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

 

J. Alfred Prufrock is a brilliant piece of writing because of many factors that T.S. Eliot used. One of the most apparent is his use of tempo changes. The poem changes pace several times...not only between paragraphs but also within paragraphs. A prime example is in the paragraph were Eliot has the smoke sliding along window-panes while the rest of the paragraph is clearly in the head of Prufrock. He continues to do this though out the poem creating a mixed up world for the reader and perhaps giving something away of his intent.

T.S. Eliot starts out by giving us that it is a nasty world using colors and images that paint a very negative picture. One example is his use of sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells. His use paints the picture of a shitty little restaurant that serves something as delicate as seafood...the question is, would you eat oysters in a place with sawdust covering the floor? Further is the very next line where the streets follow like a tedious argument...droning on and on with no end in sight...everyone has had one. Eliot creates certainly a dark world that Prufrock lives in.

As one reads on further, you realize that it is really the poem is really a contridiction between the really world and the world that Prufrock has created in his head. The poem is a confluence, in part between the two worlds, and the question is, which one will J. Alfred Prufrock decide that he will live the rest of his life in.

 

The Main Character

The main character, J. Alfred Prufrock, is a very dark character. He is someone who is always in his own head. He is constantly second guessing himself. He is never at peace especially when he is courting someone, as he is thoughout this piece. He mind works at such a franetic pace that he can make a hundred decisions and revisions in a minute. He dislikes himlself so much that he continually degrades himself and compares himself to the lowliest of creatures.

His is also clearly depressed with a very low self-esteem, "I should be pair of ragged claws on the sea floor...", likening himself to a lowly crustacean away from the human world in the dark depths of the ocean. His view of himself in the future is alone walking on a beach, "Do I dare eat a peach?" Even the simple pleasures in life are major decisions to Prufrock.

 

The Poem Itself

The first three paragraphs of the poem are really intrigal to the rest of it. They paint the environment that the poem takes place in. It is a dank, dark place with brothels and sulfurous smoke lingering around the houses with a little wind working only to curl the dangerous smoke around the houses, enveloping them.

The second is a retreat from the prior and later painting a picture of high class women at a tea party talking of art...specifically Michelangelo. I believe that the use of Michelangelo is very key here because of the Systine Chapel. The roof of the Systine Chapel is of an angelic view of heaven. I believes this sets up the motivation of the main character J. Alfred Prufrock, he is wanting to go from a dank hell hole into a more heavenly environment, his motivation is to get a taste of something better or more terse, to be, and with, something better than himself.

The fourth and sixth paragraphs work to create the turmoil of Prufrock. The first couple lines transition us from the exterior world of hell into the chaotic and chimerical mind of J. Alfred Prufrock. If you notice T.S. Eliot uses a lot of contridictory words in the fourth paragraph creating the chaos: murder and create, lift and drop, you and me, indecisions, visions and revisions...this creates the mental chaos of Prufrock in away that absolutely moves you from one extreme to the other as the characters mind does.

The sixth creates the negative personal image of the Prufrock. He is balding and scrawny. Eliot also works his mind into this giving a very complete view of Prufrock, there is still time for him to turn back and descend the stair... using descend as a more etherial escape to the torturous thought of asking a women out. More so, Eliot begins to build up to the point of what the character is in turmoil over...a major question that might disturb the universe. An apropriate question at this point would be, is the universe the exterior universe that we exist in or is it the chimerical one that Prufrock has created in his mind? Logically, and to enforce the theme of the poem, I am sure it is the later of the two.

Again in the fifth, Eliot paints the ethereal view of the women and the world he would rather immerse himself in.

The seventh, eighth and ninth paragraphs are a complete different tempo, and are set apart from the prior parts of the poem. In these paragraphs, Prufrock takes an intellectual approach to these women. He knows them all, what they are all about and how they think...almost trying to set himself up for the inevitable failure. Preparing himself by saying he is better than them and they are all alike. Prufrock is also trying to find faults by noting the light brown hair that is on their arms using this as an imperfections to their beauty.

The ninth paragraph continues the transition paragraph started in the eighth paragraph. This takes us from Prufrock's belief of intellectual superiority and cookie-cutter mold of the women back to the tumultuous thought of asking the women out and how should he start the descent into bringing up the question.

This brings us to the first break in the poem. This is a brilliant use because it works to break the tension that Eliot has created in the first nine paragraphs. It also brings us back into the dark environment of Prufrock walking to this party and how he much he dislikes himself...the streets are filled with lonely men leaning out windows perhaps...maybe...to see a beautiful woman...just a look. This brings us to Prufrock demeaning himself, "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/ scuttling across the seafloor," and another break in the poem. This aside creates a lot of dissonance in the poem itself in that even though he is approaching the moment of crisis, he is still only lost in his own world. The reader has to be aware of this point.

Paragraph twelve is very interesting. The reason, because Prufrock's tone has taken a drastic turn. He is now trying to convince himself that it is really no big deal what his about to do. It paints his mind as at a little more peace. Eliot changes the tone of his adjectives and adverbs to much more peaceful and serene ones at first, and then, again, quickly changes them within the paragraph.

This is a rather blatant assumption by me, but I believe that this is where Prufrock has gotten to the door, and it is at the minute he has to decide, will he ask this woman out or will he go away..."And in short, I was afraid." The pain he might suffer was too great. As one may notice the verbiage changes here too from present and future tenses prior to past tense here on out. This leads one to believe that the moment has come and gone and Prufrock is left only within his pitious self once again because he was too afraid.

In paragraph thirteen, he spends questioning himself again. Should he have asked this woman the monumental question or is it better he did not and create a possible akward situation. This paragraph contains, at least in my view, one of the most powerful lines of the entire poem, "To say, 'I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all'-." Do not question this man...he has risen from the grave as if the phoenix. He has seen more pain and dealt with more...he has seen death and beaten it...but this was too much. Again, this points to the fact that Prufrock lives in a chimerical created only in his head and even though he has failed, he is still better than everyone else...a very powerful tone.

The next paragraph, Prufrock is torturing himself for not having the ability to ask this woman out...wondering whether or not it would have been appropriate even to pose the simple question. Again Eliot brilliantly transions into a different tone in this paragraph. Bringing Prufrock from Lazarus coming back from the dead to a drawn out Fool languishing in his own world.

After another great break in the poem, Prufrock decides that he is not great...or even good. He is not good enough for this woman. Another, and probably the second most powerful line, Prufrock decides, "No! I am not Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be, Am an Attendant lord, one that will do..." Prufrock decides he was not meant to be the prince of this princess...or ethereal being...he is more of a jeasture that is there only for the amusement of the other, more prominant people.

The next four paragraphs are spent, by Prufrock, degrading himself and figuring out where he fits into this world that he has created and what his future is. Again he compares women to an ethereal being...mermaids. This is to further the ethereal essence of woman creating a further gap between himself and the woman that he so covets. After all, mermaids are speak of sailers...of something so beautiful and serene that many have found their death trying to capture...or even to be near.

The last line has a lot of power also..."Till human voices wake us, and we drown" really points to the chimerical world that Prufrock has created; it is no longer just him, but us. We already know that he did not ask the woman out and he just got done speaking of mermaids so one could readily assume that we are back in the head of J. Alfrd Prufrock. He is so stuck in his head...and the chimerical world he has created...that he has created a happy place where he and this woman exist together...until the real world exerts itself, and the fucked up world he has created goes away and he dies.

 

The Real Truth

The character Prufrock is meant to be a simple man who derives your pity from his turmoil and self-doubt created only from his mind. This very well could be a self-portrait of T.S. Eliot. It is definitely a sorrowful tale of a man who could not get over his hang-ups long enough to insert himself into the real world. He is a man who is so lost in his own mind that he cannot even find the gumption to ask someone out. He is so lost in the moment that he observes every last detail of it. He cannot find his way out and only views the moment and the long term. He observes himself as such a wrech that he "should be a pair of ragged claws on the sea floor" far away from the human world and its intricasies. "Do i dare eat a peach" is a a powerful line about giving himself the most simplistic pleasure that most people do not quite appreciate, but to him it is almost heaven. The simplicity of a peach but the absolute goodness it creates turmoil in his mind..."Do I dare..."

This is a powerful tale of self-doubt, self-loathing and, in the end, regret. T.S. Eliot created a character so fucked up that he second guesses everything he does in relation to the opposite sex and cannot even bring himself out long enough to do a fairly simple thing. He is so fucked up that he creates a world of his own where he is Lazarus and can exist in happiness fulfilling everything that he is too afraid to do in reality.

This is really a sick and twisted view into the life of a voyeur. His life consists only in his head and the life around him is mearly entertainment from a visual perspective. He is depressed and confused. His mind so over powers his existence that he spends his life within its realm. He is really a messed up being and nothing more.

 

If you read the poem again, it should have new meaning...feel free to find even more for it goes far deeper.

 

 

Poem | Picture | Poems | Home Page