The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

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The Character of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

There is a lot in the world that there is to question from love, the world, existence, and much more. Writers and artists dedicate what they do to show us what the world was like at a certain point through their eyes. Modernism was the movement after Romantic era where the emphasis was on imagination, emotions, the sublime, the transcendence, nature, and the natural. One of the characteristics of modernism is that the writers of that era questioned the self and their identity. T. S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” gives a sense of irony because the main character never talks about his feelings of love but instead questions the idea of love, and the world for it the emotion. Our main character isolated and isn’t able to accept the progressing world around him which detains him from finding true love. As a typical Modernist, T.S. Eliot’s character is portrayed to be trapped in a modern dilemma of alienation brought upon by the urban civilization.

Questioning the self and the world around was a big part of the modern movement which was most often used within the plot or the characters of the story. T.S. Elliot’s character J. Alfred Prufrock is a man who expresses no feelings at all, struggles with knowing himself and his true identity, and questions it. He says,

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

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!)” (38-41)

Here Prufrock is questioning himself and the bald spot in head. He feels judged by the word around him because they don’t see how he was or is. Time has passed and he can’t turn back time when Prufrock was in his prime with no bald spot and no insecurities. Prufrock makes scenarios by starting them with “they will say” the “they” is what is bothering him. The they is the urbanization of the world around him no longer appreciating the imperfections of nature, or in this case of aging. They aren’t letting him be himself and therefore questioning everything about him. His character questions if he dares go back and talk to whom he has fallen for and keeps questioning by saying

Do I dare

Disturb the Universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse (45-48)

He wishes to go back in time to be able to change what he knows is wrong with him, or so he thinks is wrong with him. Prufrock is unable to proceed in a world that is different to him. The world is constantly changing and there is nothing one can do about it not even go back in time and change the future.

The disconnection of Prufrock and the world around him is evident. Prufrock is unable to find true love in the society that he lives in which causes him to feel alienated. The poems first line begins by saying “Let us go then, you, and I” (1) as if was going to be romantic and an actual love song to someone. But then we get to the next couple lines that say, “When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table” (2-3) which ends the romanticizing of the you and I in the beginning. There is a sort of awkwardness to Prufrock, which can’t be blamed on the society, he isn’t connected to love or better yet doesn’t know how to. He knows that it is a feeling between two people but can’t grasp the concept of it. But again, Prufrock starts questioning the relationship and time. He says, “Time for you and time for me, / And time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions” (31-33). The idea of time is important to Prufrock because he feels like time has run out for him but isn’t actuall using it. Yet is using time for indecisions, visions, and revisions as he says. Prufrock is showing that he isn’t fulfilled with what life has to offer. Even though the society he lives in has a lot to with Prufrock alienating himself from everything and everyone he himself is at fault too. Questioning his every move and how he talks to the person who he is pursuing romantically. Being indecisive causes this man to become lonely and results in alienating himself from everything even love itself.

The setting in this poem seems to contemplate Prufrock because it isn’t romanticized as a love poem should be, hence the irony of the whole poem. Our writer gives us a great visual of how the society that Prufrock lived in wasn’t full of emotion just like him. The narrator describes it and says, “For the yellow smoke that rubs its back upon the window-panes / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes / Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening” (15-17). Here we get a feel of what the neighborhood like or at least how it does amongst the for. There is no beauty in how it is described just yellow fog. The way the fog is described is as if there is a cat is roaming as the smoke. The smoke timidly roams the neighborhood just going through the windows. It’s almost describing Prufrock due to his timidity and just lingering around to avoid being a part of the society and just watching. Prufrock also uses his own life and the lives of others to see only the negative side of the setting. Prufrock says, “Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets / And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes / Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of the windows?” (70-72). The society as a whole is miserable even to Prufrock who is miserable himself. He watches the people around him and notices that he isn’t the only one that is lonely and watching their surroundings. He doesn’t allow himself physically to be a part of the place he inhabits but is through the window. By watching he is alienating himself to not be a part of a society that is changing.

Overall, J. Alfred Prufrock doesn’t seem to find his place in the society which results in him alienating himself. Prufrock is an outsider that is just watching everything around him but not allowing himself to be part of it. He questions the way he looks and how time has a lot to with his aging. Time is essential to the life of Prufrock because there isn’t enough time and he wishes to back in time to stop for him to be able to detain what is causing his insecurities. The people around him and the way they look at him cause him to question the universe and blame it for what is happening to him. All his insecurities cause an inability for him to find love and pursue anyone. The way that Prufrock tries to pursue love but fails to obtain it because of his awkwardness and inability to love. The setting gives a look into how miserable the society in which Prufrock lives in looks. The fog illustrates a neighborhood that lacks life just like Prufrock. He is constantly seeing the negative side of life by questioning the way he looks, time, and the way he views the setting which puts him in a dilemma of alienation from his society.

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133

Disturbing the Universe: Mental Illness in Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Art is a subjective and diverse amalgamation of mediums. Despite the vast array of differences, there is a heavy overlap of thematic elements. One of these recurrent themes is mental illness, and specifically its negative representation. Since the Ancient Greeks, maladies of the psyche have faced terrible persecution and stigmatization. Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) posited the notion of deficiency of the four humours. This theory proposed that mental instability was a result of the human body lacking various bodily fluids which altered the way a person understood and interacted with the world. Despite the fact that human understanding of psychological afflictions has grown significantly, the mysteries of such conditions is present within our society and our art. From the tragedies of Sophocles to the poetry of Sylvia Plath, mentally ill artists have assisted neurotypical people in their attempts to understand what it is like and how the world changes with mental illness. One of the best examples of this is Modernist poet T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The fragmented, off-putting narrative style and vivid yet alienating imagery help to establish the poem as both an excellent example of mental illness as a thematic element and a recreation of the thought processes of a tormented mind.

The tone of discomfort is put forth in the poem immediately; to open his piece, Eliot lead with an epigraph from Dante’s Divine Comedy in the original Italian, the translation of which reads as such: ‘If I but thought that my response were made to one perhaps returning to the world, this tongue of flame would cease to flicker. But since, up from these depths, no one has yet returned alive, if what I hear is true, I answer without fear of being shamed.’This initial excerpt of prose, both without context and in a different language than the rest of the poem, helps establish a feeling of inconsistency and confusion which is present through the rest of the work. Additionally, when considering the excerpt’s source, it could also be referential to a journey through Prufrock’s own personal hell. Despite this conscious literary choice to include this (for reasons unknown), the rest of the poem follows an unsettling stream of consciousness format, which seems invariably uncertain in nature. The reader enters the mind of a man, presumably J. Alfred Prufrock, who is rife with dissatisfaction and an evident inability to concentrate. Prufrock also presents an obvious anxiety within the sexually driven atmosphere he lives in through his constant questioning of his actions and motives (“do I dare?”), giving a perpetual feeling of imminent crisis among the debauchery and decadence. Eliot bobs and weaves through these thoughts, grazing each but never examining or fully explaining any. Because of this erratic narration and Vonnegut-esque temporal shiftings, it is difficult for the reader to place where, when, or even what exactly the piece is set. There is no linearity or discernable structure to the narrative; in both execution and style, the poem is meant to be confusing. Prufrock shows a marked disinterest and lack of enthusiasm for the world around him, a disillusionment for the high society life he lurks in. Confused thinking, social withdrawal, and delusions are all markers for mental illness. In addition, there is a sense of monotony and sameness through the shifting periods of his life, as if it is passing all at once but not at all. This loss of meaning, as it were, could be a nod at the pervasive emptiness which is associated with major depressive disorder specifically. Prufrock also shows a preoccupation with the concepts of death and loneliness, both of which are present in the observation of him having “seen the eternal Footman hold [his] coat, and snicker”; he is heavily aware of his mortality, and it frightens him. He is always afraid, and always feeling misunderstood. This perceived “Otherness” mirrors the internal struggles of individuals with mental illness, making “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” successful in its presentation of mental illness as a theme.

Imagery also plays a role in the alienation of the readers. Regardless of not having a concrete setting in the traditional sense, there is an array of vague atmospheres which flicker in and out of frame. As the poem opens, we are greeted with the description of a seedy, gritty somewhere, which reads:”Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,The muttering retreatsOf restless nights in one-night cheap hotelsAnd sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells”There is a clear debauched and debased tone to this excerpt, which paints a bleak picture of the backstreet existence which Prufrock lives. It is clear contextually that this is not a neighbourhood which one would wish to find themselves in. Despite this bleakness, we are also presented with a recurrent theme of yellow fog, a deceptively cheerful colour outside of this context. However, this “yellow smoke” simply adds to the anxiety of the piece. Yellow in excess, due to its brightness and how easily it draws in the eye, can be both disorienting and nauseating. Eliot’s choice to emphasize the colour yellow, and to present it in an almost feline manner, brings attention to its silence and stealth. The colour yellow itself also further drives in the visualization of a sprawling industrial landscape, run down and polluted (metaphorically and literally). Prufrock’s world is dirty, from the air to the inhabitants.

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180

Questioning the Self and Identity in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The world is constantly changing and there is nothing one can do about it. Literature changes along with the rest of the world. Writers and artists dedicate what they do to show us what the world was like at a certain point in the world through their eyes. Modernism was the movement that came after Romantic era where the emphasis on imagination, emotions, the sublime, the transcendence, nature, and the natural. Modernism on the other hand rejected all that the Romantics believed in and threw it all away. Modernist believed in the quality of thought, expression, and technique. The author uses free verse, and irregular rhyming that focus on the movement that the Modernist era has taken. The poem is about a middle-aged man who cannot make a progress in life and dare to approach women due to his shyness. One of the characteristics of modernism is that era questioned the self and their identity. J. Alfred Prufrock throughout the poem gives a sense of irony because he never talks about his feelings of love. In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Elliot uses his Modernist way of thinking to show how not only the way the characters are being portrayed as a modern dilemma caused by questing, and the alienation that is brought upon by the setting of modern urban civilization.

Questioning the self, and the world around was a big part of the modern movement which was most often used within the plot or the characters of the story. T.S. Elliot’s character J. Alfred Prufrock is a man that expresses no feelings at all that struggles with knowing himself and his true identity, and questions it, he says, “To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’ / Time to turn back and descend the stair” (Elliot lines 38-39). Here Prufrock’s question shows hesitance to make a meaningful movement and the physical act. The repetition of the phrase “Do I dare” shows the reader the confusion that this man has within himself. He is unable to feel content with any progression in his life and isn’t able to allow himself to love anyone, not even himself. Elliot’s character has similarities as those of James Joyce’s character Gabriel, from his short story “The Dead,” is unable to socialize or dare make a conversation with others do to interact with others in a modern society that leads him to feel alienated and have a desire for solitude. Just like Prufrock’s indecisiveness is also caused by self-isolation from the society as a modern man who lacks self-esteem. His character questions if he dares go back and talk to whom he has fallen for and keeps questioning by saying

Do I dare

Disturb the Universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse (Elliot 45-48)

He even questions what time or in this minute can do but Prufrock is questioning existence itself. The narrator brings an objectivity to the questions making them not only a subjective experience but a universal one. He doesn’t know how to proceed in a world that is so different than him. The experience of the overwhelming questions falls short of that kind of grandeur for Prufrock due to his indecisiveness.

Not only is J. Alfred Prufrock questioning himself and the universe, but he disconnected from it. Like any other modernist work there is a sense of alienation which seems to be one of the central themes of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” His status as a social outcast in his society creates our character to feel isolated and lonely searching to fill that void but doesn’t know how to do so. Prufrock finds himself in a society that is not different from a hell for him, so Elliot portrays the complexities of the modern world vividly through the inconsistent psychology from Prufrock that even measure out his own life and says,

For I have known them all already, known them all –

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

And I have known the eyes already, known them all –

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, (Elliot 49-56)

Prufrock is aware of “the eyes” that are looking at him and is intimidated which leads him to not want to be a part of this society. He estranges himself from the crowd by finding life to be uninteresting and unimportant when he asserts that he has “measured out his life with coffee spoons” which is sad but that was the reality of his life. It is clear that this character is lonely which results in alienating himself from everything even love itself.

The setting in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” it isn’t our typical romanticized setting that we are used to. T.S. Elliot gives us a great visual of how this society isn’t full of emotion just like our dear Prufrock. Our narrator describes it and says, “For the yellow smoke that rubs its back upon the window-panes / … / Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening” (Elliot 15-17). Here the narrator gives us a sense of what the neighborhood he is in looks like or at least how the fog does. There is no beauty in how it is described which would indicate how the writer wanted to modernize the setting as well. He uses the “yellow fog” as a sort of metaphor the describe the society that has a more realist view to it since modernist writers did reject nature. The smoky evening that he finds himself in a bleak city that is almost miserable to live in. It also is metaphorical because the fog is being described like a timid cat that is trying to avoid anyone from getting to it. Prufrock also uses his own life and the lives of others to see only the negative side of the setting which our dear Prufrock says, “Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets / And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes / Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of the windows?” (Elliot 70-72). Not only is Prufrock lonely but he it also seems like the whole society as a whole is as miserable in his eyes. These “lonely men in shirt-sleeves” are also looking upon the scenery of the city that they live in but do not become a part of it just as Prufrock does. Again, in this part he mentions the smoke which indicated this almost secret and timid Prufrock in a setting where he feels like he does not belong.

Overall J. Alfred Prufrock is a modern man that seems to not fit in his society. This man struggled with questions of the self and his identity, and the setting is as if it is describing Prufrock’s life. The narrator brought up objectivity to the questions making them not only a subjective experience but a universal one to the life of Prufrock. Prufrock is constantly questioning himself and the universe, but he disconnected from it and asking the “overwhelming question”. Like any other modernist work there is a sense of alienation, questioning the self and identity, and the setting where our protagonist lives in seem to be many of the central themes of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The tone throughout the poem seems to be as Prufrock being an outsider, which he is, watching everything that is happening around him but not feeling a part of it. Elliot portrays the complexities of the modern world vividly through the inconsistent psychology from Prufrock that even measure out his own life as coffee spoons. Elliot sets this speakers journey as an analyzation of the modern man’s perception of life. The sense of questioning and hopelessness are implications of the modernism that brings a new way to look and appreciate life and its components.

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126

The Speakers in an Irish Airman Foresees His Death And The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

The statement from ‘The Second Coming’ – the best people ‘lack all conviction,’ while the worst are ‘full of passionate intensity” – applies to the speakers in ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’ and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

To begin, the speaker in ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’, Major Gregory, volunteered to participate in the war as an airman which this information alone can seem to adhere to W.B. Yeats statement about the worst people. However, this is not the case as unlike the quintessential soldiers who stand firm in their beliefs and motives- whether it may be to defend what they love or resist and fight against what they hate- the speaker in the poem directly declares his reasons does not root from these intense emotions. The speaker is also not fighting in the war for duty nor law or other common convictions but simply for his delight and excitement. This was not a rash decision as line 1 through 10 supports that the speaker settled and “balanced all, brought all to mind” (line 13) after his own thoughtful understandings. Therefore, Major Gregory is one of whom W.B. Yeats would consider as best people who “lack all conviction.”

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Furthermore, in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” the speaker or J. Alfred Prufrock is a prime example of people who “lack all conviction.” Prufrock questions very action with “do I dare?” from whether to engage in a conversation, turn back, or eat a peach. He is self-conscious and over analyzes the situations which lead him to negatively complicate things. He the opposite of being “full of passionate intensity” because he is unable to decide his actions. The possibility of rejection and the comments about his balding hair as well as thin arms and legs frightens him to the point he becomes anxious about every little thing.

Conclusion

A traditional hero is someone who is resolute in their convictions and acts upon it. In addition, they are characterized to possess mental and physical strengths. With the abilities, the hero will protect his people and also fight to demolish the antagonist. In the modern world, it is very difficult to be heroic in a traditional sense because every situation does not have a traditional antagonist and not all heroic deeds are considered heroic. Every person will have an opinion or criticism. While one person can see a person as a hero, others may disagree and this can also be said to the antagonist. It is hard to discern what is right as well as correct and what is not today as sometimes to be a hero in modern time means going against something that a larger crowd follows and it is risky. This makes it difficult to be completely resolute in our convictions.

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205

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Emotion in the Poem

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Poetics of Prufrock

Throughout the lines of T.S. Elliot’s literary work “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” there are many images that work together to establish a sense of meaning, however as a reader, I felt the most connected to the poem during my initial encounter. Immediately, I felt as though the speaker was sharing his journal with me. As I read on, I encountered numerous lines in which the speaker questions himself saying “Do I dare, How should I presume, and How should I begin” (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 8, 11. 38, 68-69). With these questions in mind, I took the speaker as a very insecure man. From my initial reading, these questions made me anxious. I began to feel the chilling insecurity of the speaker, and eventually felt pity on his behalf. My emotions took over as I read on about a man who seemed to stand in his own way of love and happiness. Similarly, I felt pity for the speaker in the following lines as he claims “I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think they will sing to me” (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 22. 123-125). Here, the speaker paints a beautiful picture, however he regresses in saying the mermaids will not sing to him. Clearly, he is truly unable to see himself finding love, or fulfillment during his lifetime. Ultimately, I found “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to be an emotional rollercoaster for the speaker, and audience as well. As a reader, I found myself feeling pity for the speaker, and fear for myself that I would let life pass me by due to an emotional state of insecurity and self-doubt like the speaker himself.

On a dissimilar note, as I reread “The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock,” I gained a deeper understanding of the speaker through prominent images such as women and eyes. Although the title is deceiving, as readers expect to be captivated by love throughout the many stanzas of T.S. Elliot’s work, women remain prominent symbols of inhibition. Specifically, within the following lines of the poem, readers receive a detailed account of the women surrounding the speaker: “Arms that are braceleted and white and bare But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair! Is it perfume from a dress” (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 11. 64-66). It is important to note that the lines above provide details of women’s arms, hair, and dress, yet not their faces or figures. Essentially, the speaker discusses the details that make up the women rather than the women themselves because he is unable to look them in the eyes. From the speaker’s perspective, women are symbols of inhibition as he can not bring himself to act natural in his surroundings due to his extreme self-consciousness. Along similar lines, readers encounter the image of eyes within the eleventh stanza of the so-called love song to symbolize the speaker’s shame. The following lines prove the significance of the eyes present in the setting of the poem:

And I have known the eyes already, known them all-

The eyes that fix you in a formulate phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 11. 55-59).

Personally, I took the image of eyes to symbolize the shame the speaker feels in front of others because he’s never found love. The image of eyes fixed on the speaker as he is “pinned and wriggling on the wall” imbues a sense of inhumanity. The speaker feels as though he is an animal encased in a glass frame on a wall for others to observe as an inferior species. Ultimately, the symbols of inhibition and shame work together to prove the speaker’s fear to connect with others whether it be emotionally or sexually. Undoubtedly, the author’s inclusion of women and glaring eyes in the poem show the audience that the speaker is uncomfortable not only in his surroundings, but also his own skin, as he lacks one of the most integral parts of the human experience: love. Overall, the speaker in “The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock” remains a man terrified of vulnerability with everyone except the audience of the poem unknown to him.

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199

Analysis of Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” begins with an epigraph from Dante’s Inferno. Being translated, it says: “If I thought that I was speaking/ to someone who would go back to the world,/ this flame would shake no more./ But since nobody has ever/ gone back alive from this place, if what I hear is true,/ I answer you without fear of infamy.” The speaker, in this case, will only tell his story with the knowledge that living ears will never hear it. Eliot’s Prufrock faces the same situation; he has a story to tell – a love song to sing – that he didn’t dare to declare among the living. Only now, where nobody can hear him, can Prufrock finally declare what cannot be said. He has been condemned to a kind of hell by his inaction.

This hell is cast in a yellow light. Images of yellow overwhelming the landscape abound: “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, the yellow smoke that rubs its back upon the window-panes” (15-16). Yellow is a color associated with cowardice. Fittingly, Prufrock’s world is cast in this yellow light because his world is a world of cowardice. His inability to speak his feelings and the fear of what implications that would hold have confined him to where he is. Essentially, Prufrock has proved himself to be a coward. This prison is a coward’s prison. Had Prufrock sung the song he meant to sing, he would not be in hell.

Yet it seems Prufrock had been planning to make his declaration. He always meant to say what had been plaguing him. He seemed to feel that he had all of the time in the world to act on his feelings:

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street…

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face for the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands…

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. (22-34)

Prufrock’s time to act was limited, but he didn’t know it. He thought that time would be limitless (“There will be time, there will be time”), and he found that it wasn’t. The tragedy is now that Prufrock is finally speaking his mind, his words will nevertheless remain unheard. He has all the time he needs now, yet his true time has passed. He cannot speak to the woman he loves. He can only speak to a great void, certain that he will not be heard.

The stanza mentioned in the previous paragraph illustrates Prufrock’s constant internal turmoil. He must “prepare a face to meet the faces” that he meets, for he cannot simply be who he is. The simple “taking of a toast and tea” requires “a hundred indecisions” and “a hundred visions and revisions.” He is so repressed that tea is a major trial. It is clear that the actions of everyday life bring great turmoil to Prufrock. He does not know how to act and does not know how to say what he wants to say. Every utterance is thought out and analyzed in his mind a hundred times. He is paralyzed by the fear of social criticism:

And I have known the eyes already, known them all –

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?

And how should I presume? (54-61)

The image of Prufrock “pinned and wriggling on the wall” creates an image of him being totally exposed and on display. He is much like a specimen being primed for dissection. When on display, he is vulnerable to the criticism of his peers. The eyes that Prufrock speaks of are their eyes. Thus, one can see that simply functioning in the social world puts Prufrock in a state of extreme distress. He does not know how to act and fears being exposed. It is no wonder that he has difficulty declaring his feelings of love to a woman.

This is the question that ultimately overwhelms Prufrock – the question of love. This question is presented in the first stanza: “Streets that follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent/ To lead you to an overwhelming question…/Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’” (8-10). This “overwhelming question” haunts the rest of the poem. The way that the sentence trails off after “To lead you to an overwhelming question…” implies that it is a loaded question, and one that will not be answered easily. Love could have served as a paradise for Prufrock, even a type of heaven. Yet he chose to forsake heaven for hell. Why anyone would do such a thing is a question that cannot possibly be answered easily. Prufrock spends the entire poem trying to explain this.

Aside from the question of why Prufrock let love get away from him, there is the question of what could have happened if he had, in fact, spoken his feelings. That question is what ultimately kept Prufrock from ever acting. The fear of what could have happened was simply too great. “And would it have been worth it, after all?” (86) Prufrock asks repeatedly. He does not know how to eloquently express himself – “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” (104). He imagines the possible outcomes of his declaration of love:

Would it have been worth while

If one, setting 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.” (106-110)

Prufrock harbors a fear that if he was to really express what he feels, he would be misunderstood, or, worse, rejected. That is the fear expressed in “That is not what I meant, at all.” He runs the risk of loving this woman and not being loved in return. Would it be worth risking this by declaring his love – “Would it have been worth while?” Prufrock will never truly know the answer to that question.

The poem reaches somewhat of a climax at the stanza discussed in the previous paragraph. Up to that point, the poem focuses on Prufrock’s deliberations and hypothetical questions. He contemplates what could have been: “Would it have been worth while,/ To have bitten off the matter with a smile,/ To have squeezed the universe into a ball…” (90-92). He also rationalizes his current situation: “For I have known them all already, known them all-/ Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,/ I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (49-51). All of these musings lead up to his ultimate question – the question of love. The poem climaxes with Prufrock’s greatest fear: that he should speak his mind to the woman he loves, and she replies, “That is not it at all, /That is not what I meant, at all” (109-110). In a sense, Prufrock has justified his cowardice up to this point. He has presented all of his reasons for not making his declaration. He has shown the reader all of the parts of himself that he was too afraid to show the world. Basically, up until this climax, Prufrock has been preparing himself for making his declaration.

Naturally, the letdown comes after the climax. Prufrock acknowledges his inabilities and begrudgingly realizes who he is:

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…

At times indeed, almost ridiculous –

Almost, at times, the Fool. (111-113; 118-119)

Shakespeare’s Hamlet, much like Prufrock, falls victim to great internal conflict and does not know how to act upon his feelings. They are both victims of indecision. However, in the end, Hamlet does act – which Prufrock never does. Prufrock acknowledges that he is simply not who he is – “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.” This is his rationalization for not acting on his emotions – that is simply not who he is. The role he is destined to play, instead, is that of “the Fool.” This is the great letdown. He will never be the person he wishes to be.

The social world is simply a world that Prufrock cannot be comfortable in. Who he feels he should be socially and who he truly is do not match up. He wishes to be able to assimilate flawlessly into the social world. “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each” (124), Prufrock observes. These mermaids are figures of women, precisely the figures that Prufrock cannot communicate with. He wishes for them to sing their song to him. However, “I do not think that they will sing to me” (125), Prufrock contends, accepting his life’s position. The mermaids can only exist as visions in Prufrock’s dreams. He has “lingered in the chambers of the sea/ By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown/ Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (128-130). He can dream of existing with these creatures until the reality hits him. “Human voices wake us,” bringing Prufrock to the real world, the human world, where he drowns. This is a world where he cannot exist. Only in his hell can he speak, asking himself the nagging question: “Would it have been worth it, after all?”

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183

The Self Esteem of J. Alfred Prufrock

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Elliot, depicts the thoughts of a modern day Hamlet. It follows, what seems like, the typical evening with Mr. Prufrock. He is a man that often loses himself in his own mind, efficiently losing his ability to commit to any action, out of the fear of judgement, rejection, and assumption. This horrible anxiety prevents him from truly experiencing, truly living. He lives an inactive life, constantly assuring himself that he has nothing to worry about since he has an endless amount of time. He lives by constantly shielding himself, separating himself from society. The philosopher, Francis Herbert Bradley’s quote, “No experience can lie open to inspection from outside” fully embodies Mr. J. Alfred Prufrock; Prufrock has a habit of not acting therefore not being able to experience a situation but rather just create scenarios in his mind of what might actually occur so that he may avoid any form of judgement or bad thought. It is as if Prufrock has placed a glass divider between him and the world, to protect himself from any harm.

Prufrock regularly pulls himself away from other people. He tends to wander on his own during the evening, wandering the empty, abandoned area of town, “Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells…” He finds these moments are calming, “like a patient etherized upon a table,” to go through these “streets that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent,” and never having to come in contact with any human. When going on these walks Prufrock simply observes the world, completely separating himself from it, acting like he is simply observing a painting, “Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets and watched the smoke that rises from the pipes of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows…” He will never interact but he will always watch, never having an experience but always having assumptions about said experience.

Prufrock prefers to keep to himself since he believes that everyone will reject him by just a mere glance of his appearance, “And I have known the eyes already, known them all- 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…” He assumes that everyone else will make assumptions about him, dissect him like a scientific experiment with their own eyes without ever getting to know him (a bit of irony since he does the same with other people, refusing to interact since he “already knows” what they will think of him). He thinks he knows fully what women say behind his back, “how his hair is growing thin!…But how his arms and legs are thin!” when in reality he has never even interacted with these women, “the women who come and go talking of Michelangelo.” Without interacting with these women, he loses the truth. He will never know of their opinions of him, if he never talks to them. He regularly observes these cultured women by standing back during social gatherings. He has done this so often, keeping his head low to the ground during these parties, that he is now familiar with these ladies by their arms, not their mind, “And I have known the arms already, known them all- arms that are braceleted and white and bare…” He consistently assumes that he knows of their gossip behind his back, preventing him from every acting upon them. If Prufrock simply interacts with these various women, he could be surprised on the outcome, perhaps they would like him or perhaps his suspicions were correct but he would then know for certain and fully experience the situation.

This fear of judgement is due to his low self esteem, the way he constantly degrades himself and does not allow himself to feel confident enough to act. Throughout the work, Prufrock shows his swing of emotions ranging from prideful of himself to once again being reminded that he is not as great as he believes he is. He refers to himself as the great John the Baptist, “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter…” but then flips around and states that he is actually not as great, “I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter…” In addition, he refers to his clothes, the physical objects he owns, as wonderful but he views himself as the opposite:

“With a bald spot in the middle of my hair- (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!”)”

Furthermore, his age really does play a role in the way he acts. Most of his self esteem issues stem from the fact that he is now physically aging to the point where it’s quite noticeable. It is as if he is reaching a midlife crisis, realizing that he has only a few more good years before he is bed bound, only a few more years until he is just like any other elderly man. Prufrock formerly believed that his life was full of lavish and pride but now, when “…the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker…”, he realizes that his time is short. He has not done all that he could have done, only contributing to his self destructive nature, preventing him from ever putting himself in the crowd and living in the moment.

Prufrock’s self loathing mindset has undoubtedly aided in his inability to socially interact but coupled with his philosophy of never ending time, it is made apparent that he will always observe and never have the experience. In an odd way, Prufrock is aware that he’s time is short but he forces himself to believe that there will always be time to act, a bit of self comfort,”And indeed there will be time…There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces you meet; there will be time to murder and create, and time for all the works and days of hands…” He tries to believe that he has all the time in the world to complete anything he has yet to complete. This belief has caused him to delay further action. Prufrock states that he has time but yet knows he does not, and furthermore, to add insult to injury, he doesn’t commit to any action. His inability to act is seen throughout the poem with this unknown question. This question is mentioned in various stanzas ranging from the first stanza, “…of insidious intent to lead you to an overwhelming question…oh, do not, ask, ‘What is it?’” to the end of the poem, “…to have squeezed the universe into a ball to roll it towards some overwhelming question…” It is followed by his own assumption that if he does ask this question, he will be reject vehemently by the asked, “And would it have been worth it, after all. Would it have been worthwhile…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.” His constant over thinking of situations and his constant procrastination contribute to his lack of experience, the lack of truth he holds. If he does not overcome both of these, he will only be able to assume that these women do not like him, that he will be rejected, that they will hate him but he will never know if this rings true.

In conclusion, the philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley’s quote, “No experience can lie open to inspection from outside” fully embodies Mr. J. Alfred Prufrock; Prufrock has a habit of not acting therefore not being able to experience a situation but rather just create scenarios in his mind of what might actually occur so that he may avoid any form of judgement or bad thought. He separates himself from the reality he lives in, would rather be alone to avoid being loathed by others and yet he loathes himself by simply assuming what others think of him. His low self esteem and lack of motivation has contributed to his self destructive nature; he can not fully experience, to uncover the truth of his reputation, if he is merely observing and avoiding it. He views the world through a glass window, wishing he could desperately be part of it but is too scared to act. Prufrock will continue to live in this dream like state, an observer state, “till human voices wake us, and we drown,” returning to reality.

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503

Imagery in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

When it came to modernist poetry, imagery was important to flesh out the lavish artistic style said poets loved to express, which in turn allowed them to declare themes and concepts clearer. T.S. Eliot, consider among the great poetic modernists, masterfully utilizes imagery through his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to illustrate the superficiality and weakness of its protagonist representative of society as a whole, and serve as a warning to any potential male readers of Eliot to not make a Prufrock of themselves.

T.S. Eliot uses imagery in his modernist poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” throughout the poem in a strange and unconventional way. Rather than build meaning, as typical with imagery, Eliot sets out to utilize imagery to take real meaning away. Over the course of the poem, the narrator, J. Alfred Prufrock, struggles to tell the reader his overwhelming question. He instead diverts attention to images or ideas that are ultimately meaningless to the grand scheme promised in the poem. One of the most left field and significant of these is when he remarks he “should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” This line has no real meaning and does not connect to anything going on in the rest of it. The reason for his diversion is to deflect focus from his serious thoughts into empty wonders. Ragged claws suggest a crustacean creature, which is significant for Prufrock’s character as these creatures are built around self-defense and keeping their sensitive being hidden away through a hard exterior. Prufrock wants to keep to himself and shed off any serious concerns with his defense of a wandering and unfocused mind. This stream of consciousness, while revealing of who Prufrock is on the inside to a degree, does nothing with its promise of some sort of life-altering overarching theme or question. Prufrock is afraid to reveal anything that could be taken as not as grand as he wants to be, so he keeps it inside of his shell. The thought of him wanting to be a crab may be random, but the image of a crab is significant, even if for the wrong reasons.

Prufock’s self-image is also crucial for understanding what the poem offers to say about the emasculation and growing pessimism that plagues men as Eliot saw. This comes from the imagery of Prufrock himself.

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair – [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!”] (Eliot 40-44)

Prufrock is a self-deprecator, a man afraid and unaccepting of his own masculinity. On multiple occasions, he draws attention to his bald spot. Balding in men is caused due to the male hormone dihydrotestosterone and while it is tough to say that this knowledge was common sense in Eliot’s time, it is still interesting to note with a contemporary perspective that Prufrock is, in a way, afraid of his own masculinity through his balding. Prufrock’s fickleness regarding his being makes him appear more as a feline than a man, obsessively grooming. It is important to note that no one in the poem actually says to his face that his limbs are thin and weak. Prufrock hypothesizes that people will say that, showing his low self-esteem and image. His necktie is simultaneously “rich and modest” and this juxtaposition compliments Prufrock’s scatterbrained and unfocused state of being; he cannot make up his own mind as to whether he is well off or just standard. Prufrock can be related to many males reading this poem, so Eliot uses him as an example of what a man should not be. In his own poem, Prufrock is a weak and spineless man who is too afraid of any notion of accepting responsibility or venturing out of his comfort zone, too afraid that he will instead insult and then be insulted in retaliation. Again, Prufrock further signals his alienation and insecurities with those around him with the line “to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,” which implies that he is afraid of showing his true self to people that he does not hold close to him, writing them all off as simply faces one meets (line 27). This idea of wearing a face is perhaps a direct allusion to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and his idea of a “persona.” Jung describes a persona as being “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual” (Jung, 190). This perfectly falls in line with what Prufrock is setting out to accomplish through this line. He is being self-defensive about his true self, hiding his real thoughts and weak personality behind a façade to not come off as cowardly, to make a more desirable impression on those around him, and those he feels attraction towards. After all, what sort of man is one worth taking notice of when he measures his life with coffee spoons, an image that signifies that he does not think far into the future and is more concerned with the materialistic entities surrounding him.

He projects this fear of commitment to his real world and those living within it and his favoring of nonsensical nothings outwards when he states he has known the arms already, known them all” of the people he always passes by (Eliot, line 62). His life is so mundane and his mind so single focused that he does not view the people around him as whole, just body parts. This image of floating body parts adds to his isolation and is rooted in Prufrock’s fear of women, or rather, of making any sort of impression on a woman. There is a brief moment in like 64 where he sees an arm “in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!” (line 64) The exclamation mark following this observation builds an image that Prufrock is fascinated by this woman, and her presence has left an impact on him so great that he truly emotes in the poem, and it is the only time than an exclamation in the poem is delivered due to the action of someone outside of Prufrock. However, this is not enough for him to come out of his emasculated shell, as he immediately forgets about this and slips back into his sterile monotonous tone describing the various objects about him.

J. Alfred Prufrock is a man who, in his modern times, has become complacent and passive, letting himself go to be taken by the powers that be through a trivial life on no true substance. Prufrock makes a point in saying there is “time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions” and this line perfectly sums up Prufrock’s decision making, or rather lack thereof (lines 22-23). Prufrock values his time, but only when it’s spent, ironically, doing nothing. Throughout the whole poem, Prufrock is making indecisions and is constantly revising his own vision of himself through preparing “masks” for others. This is a man who does not take action, but rather action takes him to nowhere in particular. Prufrock is afraid to make any real decisions that could remotely leave an unsatisfactory impact on the world, so he attempts to justify himself on multiple occasions at holding out on asking his important question by question how he should presume. (line 54). This is a man who has been emotionally castrated, and with that comes the associated post-complacency with the theoretical removal of the primary source of testosterone. Prufrock is too afraid to make any significant contact with a female because he’s afraid he will somehow offend her with his presence accidentally. Prufrock’s refusal of action and passivity is signaled most clearly when he declares he is “not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be” (line 111). Hamlet is, of course, the protagonist of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and he is a character whose sole defining trait is his inability to act. The entire play is Hamlet musing over whether he should or should not commit various acts, most significantly murder his uncle. By saying that he is not deserving to be Hamlet, Prufrock is affirming himself as even less decisive than a character whose sole purpose is to be indecisive. It also shows that Prufrock believes that he should never be considered the protagonist of even his own poem, and as such the poem does not really follow him but rather he follows various occurrences around him. Prufrock as a character does not really grow or change and him not wanting to be a protagonist and rather be a minor role who starts a couple of scenes ties into how he dresses moderately and wishes to not be noticed. Prufrock is so complacent that he describes mermaids as ignoring to sing to him. The singing of mermaids is often associated with using femininity to draw masculine men seeking pleasure to their dooms, but Prufrock is so emotionally sterile that his lack of masculinity offers nothing to the mermaids; he is not even worthy of being killed. Prufrock will remain walking through the fog, ever so passive and disregarding anything around him. At the end of the poem, Prufrock completely slips away into the ocean imagery that he had been alluding to for the whole poem. It appears he finally got his wish of becoming a crab, at least in his mind, which represents that he has successfully shelled himself away from the world. He ends the poem by saying that he, and the reader, have both drowned together, that Prufrock’s toxic self-pitying has gone on to infect the reader, and he is pulling the reader down into the dark ocean with him. This is what happens when we indulge in the life of someone as worthless as Prufrock, Eliot says.

Overall, T.S. Eliot utilizes all sorts of various images and descriptions to develop his character of J. Alfred Prufrock, who actually is not much of a character at all. Rather than develop Prufrock to be a compelling and interesting figure, Eliot does the exact opposite and draws him as pathetic and unremarkable through Purfrock’s own personal self-image and the way he views the world around him. Eliot’s purpose for doing this to poor Prufrock is to set him up as a figure representative of the detrimental effect that the modern age to Eliot has had on men such as Prufrock. Prufrock is an extreme case of emasculation and complacency, showing the weakening of pompous men and their crippling self-doubting that causes them to be weak and engage in inaction, bringing down the world and people around them in an ill fog of depression and unsureness. “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” on the surface is a run of the mill stream of consciousness about a man going for a walk, but Eliot fleshes the world and subject through rich imagery to deliver a point about superficiality in his modern day, delivering a cautionary tale to his male contemporary reader to not fall into the same pitfalls that Prufrock has vested onto himself.

Works Cited

Jung, Carl, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (London 1953) p. 190

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472

Analysis of Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

August 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” begins with an epigraph from Dante’s Inferno. Translated, it reads: “If I thought that I was speaking/ to someone who would go back to the world,/ this flame would shake no more./ But since nobody has ever/ gone back alive from this place, if what I hear is true,/ I answer you without fear of infamy.” The speaker in this case will only tell his story with the knowledge that living ears will never hear it. Eliot’s Prufrock faces the same situation; he has a story to tell – a love song to sing – that he didn’t have the courage to declare among the living. Only now, where nobody can hear him, can Prufrock finally say what cannot be said. He has been condemned to a kind of hell by his inaction.This hell is cast in a yellow light. Images of yellow overwhelming the landscape abound: “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, the yellow smoke that rubs its back upon the window-panes” (15-16). Yellow is a color associated with cowardice. Fittingly, Prufrock’s world is cast in this yellow light because his world is a world of cowardice. His inability to speak his feelings and the fear of what implications that would hold have confined him to where he is. Essentially, Prufrock has proved himself to be a coward. This prison is a coward’s prison. Had Prufrock sung the song he meant to sing, he would not be in hell.Yet it seems Prufrock had been planning to make his declaration. He always meant to say what had been plaguing him. He seemed to feel that he had all of the time in the world to act on his feelings:And indeed there will be timeFor the yellow smoke that slides along the street…There will be time, there will be timeTo prepare a face for the faces that you meet;There will be time to murder and create,And time for all the works and days of hands…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. (22-34)Prufrock’s time to act was limited, but he didn’t know it. He thought that time would be limitless (“There will be time, there will be time”), and he found that it wasn’t. The tragedy is now that Prufrock is finally speaking his mind, his words will nevertheless remain unheard. He has all the time he needs now, yet his true time has passed. He cannot speak to the woman he loves. He can only speak to a great void, certain that he will not be heard.The stanza mentioned in the previous paragraph illustrates Prufrock’s constant internal turmoil. He must “prepare a face to meet the faces” that he meets, for he cannot simply be who he is. The simple “taking of a toast and tea” requires “a hundred indecisions” and “a hundred visions and revisions.” He is so repressed that tea is a major trial. It is clear that the actions of everyday life bring great turmoil to Prufrock. He does not know how to act and does not know how to say what he wants to say. Every utterance is thought out and analyzed in his mind a hundred times. He is paralyzed by the fear of social criticism:And I have known the eyes already, known them all -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 beginTo spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?And how should I presume? (54-61)The image of Prufrock “pinned and wriggling on the wall” creates an image of him being totally exposed and on display. He is much like a specimen being primed for dissection. When on display, he is vulnerable to the criticism of his peers. The eyes that Prufrock speaks of are their eyes. Thus, one can see that simply functioning in the social world puts Prufrock in a state of extreme distress. He does not know how to act and fears being exposed. It is no wonder that he has difficulty declaring his feelings of love to a woman.This is the question that ultimately overwhelms Prufrock – the question of love. This question is presented in the first stanza: “Streets that follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent/ To lead you to an overwhelming question…/Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?'” (8-10). This “overwhelming question” haunts the rest of the poem. The way that the sentence trails off after “To lead you to an overwhelming question…” implies that it is a loaded question, and one that will not be answered easily. Love could have served as a paradise for Prufrock, even a type of heaven. Yet he chose to forsake heaven for hell. Why anyone would do such a thing is a question that cannot possibly be answered easily. Prufrock spends the poem trying to explain.Aside from the question of why Prufrock let love get away from him, there is the question of what could have happened if he had in fact spoken his feelings. That question is what ultimately kept Prufrock from ever acting. The fear of what could have happened was simply too great. “And would it have been worth it, after all?” (86) Prufrock asks repeatedly. He does not know how to eloquently express himself – “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” (104). He imagines the possible outcomes of his declaration of love:Would it have been worth whileIf one, setting 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.” (106-110)Prufrock harbors a fear that if he were to really express what he feels, he would be misunderstood, or, worse, rejected. That is the fear expressed in “That is not what I meant, at all.” He runs the risk of loving this woman and not being loved in return. Would it be worth risking this by declaring his love – “Would it have been worth while?” Prufrock will never truly know the answer to that question.The poem reaches somewhat of a climax at the stanza discussed in the previous paragraph. Up to that point, the poem focuses on Prufrock’s deliberations and hypothetical questions. He contemplates what could have been: “Would it have been worth while,/ To have bitten off the matter with a smile,/ To have squeezed the universe into a ball…” (90-92). He also rationalizes his current situation: “For I have known them all already, known them all-/ Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,/ I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (49-51). All of these musings lead up to his ultimate question – the question of love. The poem climaxes with Prufrock’s greatest fear: that he should speak his mind to the woman he loves, and she replies, “That is not it at all, /That is not what I meant, at all” (109-110). In a sense, Prufrock has justified his cowardice up to this point. He has presented all of his reasons for not making his declaration. He has shown the reader all of the parts of himself that he was too afraid to show the world. Basically, up until this climax, Prufrock has been preparing himself for making his declaration.Naturally, the letdown comes after the climax. Prufrock acknowledges his inabilities and begrudgingly realizes who he is:No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;Am an attendant lord, one that will doTo swell a progress, start a scene or two…At times indeed, almost ridiculous -Almost, at times, the Fool. (111-113; 118-119)Shakespeare’s Hamlet, much like Prufrock, falls victim to a great internal conflict, and does not know how to act upon his feelings. They are both victims of indecision. However, in the end, Hamlet does act – which Prufrock never does. Prufrock acknowledges that that is simply not who he is – “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.” This is his rationalization for not acting on his emotions – that is simply not who he is. The role he is destined to play, instead, is that of “the Fool.” This is the great letdown. He will never be the person he wishes to be.The social world is simply a world that Prufrock cannot be comfortable in. Who he feels he should be socially and who he truly is simply do not match up. He wishes to be able to assimilate flawlessly into the social world. “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each” (124), Prufrock observes. These mermaids are figures of women, precisely the figures that Prufrock cannot communicate with. He wishes for them to sing their song to him. However, “I do not think that they will sing to me” (125), Prufrock contends, accepting his life’s position. The mermaids are can only exist as visions in Prufrock’s dreams. He has “lingered in the chambers of the sea/ By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown/ Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (128-130). He can dream of existing with these creatures, until the reality of it all hits him. “Human voices wake us,” bringing Prufrock to the real world, the human world, where he drowns. This is a world where he cannot exist. Only in his hell can he speak, asking himself the nagging question: “Would it have been worth it, after all?”

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398

Sterility and Communion in T.S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins

July 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

Twenty some years after the death of Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot began where Hopkins had left off. In one of his earliest poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot picked up the hopelessness – hopelessness motivated by a sense of isolation – that had pervaded Hopkins later poetry. Both poets battled with their faith in their own importance. Both poets felt at a distance from the world, and as a result felt ineffectual and impotent to impact the world around them. This hopelessness is reflected in their jagged images and verse. With Eliot it is particularly pronounced in his early poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, while the same hopelessness is seen in Hopkins’ later poetry; the so called “terrible sonnets”. But, fortunately, for the poets, these times of hopelessness were not unending. Eliot escaped the hopelessness in his later life, as is particulalry evident in The Four Quartets. Hopkins only dealt with the hopelessness in his later life, and in his earlier poetry such as “The Windhover” and “The Grandeur of God”, Hopkins is in great communion with the world. The period of skepticism was tempered by a time of great hope for each poet, a period that stemmed from their sense of communion with the world around them. From the beginning of his beginning‹”The Love Song of J .Alfred Prufrock” – Eliot is at odd with the worlds around him. He contrasts himself with his surroundings in the first lines of “The Love Song of J .Alfred Prufrock”:Let us go then, you and IWhen the evening is spread out against the skyLike a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreatsOf restless nights in one-night cheap hotels (1-6)The opening two lines put the sky into motion; has it expand outwards. But in the third line, in contrast to this quick development and movement of his surroundings, Eliot is ‘etherized upon a table.’ He is ‘etherized’, motionless, in contrast to the expanding sky. After the third line Eliot immediately returns to the movement of the world around him: the retreats that mutter, and the nights that restlessly move. This stanza aptly captures the sense that Eliot is paralyzed in the face of the quickly moving world, a sense that pervades the rest of the poem.The people around him are part of the speedy surroundings from which he is isolated. The contrast between himself, and the people around him is apparent when he tries to put into words the apparent thoughts of those around him:And indeed there will be timeTo 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-(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!’) (37-44)Eliot imagines the people quickly thinking and judging him, and Eliot’s recreation of these people’s thoughts grows ever more intense from the four foot first line to the eight foot last lines. This quickly growing space between line breaks serves as a clear direction for crescendo. In the beginning of this stanza he mentions that there will be time to wonder, to ask questions such as ‘Do I dare?’ But there does not appear to be time for thinking in the midst of the racing thoughts of the world around him. This suspicion is confirmed when Eliot demonstrates the speed of his own thinking in the next lines where, in 2 pondering 3 beat lines he wonders:Do I dareDisturb the universe? (45-6)This point when he does come to ‘wonder’ brings the verse to a skidding halt. His ruminations all come as a sharp decrescendo from his perception of the flow of the thoughts and movement in the world around him. The speed of his own thinking in relation to the world around him (the first part of this stanza) marks his isolation from the furiously moving world. This isolation is heightened by the animation and activity of everything around him. The universe is “squeezed . . . into a ball to roll”(92) and a lantern “threw the nerves in patterns on a screen” (105). In the most memorable personification, yellow fog “rubs its back upon the windowpanes,” and “licked its tongue into the corners of the evening” (15-6). The flux and activity of everything around him acts to paralyze Eliot. This is explained in the stanza that where Eliot begins by mentioning that “[I] Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons” (50) (By stating these three long time spans so quickly, and in the past tense, Eliot elucidates how quickly the time is flying past.) He gives the speeding times of day, eyes, and says, “I have known the eyes already, known them all – / The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase” (55-6). The paralysis into which the quickly moving time formulates him is never more vividly captured than when he says that the capturing eye has made him like a quieted butterfly in a preservative case, “sprawling on a pin” (57).The movement of the world around him has rendered Eliot impotent because the activity and flux of the world makes his own decisions worthless. Eliot’s desire to have some impact on his surroundings is apparent when he slowly asks whether he will “dare to disturb the universe”. But, the activity of his surroundings quickly sweeps over his question. He is unable to make this decision because, as he explains, “in a minute there is time/ For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (47-8). His decisions are futile because of the understanding that any decision that he makes can easily be reversed in the next moment.This futility is reflected by his constant repetition of words and phrases. In “A Game of Chess” from The Wasteland Eliot talks about a place “where the dead men lost their bones,” (116) a place where not even death is dead enough, because then the dead lose even their physical claim to life (i.e. their bones). This description is a response to the words of a woman who chatters away: “‘My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, Bad. Stay with me./ ‘Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak./ ‘What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?”(111-3). Eliot’s description of the place as deader than dead immediately follows this woman’s short monologue. The description is a reaction to the lifelessness of the woman’s words. She says nothing, and repeats this nothing over and over again. Her inability to say anything is an inability to create, i.e. sterility. Eliot obliquely uses the same technique in “Prufrock” to define his own sterility. In the same way that the woman in “A Game of Chess” repeats the same questions over and over, when he imagines himself asking a question he thinks that he will ask, “‘Do I dare?’ and, Do I dare?'” (38). Later, in three consecutive stanzas he begins by asking “For I have known them all already, known them all‹” (49) (with slight differences in each stanza) and closes each stanza by asking “So how should I presume” (54) (with slight changes). This technique is particularly effective in “Prufrock” because his own inability to say anything new is contrasted to the constant barrage of new images in his surroundings. In the body of each of these stanzas Eliot describes a different aspect of the world around him, while he is still and asking the same question over and over again.In the last stanzas of “Prufrock” Eliot elucidates and qualifies the depths of his isolation and impotence. Through a theatrical metaphor he returns to the question of whether he will “disturb the universe”. He acknowledges he is “not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be” (111); recognizing that he is no lead player, but, as consolation, he tells himself that he can at least be an ‘attendant lord’ that will help to ‘swell the progress’ (113). Upon further consideration, though, even this thought of impact on the world around him is stripped as he says that he would probably be ‘almost ridiculous’ and in the last line resigns to the fact that he would probably only be ‘the Fool’ (119). At this point he has realized the fallacy of his self-aggrandizing idea that he could impact the world. But he then comes to question whether he even has power over his own life. He begins by granting that,I grow old . . . I grow old . . . I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. (120-1)thereby allowing himself the power to decide to ‘roll his trousers’. But even this momentary glimpse of confidence is shattered when in the next line he asks:Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? (122)At this point he wonders if he does have the power to do such benign things as rolling his trousers, and eating peaches. In these 3 stanzas he has taken himself from a consideration of himself on the grandest scale, as Hamlet, to himself on the most pitiful scale. At the end he questions even his power to impact himself. His impotence grows ever more personal, and therefore ever more complete. By the end he has come to see the scale at which he is isolated from his surroundings, and resignedly laments:I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.I do not think that they will sing to me. (124-5)He closes the poem with this slow realization of the sad truth of his situation: that he is not part of his surroundings. He is, to take the argument back to the beginning, a patient on the table, aware that life is going on around him, but unable to take part in that life.While Eliot’s early poetry, such as “Prufrock”, concludes with this somber tone of depression, Hopkins, in his early poetry, harps on the joy that the world around him brings. In the sonnet “Spring”, Hopkins discusses a few marvels of the natural world. He mentions the thrush’s eggs and a peartree, and in the end asks, “What is all this juice and all this joy?” (9). With the ‘and’ Hopkins paratactically places the juices or beauty of nature as parallel and simultaneous with his own joy. And Hopkins sees beauty everywhere; as he mentions in “God’s Grandeur”, “nature is never spent” (9).He is most interested in the dappled beauty of nature. In his discussion of the topic in his poem “Pied Beauty”, he says, “Glory be to God for dappled things.” In the beginning of this poem Hopkins lays down some specific images that reflect this quality:For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches wings; (2-4)These descriptions of the speckled trout and chestnut leaves provide examples of such dappled beauty. By using the word ‘dappled’ Hopkins draws attention to the irregularity of the coloration of each of these objects. The sprung rhythm that Hopkins uses in most of his early poems discussing nature, is a fitting poetic form for recreating the ‘dappled’ coloring of nature. Sprung rhythm brings the stress down irregularly. Each stress can be seen as a glint of light in the midst of the darker moments of slack around them. When the stresses are irregular the aural sensation becomes more like the irregularity of the coloring of nature. As Hopkins explains in the preface to these poems, “Two licenses are natural to Sprung Rhythm. The one is rests, as in music . . . The other is hangers or outrides, that is one, two or three slack syllables.” Because of all these irregularities the reader must focus particular attention on the sonic details of the poem. Hopkins’ placement of the sonic elements of his poem as equal to the textual elements is displayed in the first line of “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”. There he says, “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;” (1). The textual simile mirrors the brightness of the bird to the brightness of the insect. But in this line Hopkins also creates a sonic simile, as the two hard k sounds in the first clause are mirrored in the two hard d sounds in the second clause. The sonic metaphor can be seen as merely amplifying the textual metaphor, but it seems that the textual metaphor can just as easily be seen as amplifying the sonic metaphor. In this double metaphor Hopkins’ places great weight on the auditory element of his poem. This is in accordance with his use of sprung rhythm, which he said “is the rhythm of all but the most monotonously regular music, so that in words of choruses and refrains and in songs written closely to music it arises.” In this introduction Hopkins discusses only the auditory value of sprung rhythm, and does not once mention the value of sprung rhythm for more accurately capturing a textual detail. The particular concern that Hopkins displayed for the auditory part of his poems is reflected in the double metaphor.His line breaks show Hopkins’ willingness to subordinate the textual details to the aural atmosphere created. From “The Windhover”:I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his ridingOf the rolling level underneath him steady air, and stridingHigh there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wingIn his ecstasy!No line break until this fifth line provides a break. Hopkins carries phrases over the line breaks, in the second line even breaking up a single word over a line break. This elimination of the tradition point of rest gives the verse an added fluidity. The first line break is especially apparent in its singular concern for sound. By breaking up the word ‘kingdom’ Hopkins dulls the immediate textual impact of the word. But the vowel sound of ‘king’ amplifies the vowel sound of ‘minion’, and the placing of the syllable ‘dom’ in the second line contributes to the alliteration there. In his willingness to dull the textual impact in the interest of the sonic impact Hopkins shows his willingness to subordinate the textual meaning of the word to the fluidity and lyrical quality of the poem. Through meter, word choice, and line breaks Hopkins places more emphasis on the lyrical and auditory quality of the poem, and takes emphasis off of the textual meaning of words. As Eliot found 40 years later, the most effective way to capture divisiveness in nature is to present jagged points. When Eliot wanted to convey his isolation from the world he poetically phrased himself as a jagged element, at odds with the quickly moving world around him. The jaggedness of Eliot’s early poetry reflects that all is not at peace in the world. This shifts the emphasis away from the specific and places it on the more holistic quality of sonic fluidity, and thereby avoids any saliency, or jaggedness.It should be noted that Hopkins found the same activity and animation of the world around him that Eliot did in his early poetry. While in “Prufrock” this motion of the world was the very cause of Eliot’s isolation, Hopkins relies upon the constant movement for the fluidity of his prose. But these happy days did not remain for Hopkins. In his later life he moved into a period where he wrote the so called ‘terrible-sonnets’. After the dappled colors of his early poems, in sonnet 67 he says he has seen “the fell of dark” (1). His acute vision, that brought the dappled beauty of the world is gone, and in its stead, in sonnet 69 he casts “for comfort I can no more get/ By groping round my comfortless, than blind/ Eyes in their dark can day or this can find” (5-7).Gone with this light is the aural fluidity of his early poems. In one of the most dark poems, “Carrion Comfort”, instead of the sonorous alliteration of the earlier poetry, there are hard clashing words. The first words are, “Not, I’ll not.” The short vowel sound of ‘not’, and the hard consonants on either side of the ‘o’, are at odds with the long vowel sound of ‘I’ll’. These first words set up the almost cacophonous aural experience that “Carrion Comfort’ is. The poem goes on:Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee,Not untwist, – slack they may be‹these last strands of man (1-2)Each phrase seems an independent phrase at odds with those surrounding. The phrase ‘carrion comfort’ has little sonic similarity to the phrase ‘not feast on thee’. The alliteration that littered the early poetry, and that took the emphasis off of specific words is gone. Instead Hopkins places extreme emphasis on specific words. The word ‘Despair’, which is so significant in describing this new state, is set off from the surrounding verse with commas. The word ‘Despair’ is also emphasized by its lack of auditory similarity with the words around it.Hopkins de-emphasis of words in his early poetry is especially apparent when considered next to this later poetry where specific words – not the sonic elements – are the core of the poem. To emphasize words in these later poems he often repeats especially telling words. In sonnet 67 the following lines show this technique:And my lamentIs cries countless, cries like dead letters sentTo dearest him that lives alas! away.The repetition of ‘cries’ gives a very specific sense of Hopkins’ emotional state. In this excerpt Hopkins once again sets apart a significant word: ‘away’ is removed by placing punctuation marks on either side of it. This particular point of emphasis brings Hopkins feelings in line with what Eliot was feeling in his particularly despairing poems. Hopkins, as a Jesuit priest, had found communion with the world through God in his early poetry. In “Hurrahing in Harvest”, he had said, “I walk, I lift up heart, eyes,/ Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour”. Whereas he found a connection with God, and hence with the world in his early poetry, in sonnet 67, one of the ‘terrible sonnets’ he emphasizes that God is ‘away’. He moves even closer to Eliot when, in sonnet 66 he moans that “To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life/ Among strangers. Father and mother dear, Brothers and sisters are in Christ not mood” This sense of isolation brings him to the point where, in sonnet 74 he calls himself ‘time’s eunuch’. This direct use of the idea of sterility brings Hopkins into almost perfect alignment with the Eliot who was ‘formulated’, and ‘sprawling on a pin’; so ineffectual that he cannot even decide whether he will eat a peach. But while Hopkins climbed onto the etherizing table in his later life, Eliot, in his own later life, climbed off the table to partake in the world. The Four Quartets represent the apex of his new hopeful view that is in accordance with Hopkins’ early poetry. Eliot’s seascape in “The Dry Salvage”, one of The Four Quartets, demonstrates his new, more fluid and integrated view of the world: the sea is all about us;The sea is the land’s edge alsoThis new image of the land merging with the shore should be contrasted to that coast presented in “Sweeney Erect,” one of his earlier poems. There he said, Paint me a cavernous waste shoreCast in the unstilled Cyclades,Paint me the bold anfractuous rocksFaced by the snarled and yelping seas.In this earlier vision the sea and the land are wildly separated and violently at odds with each other. This is a sharp contrast to the border that exists in the “The Dry Salvage”; a border which has really ceased to be a border at all. In his earlier poems he saw insurmountable borders between everything‹particularly between himself and the rest of the world. The revised view of a border that Eliot displays in “The Dry Salvages” is reflective of his changing perception of his isolation from the world. In the later poems Eliot does away with the jagged line breaks and constantly fluctuating meter that bespoke of Eliot’s division from the world in “Prufrock”. In the beginning of ‘Marina’, a poem that led to the hopefulness of The Four Quartets, Eliot returns to the ‘anfractuous’ meter seen in “Prufrock”:Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaningDeathThose who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaningDeathThose who sit in the sty of contentment, meaningDeathThose who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaningDeathAre becoming unsubstantial, reduced by a wind,A breath of pine, and the woodsong fogBy this grace dissolved in placeIn the beginning of this stanza the arresting line breaks and repetition of words recalls the topics of sterility, and isolation of his earlier poems. In ‘Marina’ he uses this anfractuous form to discuss death, an idea akin to those gloomy ideas discussed in his early poetry. But Eliot quickly moves on, and, in much more regular meter, says that all that was in this stanza of anfractuous images and meter – the essence of his early poetry – is ‘becoming unsubstantial’. Fresh images of life – ‘the breath of pine’ and the ‘grace’ of this natural scene – renders the anfractuous meter and gloomy images unsubstantial. He rarely uses jagged meter in The Four Quartets, but when he does, whereas in “The Love Song of J .Alfred Prufrock” it was used to display his isolation from the world, in ‘The Dry Salvage’ he uses it to reinforce the communion of the world:The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oarAnd the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,Many gods and many voices.The salt is on the briar rose,The fog is in the fir trees.The sea howlAnd the sea yelpIn “Prufrock” Eliot used such quick changes in meter to place elements at odd with each other. His own slow question “Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?” was in contrast to the racing lines that came before because he was at odds with the people described before. In this excerpt from the “Dry Salvages”, however, the metrical change is used to emphasize how the salt and the fog and the howl are all really one; are part of the ‘many voices’. The term ‘many voices’ harks back to the ‘lobsterpot’ and the ‘broken oar’, and calls forward to the salt and the fog, thereby placing all of these elements in a unified category. By placing the salt and the fog metrically apart Eliot allows the reader to connect these elements to the elements that came before. It is vital to also notice his revised use of fog in the two passages mentioned so far. In the first passage Eliot speaks of the ‘woodsong fog,’ while in the second passage he remarks that the ‘fog is in the fir trees’. In both of these two poems the fog is mentioned in passing, as a static element of the landscape, not an active part itself. The fog ‘is’ here, whereas in “Prufrock” the fog “rubs its back upon the windowpanes,” and “licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.” Both Eliot’s revised use of the word ‘fog’ and his revised use of jagged meter are indicative of the calm and peace that has settled over Eliot’s later poetry. This shift to calm brings him to comment on the communion of the world numerous times in The Four Quartets. In the closing moments of the dry salvages he celebrates a world where music is “heard so deeply/ That it is not heard at all, but you are the music/ While the music lasts.” This startlingly beautiful image could just as easily be describing Hopkins early poetry where the world is taken into the mind, and there transfigured into music, as Hopkins had mentioned in his preface. This complete union is elaborated upon when Eliot remarks that, “Here the impossible union/ Of spheres of existence is actual.”

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