are not singing to himand he cannot break free of his bonds.
ConnotationAnaphora: Line 91-95Hyperbole: Line 92-93: The universe becomes a ball that is rolled up.Allusion: 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. Shakespeare 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.
ConnotationSymbolism, 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
ConnotationSymbolism, 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.
ConnotationSymbolism, 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 class 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.
ConnotationSymbolism, 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 Prufrock. 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.
AttitudeMelancholic: Lines 2-3Cynical (doubtful)Ironic: line 81Despair: “And we drown”NostalgicReflective (questions)Dark (loneliness, sadness)Regretful (things he didn’t accomplish; how will he beremembered and for what)
ShiftsTrain of thought: The train of thought shifts abruptly to resemble theway the human mind works. (line 70/75)Topic of Discussion: The narrative can go from discussing Prufrock’sbald spot and clothes to time and the universe. (line 40)Universal to Particular: Throughout the poem, there are shifts fromUniversal diction to Particular diction. Universal diction includes: “themuttering retreats”(line 6) and “the women come and go” (line 13).Particular diction includes: “Michelangelo”(line 14) and “October”(line21). Obvious Allusions to Oblique Allusions: Prufrock is constantly makingreferences to historical or fictional characters, places or things.Obvious allusions include: “Michelangelo” (line 14) and “Hamlet”(line111). Oblique Allusions include: : “to have squeezed the universeinto a ball” (line 92) is a variation of a line written by poet AndrewMarvell. Eliot wanted to show that Prufrock was well read and heldonto bits and pieces of what was in his memory, like all of us.
Title (revised)Originally called “Prufrock among the Women”One of the definitions of “Love Song” is narrative poem, which the poemis. It presents a moment in the life of the tittle character.The work has characteristics of a love song through repetition, rhymeand rhythm.Focus on the womanly love that avoids PrufrockJ. Alfred Prufrock is mimicking of the way T. S. Eliot signed his name: T.Stearns EliotPrufrock was the name of a furniture company in Eliot’s hometownOnly place where Prufrock’s name is mentionedBiographical poemTitle is pretending to be serious
ThemesLoveAppearancesPassivityTime Past and futureParalysis Lines 2-3 Hamlet Revolves around his social and sexual anxieties Inability to actManipulationDeath Dantes InfernoAnxiety Of the future and agingTemporal Repetition Lines 13-14 and 35-36 Tendency to get stuck on a problem
Themes (cont’d)Alienation/LonelinessIndecisionInadequacyPessimismFragmentation 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)
Discussion QuestionsDescribe the person Eliot creates in Prufrock. How does Prufrock fulfill orcontradict stereotypes of modern intellectuals?How do Guido da Montefeltro and the epigraph from Dante’s Inferno fit into thepoem?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 supposedto?How does Eliot use the relationships between men and women to comment onsociety and culture?Which Shakespearean character does Prufrock most identify with? A.) Hamlet B.) Claudius C.) Polonius D.) Ophelia E.) Yorick