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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  
Author(s) T.S. Eliot
Original title Prufrock Among the Women
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Poetry
Publisher Poetry Magazine
Publication date 1915

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", commonly known as "Prufrock", is a poem by T.S. Eliot, begun in February 1910 and published in Chicago in June 1915. Described as a "drama of literary anguish," it presents a stream of consciousness in the form of a dramatic monologue, and marked the beginning of Eliot's career as an influential poet. With its weariness, regret, embarrassment, longing, emasculation, sexual frustration, sense of decay, and awareness of mortality, Prufrock has become one of the most recognized voices in modern literature,[1] and is the quintessential urban zeitgeist of the 20th century.(Citation needed)

The Love Song of J. Alfred PrufrockEdit


           S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
           A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
           Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
           Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
           Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
           Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
 
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats                                 5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...                         10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
 
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,                         15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,                         20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
 
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;                        25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;                         30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
 
In the room the women come and go                         35
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —                         40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare                         45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
 
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                         50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
 
And I have known the eyes already, known them all —                         55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?                         60
  And how should I presume?
 
And I have known the arms already, known them all —
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress                         65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets                         70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?...
 
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!                         75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?                         80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,                         85
And in short, I was afraid.
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,                         90
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” —                         95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,                         100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor —
And this, and so much more? —
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:                         105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”                        110
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
     
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,         115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous —
Almost, at times, the Fool.
 
I grow old... I grow old...                         120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
 
I do not think that they will sing to me.                         125
 
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
 
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown                         130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
 

Composition and publication Edit

Composed mainly between February 1910 and July or August 1911, the poem was first published in Chicago in the June 1915 issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse ,[2] after Ezra Pound, the magazine's foreign editor, persuaded Harriet Monroe, its founder, that Eliot was unique: "He has actually trained himself AND modernized himself ON HIS OWN. The rest of the promising young have done one or the other, but never both."[3] This was Eliot's first publication of a poem outside school or university.

In November 1915 , the poem—along with Eliot's "Portrait of a Lady," "The Boston Evening Transcript," "Hysteria," and "Miss Helen Slingsby"—was published in London in Ezra Pound's Catholic Anthology 1914–1915, which was printed by Elkin Mathews.[4] In June 1917, The Egoist, a small publishing firm run by Dora Marsden, published a pamphlet entitled Prufrock and Other Observations (London), containing twelve poems by Eliot. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was the first in the volume.

Eliot's notebook of draft poems, published posthumously in 1996 by Harcourt Brace, includes 38 lines from the middle of a draft version of the poem. This section, now known as Prufrock's Pervigilium, describes the "vigil" of Prufrock through an evening and night.[5]

The Harvard Vocarium at Harvard College recorded Eliot's reading of Prufrock and other poems in 1947, as part of their ongoing series of poetry readings by their authors.[6]

Title Edit

In the drafts, the poem had the subtitle Prufrock among the Women.[7] Eliot said "The Love Song of" portion of the title came from "The Love Song of Har Dyal," a poem by Rudyard Kipling.[8] The form of Prufrock's name is like the name that Eliot was using at the time: T. Stearns Eliot.[9]

On the origin of the name "Prufrock", there was a "Prufrock-Littau Company" in St Louis at the time Eliot lived there, a furniture store. In a 1950 letter, Eliot said, "I did not have, at the time of writing the poem, and have not yet recovered, any recollection of having acquired this name in any way, but I think that it must be assumed that I did, and that the memory has been obliterated."[10] It has also been suggested that Prufrock comes from the German word "Prüfstein" meaning "touchstone" (cognate to proof-stone, with stone changed to rock).[11]

Epigraph Edit

In context, the epigraph refers to a meeting between Dante and Guido da Montefeltro, who was condemned to the eighth circle of Hell for providing counsel to Pope Boniface VIII, who wished to use Guido's advice for a nefarious undertaking. This encounter follows Dante's meeting with Ulysses, who himself is also condemned to the circle of the Fraudulent. According to Ron Banerjee, the epigraph serves to cast ironic light on Prufrock's intent. Like Guido, Prufrock had intended his story never be told, and so by quoting Guido, Eliot reveals his view of Prufrock's love song.[12]

Frederick Locke contends that Prufrock himself is suffering from multiple personalities of sorts, and that he embodies both Guido and Dante in the Inferno analogy. One is the storyteller; the other the listener who later reveals the story to the world. He posits, alternatively, that the role of Guido in the analogy is indeed filled by Prufrock, but that the role of Dante is filled by you, the reader, as in "Let us go then, you and I," (1). In that, the reader is granted the power to do as he pleases with Prufrock's love song.[13]

Although he finally chose not to use it, the draft version of the epigraph for the poem came from Dante's Purgatorio (XXVI, 147-148):[14]

'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor'.
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.

Eliot provided this translation in his essay "Dante" (1929):

'be mindful in due time of my pain'.
Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.

He would eventually use the quotation in the closing lines of his 1925 poem The Waste Land. The quotation that Eliot did choose comes from Dante also. Inferno (XXVII, 61-66) reads:

S`io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocchè giammai di questo fondo
Non tornò vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

One translation, from the Princeton Dante Project, is:

"If I thought my answer were given
to anyone who would ever return to the world,
this flame would stand still without moving any further.
But since never from this abyss
has anyone ever returned alive, if what I hear is true,
without fear of infamy I answer you."[15]

Interpretation Edit

Because the poem is concerned primarily with the irregular musings of the narrator, it can be difficult to interpret. Laurence Perrine wrote, "[the poem] presents the apparently random thoughts going through a person's head within a certain time interval, in which the transitional links are psychological rather than logical".[16] This stylistic choice makes it difficult to determine exactly what is literal and what is symbolic. On the surface, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" relays the thoughts of a sexually frustrated middle-aged man who wants to say something but is afraid to do so, and ultimately does not.[16][17] The dispute, however, lies in to whom Prufrock is speaking, whether he is actually going anywhere, what he wants to say, and to what the various images refer.

The intended audience is not evident. Some believe that Prufrock is talking to another person[18] or directly to the reader,[19] while others believe Prufrock's monologue is internal. Perrine writes "The 'you and I' of the first line are divided parts of Prufrock's own nature",[16] while Mutlu Konuk Blasing suggests that the "you and I" refers to the relationship between the dilemmas of the character and the author.[20] Similarly, critics dispute whether Prufrock is going somewhere during the course of the poem. In the first half of the poem, Prufrock uses various outdoor images (the sky, streets, cheap restaurants and hotels, fog), and talks about how there will be time for various things before "the taking of toast and tea", and "time to turn back and descend the stair." This has led many to believe that Prufrock is on his way to an afternoon tea, in which he is preparing to ask this "overwhelming question".[16] Others, however, believe that Prufrock is not physically going anywhere, but rather, is playing through it in his mind.[19][20]

Perhaps the most significant dispute lies over the "overwhelming question" that Prufrock is trying to ask. Many believe that Prufrock is trying to tell a woman of his romantic interest in her,[16] pointing to the various images of women's arms and clothing and the final few lines in which Prufrock laments that the mermaids will not sing to him. Others, however, believe that Prufrock is trying to express some deeper philosophical insight or disillusionment with society, but fears rejection, pointing to statements that express a disillusionment with society such as "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (line 51). Many believe that the poem is a criticism of Edwardian society and Prufrock's dilemma represents the inability to live a meaningful existence in the modern world.[21] McCoy and Harlan wrote "For many readers in the 1920s, Prufrock seemed to epitomize the frustration and impotence of the modern individual. He seemed to represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment."[19]

As the poem uses the stream of consciousness technique, it is often difficult to determine what is meant to be interpreted literally or symbolically. In general, Eliot uses imagery which is indicative of Prufrock's character,[16] representing aging and decay. For example, "When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table" (lines 2-3), the "sawdust restaurants" and "cheap hotels," the yellow fog, and the afternoon "Asleep...tired... or it malingers" (line 77), are reminiscent of languor and decay, while Prufrock's various concerns about his hair and teeth, as well as the mermaids "Combing the white hair of the waves blown back / When the wind blows the water white and black," show his concern over aging.

Prufrock and RaskolnikovEdit

John C. Pope has postulated that Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock is connected to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov of Crime and Punishment. While Dostoyevsky "caught the undercurrent of stifled suffering" in the "withering life of cities", Pope suggests that Prufrock is a victim of "stifled suffering," while the "withering life of cities" is more referential to the slow demise of fashionable society.[22][23]

Use of allusion Edit

Like many of Eliot's poems, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" makes numerous allusions to other works, which are often symbolic themselves.[16] Laurence Perrine identifies the following allusions in the poem:

  • In "Time for all the works and days of hands" (29) the phrase 'works and days' is the title of a long poem - a description of agricultural life and a call to toil - by the early Greek poet Hesiod.
  • "I know the voices dying with a dying fall" (52) echoes Orsino's first lines in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
  • The prophet of "Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter / I am no prophet - and here's no great matter" (81-2) is John the Baptist, whose head was delivered to Salome by Herod as a reward for her dancing (Matthew14:1-11, and Oscar Wilde's play Salome).
  • "To have squeezed the universe into a ball" (92) and "indeed there will be time" (23) echo the closing lines of Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress'. Phrases such as, "there will be time" and "there is time" are also reminiscent of the opening line of Marvell's poem:"Had we but world enough and time"
  • "'I am Lazarus, come from the dead'" (94) may be either the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 16) returning for the rich man who was not permitted to return from the dead to warn the brothers of a rich man about Hell or the Lazarus (of John 11) whom Christ raised from the dead, or both.
  • "Full of high sentence" (117) echoes Chaucer's description of the Clerk of Oxford in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales.[24]
  • "There will be time to murder and create" is a biblical allusion to Ecclesiastes 3.

Johan Schimanski identifies these:

  • In the final section of the poem, Prufrock rejects the idea that he is Prince Hamlet suggesting that he is merely "an attendant lord" (112) whose purpose is to "advise the prince" (114), a likely allusion to Polonius. Prufrock also brings in a common Shakespearean element of the Fool, as he claims he is also "Almost, at times, the Fool."
  • "Among some talk of you and me" may be a reference to Quatrain 32 of Edward FitzGerald's first translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam ("There was a Door to which I found no Key / There was a Veil past which I could not see / Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE / There seemed - and then no more of THEE and ME.")[25]

See also Edit

References Edit

  • Drew, Elizabeth. T. S. Eliot: The Design of His Poetry. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949.
  • Gallup, Donald. T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (A Revised and Extended Edition) pp. 23, 196 (Harcourt Brace & World 1969)
  • Luthy, Melvin J. The Case of Prufrock's Grammar. (1978) College English, 39, 841-853.
  • Soles, Derek. The Prufrock Makeover. (1999). The English Journal, 88, 59-61.
  • Sorum, Eve. "Masochistic Modernisms: A Reading of Eliot and Woolf." Journal of Modern Literature. 28 (3): 25-43. Spring 2005.
  • Sinha, Arun Kumar and Vikram, Kumar 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' (Critical Essay with Detailed Annotations), T. S. Eliot: An Intensive Study of Selected Poems, Spectrum Books Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, (2005).
  • Walcutt, Charles Child. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". (1957). College English, 19, 71-72.

NotesEdit

  1. Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Volume 5, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 99.
  2. Southam, B.C. A Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot. Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York 1994, p. 45.
  3. Capitalization and italics original. Quoted in Mertens, Richard. "Letter By Letter." The University of Chicago Magazine. August 2001. http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0108/features/letter.html (accessed April 23, 2007).
  4. Miller, James Edward. T.S. Eliot: the making of an American poet, 1888-1922, Penn State Press, 2005, p. 297.
  5. T.S. Eliot, Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917. Ed Christopher B. Ricks. (Harcourt, 1996) pp. 43-44, 176-90
  6. Woodberry Poetry Room (Harvard College Library). Poetry Readings: Guide.
  7. Eliot, T. S. Inventions of the March Hare, 1st edition. Christopher Ricks, ed. Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1996. pg 39.
  8. Eliot, T. S. "The Unfading Genius of Rudyard Kipling", Kipling Journal, March 1959, pg. 9.
  9. Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T. S. Eliot, vol. 1. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1988. pg. 135.
  10. Stepanchev, Stephen. "The Origin of J. Alfred Prufrock." Modern Language Notes, 66, (1951). 400-401.
  11. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pr%C3%BCfstein
  12. Banerjee, Ron D. K. "The Dantean Overview: The Epigraph to 'Prufrock'." Comparative Literature, 87, (1972). 962-966.
  13. Locke, Frederick W. "Dante and T. S. Eliot's Prufrock." Modern Language Notes, 78, (1963). 51-59.
  14. T.S. Eliot, Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917. Ed Christopher B. Ricks. (Harcourt, 1996) pp. 39, 41
  15. Dante. The Inferno. Transl. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. Princeton Dante Project. (accessed April 30, 2007).
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 Perrine, Laurence. Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 1st edition. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1956. p. 798.
  17. On 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (accessed June 14, 2006).
  18. Headings, Philip R. T. S. Eliot. Revised ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. pp. 24-25.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Hecimovich, Gred A (editor). English 151-3; T. S. Eliot "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" notes (accessed June 14, 2006), from McCoy, Kathleen; Harlan, Judith. English Literature from 1785. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Blasing, Mutlu Konuk, "On 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'", from American Poetry: The Rhetoric of Its Forms. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
  21. Mitchell, Roger. "On 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'", in Myers, Jack and Wojahan, David (editors). A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.
  22. Academy, 63, 685.
  23. Pope, John C. "Prufrock and Raskolnikov". American Literature, 17, (1945). 213-230.
  24. Perrine, pp. 798-789.
  25. Schimanski, Johan. "T. S. Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock'". http://www.hum.uit.no/a/schimanski/littres/pruann.htm (accessed August 8, 2006.

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