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