T. S. Eliot, an English poet and playwright, wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1910. It was one of his earliest works while studying at Harvard University and living in London. The poem was not published until 1915 in Poetry magazine

However, it was later incorporated into the 1920 collection of Poems. The collection also included two other poems, The Death of Saint Narcissus and Rhapsody on a Windy Night, originally written around the same time as Prufrock. The plot concerns the main character, an indecisive man named J. Alfred Prufrock.

The Love Song Introduction

“The Love Song” is a great poem. When the reader first meets Prufrock, he is described as an undulating pettifogger. The one who is metaphorically castrated represents him being out of touch with his emotions. Essentially, this implies that if a person lacks empathy, they also lack sexuality and are incapable of action.

 Furthermore, this poem embodies the sense that sexual potency can come at a price. It often means cutting yourself off from intimacy and expression with others in both sex and language. In other words, when someone has made themselves unavailable to others in some way (emotionally), they have made themselves available for all sorts of things that don’t require emotional investment.

In-depth Analysis of “The Love song Of J Alfred Prufrock”

First Section

“The Love Song” is a dramatic monologue the speaker explains the preoccupations and anxieties of his inner life. The poem begins when the writer demonstrates a complete lack of self-confidence and self-awareness in an individual he calls J. Alfred Prufrock.

It begins when the speaker appears to be talking to another person, but as the poem continues, it comes up as a reflection of his own personality. Prufrock is at a point in his life contemplating his mortality. He constantly fears death and dying but does not know how to overcome these fears. It is because he feels that time is running out for him (lines 16-18).

In line 29, Prufrock says I have seen them already, which most likely refers to those who have died. Ironically,  there are no other people around for him to refer to. By being surrounded by death and facing the reality of death, Prufrock has been affected by it.

For example, in lines 18-19, he mentions the most handsome man, which could either refer to himself or someone else. Although there are different opinions on what this means, one interpretation might be that this was meant as an attempt for Prufrock to describe himself as handsome even though, deep down, he knows his real self.

Another interpretation might be that this was meant as an insult toward another man. Either way, it is clear from these few lines that Prufrock is having some internal conflict about how others see him or whether or not he believes himself to be handsome.

Section Two

In this section, Prufrock struggles with love, mortality, and society. Though he does not reveal his name to the reader, Eliot hints at Prufrock’s identity through subtle imagery. For example, his appearance reflects someone in mourning which has lost a close companion.

The writer also says that he is from Boston based on references to Cambridge both near the beginning and at the end of the poem. Additionally, some scholars believe that Prufrock could be an early representation of gay men in literature since at least one aspect of his persona matches an expected stereotype.

Section Three

This section further reflects his fears while steering the ship. It seems that Prufrock is aware of the people’s intentions. He is aware that people give him a doubting look with some clichéd phrase, and I am an insect specimen pinned and wriggling against the wall. Yet, he fails to erase the memories that haunt him. He further states that he knows all kinds of women. For example, women with pretty bracelet hands and women who attract others using captivating fragrances and unique dressing styles.

As the poem continues, the reader realizes that his thoughts have no connection. He starts describing the things that do not lead us to a definite conclusion. While expressing his thoughts, he continues to say that his expression is worthless as people look down upon him. He knows his ideas are not connected and nervous. He longs for a magic lantern to sequence his broken thoughts with its magnificent light.

Section Four

In this part of the poem, the speaker says he is not Prince Hamlet, who can steal the show. He is just an ordinary character whose purpose is to fill the audience. He compares himself to a helpful tool, always happy to be useful. He further says he is full of positive thoughts, philosophical ideas and polite manners, but his expression is baseless and obscure.

 He compares himself to a clown who is getting old and losing interest in life. The poem ends with an obscure scene where mermaids are returning to the sea and waiting for the humans to wake up so that they can drown in the sea.

Section Five

Eliot comes full circle in the final line when he decides to end his tale and retire from his worries: I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. Although it sounds like a romanticized scene from Disney, Eliot may mean this literally.

Suppose he did intend for this ending to be as reality. In that case, one could assume that he sees his depression being relieved with the knowledge that others are doing well and enjoying themselves, no matter how much others may want him to be dissatisfied or miserable all the time. He can listen without interruption to these mermaids who keep him company through all night hours; they do not care if he wakes up in a cold sweat.

Concluding Remarks

T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, is a beautifully melancholy account of the persona negotiating new-found love, reflecting on it with ambivalence and uncertainty. There are many indications throughout the poem that Prufrock is hesitant to make any commitment or decision in his life; this seems to be indicative of his general indecisiveness and lack of conviction.

Suggested Readings:

Who influenced T. S Eliot?

“London” by William Blake