Tag Archives: T.S. Eliot

A Close Reading on “Time” in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Time is a constant, ever present notion immersed within human society. An awareness of the passage of time seemingly guides and regulates many individuals’ actions. Just as the hands of a clock continually spin, as the earth continually revolves around the sun, so time remains an endless cycle. The narrator of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” obsesses over the concept of time, describing many time-related scenarios; his fascination with time and time imagery, combined with his own progression throughout the poem, ultimately serves to demonstrate the futility in over-analyzing one’s actions when time naturally circulates back and forth. By creating a narrator whose focus on time prevents him from acting upon his desires, T.S. Eliot expresses the idea that procrastination and anxious hesitation are debilitating practices. As there is no “perfect time” in a world where time continually cycles round and round, and back and forth, refraining from taking action is a foolish practice.

Repetitious imagery of time as a force moving back and forth flows throughout the poem. The narrator describes: “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo” (Eliot 822/823). This imagery immediately presents time as a perpetually moving force. The women do not stop, but rather remain in constant motion. In asserting that “there will be time”, the narrator realizes that time perpetually continues, and he allows this understanding to justify his inaction. He never acts upon his unvoiced desires, instead merely questioning, “Do I dare?” (Eliot 823). The narrator’s assertion that “there will be time” also overestimates his own impact on time; the narrator is intimidated by the looming concept of time’s ceaseless passage, yet he believes his actions significant enough to have an impact on this endless cycle. “There will be time” suggests immortal possibility, thus implicating that the narrator mistakenly believes in his own longevity. Though the narrator believes that time is a great force, he sees own lifetime as long and his own actions as impactful. The narrator’s own beliefs thus cause his paralysis because he anxiously, narcissistically worries about his actions’ impact. In his obsession over time, the narrator overlooks the fact that the action of the women talking of Michelangelo never changes; the women constantly come and go. The static nature of the women’s actions exemplifies how there is never a time more advantageous than another for the narrator to act. The narrator’s actions will have little effect on the repetitious nature of the women’s habits. His belief that his actions will impact time’s immortal cycle prevents him from taking action. By allowing himself to become overly confident in the impact his own actions hold over infinite time, the narrator obstructs himself from acting upon his desires.

Throughout the poem the narrator expands upon his worry of “Do I dare?”, a question which is futile because time in the poem takes no heed of human concerns. The narrator again ignorantly suggests that his actions are consequential when he questions if he dares “disturb the universe”. This egotistically leaning worry is quickly quashed when the narrator immediately afterwards reflects: “In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (Eliot 823). In this statement, the narrator acknowledges that his musings and anxieties are ineffectual. Though he may agonize over a decision, his torment holds no power over constantly moving time. The narrator’s concession that his inaction is similar to a “pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” drives home the point that his preoccupation with time prevents him from moving forward in life (Eliot 824). Just as a crab moves back and forth, never advancing, so the narrator remains stagnant due to his inability to act and seize upon his desires. By mistakenly believing that his actions hold significant sway over the universe, the narrator’s own egotistical worry and preoccupation with time only serve to paralyze his actions and prevent him from attaining his desires.

Throughout the poem the narrator transitions from a man overly confident in his own longevity to a man overly concerned over his own fatality. In both circumstances, the narrator allows his concerns to overpower his ability to act. At the beginning of the poem, T.S. Eliot includes a passage from Dante’s “Inferno” describing a man who confesses to Dante: “If I thought that my reply would be to one who would ever return to the world, this flame would stay without further movement” (Eliot 822). Because the speaker is so focused on the idea of life on earth, he confesses his shame without hesitation. The speaker’s assertion that on earth his confession would stay without further movement directly parallels the narrator’s lack of movement with regard to his inaction. Both the speaker and the narrator neglect to understand that time is cyclical in nature. Just because the speaker waits to confess to Dante does not mean that his confession is not heard, thus his procrastination is rendered useless. Likewise, the narrator’s preoccupation with life and death serves only to prevent him from acting upon his desires immediately. The narrator concedes, “I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,/And in short, I was afraid” (Eliot 824). The paralysis that the narrator suffers from due to his concern over the “eternal Footman”, or death, prevents him from daring to act. As the narrator projects upon his future, older self, he becomes anxious over the fatality of human life. By continually questioning whether his actions “would have been worth while” and measuring out his life “with coffee spoons”, the narrator distracts himself with his worries and thus impedes his actions that would lead to the attainment of his own desires.

Structurally, T.S. Eliot’s choice to keep the time frame within the poem ambiguous harkens back to the cyclical nature of time itself. Within the poem, the narrator at once describes many places and times throughout his life. In transitioning from a soft October night on the streets, to a room filled with women, to an afternoon and to an evening, and even to his life as he “grows old”, the reader is thrust back and forth through time. Just as the imagery within the poem symbolizes the cyclical nature of time, so the structural time frame of the poem itself reflects the continual movement of time. By remaining somewhat ambiguous, the various scenes of the poem repeat the assertion that time stops for no human reflection, whether that reflection is of the narrator or of the reader.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” centers upon the concept of time. By repeating time imagery, both within the language and structure of the poem, T.S. Eliot forces the reader to confront the force that is time. The ultimate predicament of the narrator, growing old as he continues to contemplate his actions as they relate to his eventual death, serves to act as a warning. In his mania over time, the narrator forgets to live in the moment. He simultaneously allows both his intimidation by time’s immortality and his concerns over the impact that his own actions will have on time to overpower him, and he later is overcome by the certainty of his impending death; he at once narcissistically believes his actions to be of consequence, and, alternatively, of no consequence at all. Thus the narrator’s obsession with time paralyzes him, preventing him from acting upon his desires. With the narrator’s anxiety-ridden life as an example of the danger and futility in succumbing to intimidation and procrastination, T.S. Eliot asserts the necessity of seizing the day and taking purposeful action to obtain one’s desires.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” – Close Reading Essay on the irony of its title

In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot uses pointed digression and extended metaphor to emphasize how insignificant Prufrock feels in the eyes of his peers. Prufrock dances around the idea that no woman could ever love him, but the real problem is that Prufrock is unable to appreciate himself. Drowning in the opinions of other people, Prufrock is keeping himself from ever gaining enough confidence to be successful. Paying too much attention to other people makes gaining any semblance of self-confidence unlikely, leaving one to constantly ponder, as Prufrock does, ‘Do I dare?’ when faced with daunting social interactions.

At first glance, the title of the poem seems to suggest an ensuing tale of a man in love. While it is true that Prufrock may have his eye on a woman, he lacks the confidence necessary to approach her, and this so-called “love song” is really more of a lament regarding the love that never comes to fruition. Prufrock fears that he will misinterpret a woman’s intentions, that she couldn’t actually love him back, so convinces himself that he shouldn’t even try to approach her. These thoughts come from worrying that people are already pointing out his insecurities and flaws, such as that his hair line is receding or that his legs and arms are much too thin (823). These are all just suppositions; Prufrock doesn’t know for sure that people will not accept him, but he lets these reservations keep him from taking chances. Counting out the possibility of victory makes actively participating in life seem pointless. Prufrock thinks that everyone is against him, thus making it difficult for him to even consider mustering enough courage to speak up.

At one point, Prufrock likens himself to a bug pinned to the wall, but it is his insistence that he “should have been a pair of ragged claws” that is of particular interest (824). Crabs are known for their side-to-side motion; similarly, Prufrock also does not move forward, constantly scuttling between one outside opinion and the next. Being burdened by the thoughts of other people prevents progress and the acquisition of self-confidence. By comparing himself to a crab, Prufrock is subsequently implying that he, too, is a bottom-dweller of sorts. Crabs live on the ocean floor, feeding on whatever happens to drift down to them. Just as a crab consumes food, Prufrock consumes every glance and every degrading comment that may come his way. This, however, is no way to live, for it becomes a burden to his psyche.

Prufrock is apt to believe that he is inferior to his peers when faced with their “eyes that fix [him] in a formulated phrase” (823). Constantly surrounded by opinionated people, Prufrock feels like he must live up to their expectations in order to be accepted into society. In a series of digressions, Prufrock first declares that his life has been measured out in coffee spoons, meaning he rates his life based on the company he keeps, or rather the company that is willing to keep him (823). On one hand, this could indicate Prufrock’s inclination to define his life in relation to other people, taking note of all the times he interacts with others. On the other hand, this statement could point to Prufrock’s tendency to overthink. Measuring his life in coffee spoons, Prufrock leads a controlled, careful existence; he ponders extensively on the topic of social interaction, which could include sharing a cup of coffee with someone, and is unlikely to take risks. Living his life on the outskirts of society, Prufrock is like the yellow fog that licks “its tongue into the corners of the evening,” trying to make its way inside, but that ultimately gives up and falls asleep (822). He is an outsider, or at least that is what he thinks he is meant to be, and he is wary of rising above the limitations that are set mostly by himself; instead, he, like the fog, merely gives up and says “there will be time” to later do what he cannot do now (823). Prufrock even further digresses and asserts that he could not be compared to Prince Hamlet, for he doesn’t grant himself that much importance. Instead, he relates to an attendant lord, characterized by a willingness to be an “easy tool” (825). Prufrock does not consider himself as worthy or as entitled as Prince Hamlet; instead, he avers that he would be more than willing to remain on the outskirts and put other people above himself. Prufrock does not feel loved by other people, but still he does not completely address this as a problem in his life.

A love song generally implies a situation in which one person, usually the singer, is in love with another. Prufrock does indeed speak of women who catch his eye, citing their braceleted, white arms and perfume (823). More than once, Prufrock repeats the lines “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo” (822-823). This gives the impression that Prufrock is standing at a distance and observes the women as they talk amongst themselves. He asks himself if he dares approach these women and strike up a conversation, but through several digressions it becomes evident that Prufrock intends to do no such thing. Rather than address the issue at hand – that is, his ineptitude when it comes to asserting himself and talking to women – he launches himself into digressions on the topics of yellow fog, bugs pinned to the wall, the duties of an attendant lord, and listening to mermaids sing. Prufrock cites the women’s perfume as the cause of his digressions, for he is unwilling to accept the true cause of his avoidance: his own lack of confidence (823).

The last section of the poem, in which Prufrock says he has “heard the mermaids singing, each to each,” has a musical quality to it that is reminiscent of a veritable love song. However, the imagery, choice of words, and extended metaphor present in the following three stanzas paint a contradictory picture. Instead of ending the poem on an optimistic note, making it sound like a hopeful love song, Prufrock instead says that he does not think the mermaids will ever sing to him (825). Thus, the “yellow,” or cowardly, behavior that was apparent throughout the poem is not resolved by the end (822). By noting that the mermaids are “riding seaward on the waves,” which would be in the opposite direction from him, Prufrock states his belief that women would rather run from him than return his affections (825). Prufrock romanticizes women and considers himself undesirable to the point where calling this poem a “love song” is a bit of cruel irony. In actuality, it is a lamentation of the love Prufrock does not consider himself worthy of possessing.

As exhibited by Prufrock, worrying about other people’s opinions only serves to destroy any semblance of self-confidence one might possess. Prufrock is consumed by a perceived notion that everyone is constantly judging him. He lets the fears of mockery and social rejection keep him from participating in life. Ultimately, it is not the fear of being rejected by women that keeps Prufrock from taking chances; rather, it is the lack of appreciation he has for himself that makes him deem himself unworthy of social interaction. Unable to believe in himself, Prufrock drowns under the weight of not only perceived societal pressure, but also personal pressure that inhibits him from playing an active role in his life.

Close Reading Essay on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

The dramatic monologue in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot examines the tortured psyche of its speaker. Throughout the poem Prufrock reveals more and more about the true qualities of his interior. Similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Dexter in Winter Dreams, J. Alfred Prufrock aptly fits the description of the prototypical “modern man”. He is solitary, insecure, and always standing in his own way of happiness. However, as we learn more about the speaker of the poem, one glaring question remains. Who exactly is Prufrock addressing in his Love Song? The answer to this question invariably leads to the next pressing issue of what is Prufrock’s “overwhelming question” he wants so desperately to ask? Throughout the poem it’s interesting to note how the answers to these questions lead you to understand more about the speaker without his intention of doing so.

The poem begins with “Let us go then, you and I” (Eliot 822) as Prufrock invites “us” to go and take a walk. But to whom is the “you” addressed? Is it the reader? Someone else? Is he talking to himself? Due to the title of the poem being a “Love Song” it is reasonable to assume Prufrock is talking to a woman he loves. Many instances throughout the poems seem to support this idea. One of the first times Eliot gives the reader a hint about the person being addressed comes from the ninth stanza. “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!)” (Eliot 823). The first two lines begin in a very repetitious, monotonous tone. It seems as though Prufrock is excessively bored at having seen so many arms- each one the same as the last. However, the next line in parentheses, which seems to come directly from his thoughts, ends with an exclamation. It’s as though this particular arm has engrossed Prufrock and struck him as unique. Immediately, the first rhyme of the stanza between “bare” and “hair” catches the reader’s attention as significant. It’s clear that this new image must be of the woman to whom he is talking. It makes sense that after inviting her for a walk through “half-deserted streets” that he would see her arm under the lamplight. Even more interesting is the fact that her arm has light brown hair, in stark contrast with the white to which he was previously accustomed. This woman must be different from those that he sees coming and going “talking of Michelangelo.” These few lines also touch on another important aspect of Prufrock’s song- his use of synecdoche. Nowhere in the poem are any whole bodies described. We are given only a body part and meant to represent it as the whole person. People throughout the poem are reduced to “eyes” “faces” and “arms” perhaps because Prufrock sees others as he believes he is seen by the outside world-based only on his outside features. As the neurotic, emotionally stifled, overeducated modern man, in his mind Prufrock only hears the comments of others on his inadequacies.

Understanding Prufrock is addressing a woman, what are we to make of the “overwhelming question” that Prufrock continues to mention throughout the poem yet never seems to ask? Through the context of the poem it’s clear that this question involves Prufrock trying to tell the woman of his romantic interest in her. The first time Prufrock tries to ask his question comes in line 37 when he declares “And indeed there will be time,/To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’/Time to turn back and descend the stair,” (Eliot 823). We are left wondering what it is he dares to do but its clear he’s referring to his question he desperately wants to ask. The repetition of the phrase “There will be time” and “Do I dare” leaves the reader with the sense that these stanzas aren’t going anywhere. This repetition mirrors Prufrock’s actions because he refuses to commit to anything and is simply going in circles. His inability to ask the question and his belief there will be plenty of time for everything highlights a theme of passivity. Later, Prufrock wonders if he will “have the strength to force the moment to its crisis” (Eliot 824). Again, he must be referring to his desire to consummate his relationship with this woman he is addressing. However, it seems Prufrock knows too much of life to dare ask his question and “presumes” that emotional interaction is impossible. Later in this stanza he compares his feelings to his fear of death as though he had “seen the eternal Footman hold my coat” (Eliot 824). This description shows us how afraid of approaching this woman Prufrock seems to be. Lastly, he wonders if “would it have been worth it after all…If one, settling a pillow by her head, /Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all. /That is not it at all’” (Eliot 824). These lines are unmistakably referring to the ‘what if” scenario had Prufrock ever approached his lover. This shows that his question must have involved his desire to let the woman know about his love because he is imagining her saying that she was misunderstood and never truly had feelings for him. The potential for his love to be unrequited proves to Prufrock that he was right to never take the risk of finally asking his question. This undoubtedly speaks to his character. What does it say about someone who believes it is best to never know something if it means never having to display audacity or be offended? This sense of cowardice fits right into Eliot’s picture of the modern man who has become too habituated to a static and passive life.

Although the entire poem seems to be dedicated to slowly uncovering what a cowardly, indecisive, and lonely man Prufrock is, it would be foolish to assume Eliot’s only purpose was to create a warning for all procrastinators. It seems as though by using Prufrock, he is satirizing the wealthy modern man living a meaningless life. It’s actually quite a hilarious image seeing a balding man wearing a “necktie rich and modest” wondering if he should dare eat a peach after taking toast and tea. However, it would be equally foolish to presume Prufrock’s love song has nothing to do with a woman lover. The very fact that Eliot’s original title for this poem was “Prufrock Among the Women” shows how central to the plot Prufrock’s relationship to women must be.

“Etherised” (3)

“Etherised”

The setting of the poem is compared to a “patient etherized upon a table” (3). “Etherised” carries with it a great deal of emphasis at the start of the poem, cloaking the following lines with a certain haziness that skews the perception of both the reader and the narrator. The comparison suggests a kind of universal and dire state of illness. The illness plagues the narrator in the form of a crippling infatuation with the banality of routine in modern society. The obsession is reinforced through the methodical repetition of images of empty women that “come and go talking of Michelangelo” (13) as well as the habitual taking of tea; as the images resurface, they mark the passage of time like an ominous ticking clock.

The use of the word “etherised” goes on to represent a clinical separation from reality, supported by a fragmented perception of the narrator’s world. He does not see people as whole and uses synecdoche to describe them through compartmentalizations of their existence. Line 55 begins a pattern where he identifies people by their body parts with “the eyes” and “the arms”. This method of description sparks images of amputation and reveals the narrator’s belief that he is incomplete and his life’s desires are not satisfied. Furthermore, “etherised” gains a greater tonal presence as Eliot makes literal references to surgical separations when the narrator imagines that he is being dissected by his peers, “when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin” (57), and again when he pictures his “head, (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter” (82). With images of clinical procedures and foggy or shrouded states of mind, Eliot suggests that an obsession with the trivialities of modern society has resulted in a human race lost to an anesthetized delusion where the resolve of sobriety results in an inescapable death.

“drown” (pg. 825)

In T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the speaker (Prufrock) paints a picture of his self-conscious and unfulfilled existence. He is overly concerned with what other people think of him and constantly worries about how others will view his actions. He internalizes everyone else’s supposed opinions of his character and appearance. He drowns in all the negative thoughts he feels are directed toward him, and he feels threatened by the uncertainty of social interactions. He is tormented by the thought of growing old and being forever alone, but he lacks the confidence to change his ways. He keeps asking himself, “Do I dare?” and his inactivity makes it clear that his self-consciousness has paralyzed him (823).

Though he references “revisions,” meaning changes that he could make in his life, Profrock simultaneously says that his decisions will end up being reversed due to his fear of taking chances (823). Profrock worries that he will misinterpret a woman’s actions and words and then humiliate himself in her presence. Ultimately, Profrock, himself, destroys any opportunity for progressing.  He has “seen the moment of his greatness flicker” and thinks that he might as well not attempt to let his thoughts and feelings be heard, lest a woman laugh in his face (824). Any thought of making himself heard is destroyed by the voices in his head telling him that he is worthless. The “human voices,” or voices of reason, that wake him from his hopeful reverie make him “drown,” or wallow, in self-pity. He will amount to nothing and achieve nothing, but only because he believes both to be true of himself (825).