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The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock: The Lament for the Modern Man This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock by T. S. Eliot uses stream of consciousness to present the inner thoughts and life of a thoroughly modern man. In poetic verse, Elliot recounts Prufrock’s hopes and desires, his failures and shortcomings, all from the perspective of Prufrock himself. Yet the common refrain, “Do I dare” suggests that despite the benefits of education, society, and experience, Prufrock is both crippled by overwhelming insecurity and reduced to finding refuge in a world of fantasy rather than reality.

The poem describes the musings of the man J. Alfred Prufrock as he goes to a lady’s house for tea. There he hopes to “have the strength to bring the moment to its crisis” (80) and pursue the relationship, perhaps by proposing to the woman. At times, Prufrock seems to be addressing the lady; at other moments, he appears to be talking to himself. Throughout the poem, Eliot slowly reveals that Prufrock has a tortured psyche. He is overeducated to the point of ignorance, and so eloquent that he becomes inarticulate. For example, though Prufrock’s ramblings lead the reader through verses filled with references from famous art and literature, Prufrock’s true message that he is trying to convey is difficult to follow. It seems that it is Prufrock lacks the self-assurance to express himself without the support of those who have come before him. Though well versed in classical education (often referencing characters such as Lazarus from the Bible and Hamlet from Shakespeare) Prufrock is emotionally stilted and somewhat neurotic. He is hindered by mental barriers that keep him from interacting with the world and its people. A common refrain is “Do I dare?” This constant hesitation and fear on the part of Prufrock suggests that indeed the protagonist will not be able to overcome his fear of what will happen if he attempts to change himself or the world. Prufrock’s crippling insecurity and shame cause him alienation from the society he wishes to be accepted into, despite that he describes the society as a superficial one, where time is measured by coffee spoons, and “the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo,”(36) implying that the women value the outer beauty that is expressed in paintings and sculptures and little else. Indeed, Prufrock agonizes over how others will see him, especially as he ages, writing how people will comment “How his hair is growing thin!...But how his arms and legs are thin!” (40,44) Prufrock has the same opinion of the world around him as he does of society. Though he longs to play a part in it—“Do I dare/Disturb the universe?” (45,46)—he sees it as a dirty, disturbing place with “yellow smoke that slides along the street (24) where he has “watched the smoke that rises from the pipes/ [and] lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows…” (69,70,71) Prufrock prefers to take refuge in his own fantastical world, where he has “…lingered in the chambers of the sea/ by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown.” (128,129) But the tortured Prufrock is not even allowed to stay in the land of his dreams, for always, a “human voice wake[s him]…” (131) Overall, the Loves Song tells the story of a man with many insecurities, but also many great insights into the world. If only he could break the barriers of fear that keep him from expressing himself, Prufrock would evolve from a pitied, useless man to one who would be widely respected for his wisdom. Sadly, Prufrock does not seem capable of overcoming fear of the criticism that he expects from the outside world.

The rhyme scheme of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is as fascinating as it is irregular. While the rhyme scheme of the poem may seem almost non-existent, a pattern that relies on intermittent rhyming and refrains becomes evident, especially when the poem is read aloud. Refrains play a key part in the structure of the poem, ending the rambling of Prufrock’s narrative and reminding the reader of the original theme. Two prevalent refrains are “In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo,” and Prufrock’s question “How should I presume?” These refrains reflect the obsessive repetition of Prufrock’s troubled mind. The unstructured, often rhyming verses also serve to realistically show-case the disjointed thoughts of a man’s mind in turmoil. Prufrock’s description of the city, which serves as a metaphor for the world at large, show-cases this disorderly style: “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;/Streets that follow like a tedious argument/Of insidious intent.” (6-10) At times Prufrock rhymes, but as he grows more disconsolate and paranoid, he trails off into free verse.

The poem eerily captures the thoughts of a man who is struggling to find a place in the world. Prufrock’s conflicted feelings of wanting to express himself, yet being afraid to do so are the foundation of modern man. In a world obsessed with meaningless knowledge, physical appearance, and lofty, though shallow aspirations, it is difficult for the Prufrocks of the world to find a place where they can be appreciated for who they truly are. Prufrock waxes pessimistic and sour in some parts of the poem, but it is easy to see his spirit is at time heroic. He is a man who still fights against himself and the world that disdains him, in order to prove to those around him, and himself, that he can make a difference. Though the poem trails off despairingly, ending our small view into Prufrock’s consciousness, it is evident that Prufrock is a man of strength who will be able to overcome his inhibitions in the real world and finally find the same articulateness to address the world which he uses to address himself. Prufrock will be able to overcome his inhibitions because he has the ability to see and understand his imperfections (the poem could be simplified into a list of Prufrock’s fears and failures). Because Prufrock sees and understands his shortcomings, there is hope that he will be able to overcome them.



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