The translation of the extract from the Dante’s Inferno (hell):
"If I thought my answers were to given to anyone who would flame could stand still without moving any further. But since never from this abyss has anyone ever returned alive, if what I hear is true without fear of infamy I answer you."
These words were spoken by a lost soul in the Dante’s Inferno. The condition of that soul and Prufrock is same, for both there is no escape. Prufrock’s condition and the condition of the hell is self induced. The instances are brought about by oneself.
The tile of the poem is ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ the emphasis on the ‘The’ tells us that T.S. Eliot speaks about the love song of everyone in that age i.e. love song of the entire western modernity. It also denotes the singular importance of this poem. It is considered in the poet’s opinion the defining love song- a reflection of what the average western man undergoes during that era.
In the title the first name of the lover is reduced to just initials and the middle name which is usually mentioned in initials is expanded. According to tradition and various cultures the name given to an individual is accompanied by a prominent person’s name, the households name and so on. Alfred was the name of a king at that time hence Prufrock expanded it for importance. Therefore we see that there is actually no identity of his own. This signifies a condition called as trunkage of identity and this stands for a certain crisis. His own identity is reduced to gain the identity of someone who is supposedly much more important than him. Prufrock as a name, on the other hand, reminds of something that is covered, hidden or protected, hence an inability to face circumstances.The title hence connects to the poem.
‘In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo’
The poet here in these lines has juxtaposed the sublime and ludicrous or ridiculous.
Here Michelangelo is supposed to be sublime.
Michelangelo must be talked about in an intellectual assembly or an artistic assembly.
Artistic assembly is that where persons who know about that particular art come. They all have enough knowledge about that and they come there to enjoy the art and not learn it hence there cannot be any influence or conversion. Whereas in an intellectual meeting there is exchange of ideas thoughts so there can always be a change in your ideas or you might change the ideas of others, hence there is scope for conversions, all the seminars, workshops etc. are hence intellectual assemblies.
But as we look into the poem we see that in the ‘room’ is neither an artistic assembly nor an intellectual assembly hence ludicrous. Hence the juxtaposition of sublime or something great and ludicrous or ridiculous.
Prufrock uses it in his song because he is a hollow man who tries to gain respect and importance by dropping in names to make it sound intellectual.
Also the constant association of women with silliness represents his patriarchal nature and prejudice towards women.
There is also the paradox of Michelangelo being homosexual and women talking about him.
In the second stanza he describes the evening by using the metaphor of a cat. Imageries used here are not at all pleasant as yellow is not supposed to be a pleasant colour and fog is also not pleasant taking into consideration the weather of England where people yearn for sunshine.
The extended metaphor of a cat is used here to describe the fog. This also has a very industrial imagery referring to the soot that falls from the chimney.
The whole imagery in the 2nd stanza is very interesting, there is this cat (fog) who is gets up from its sleep, moves around, there is a lot of action and enthusiasm, and falls back to sleep (Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.). Which shows the state of mind of Prufrock, who gets all active to do something (maybe propose his lover) but finally gives up.
In the third stanza, there is a contrast with Andrew Marvell’s ‘ To his coy mistress’. Andrew Marvell in his poem says there is no time otherwise he could have admired one part of his mistress for a thousand years and hence tries to persuade his mistress to make love with him and not waste anymore time. In contrast to this Prufrock tries to delay things (his proposal) by saying that there will be time ….
On the other hand Biblical reference is also used. ‘there is a time to do everything or for anything to happen there is a fixed time’ is a very spiritual idea. But here he uses it just to delay things.
In the fourth line he says ‘ There will be time, there will be time’, the same thing is repeated two times because he does not have the confidence and wants to buy time by repeating the lines.
Pinto, Anil. Class Lecture. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 25 Feb 2009.
3 March 2009
The poem is about the subconscious and the conscious tension. It is a dramatic monologue with Prufrock’s beloved as the silent listener. The unconscious can also be also be taken as the silent listener here.
As the poet comes to the fourth stanza he is no more talking about where to go, all that is over now. But in the fourth stanza he goes one step back when he is again wondering whether he dared to propose or not. Then again we notice that there is no link between the 2nd and the 3rd lines of this stanza in normal terms as in the French movie called ‘Un Chien Andalou’. From saying “Do I dare?” he immediately turns to saying “Time to turn back and descend the stair”. Its almost as if he was turning back from that question itself. Here, according to me, as Prufrock goes down the stairs, a view from above gives an image of a man walking down the stairs and you can see his head from the top with a bald spot on it. In the lines of this stanza we see that the poet is concerned about his appearance and is not happy with it. He thinks he can make up for his baldness with his dressing. He is almost perfectly dressed but he is still not satisfied as he thinks that the pin that holds the necktie is too simple.
Then again he diverts his question to saying:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
If you think about it you will realize that disturbing the universe is a major thing, that has rarely happened in the history till now. And this person who cannot ask a girl a simple question talks about disturbing the world! In the next line he is trying to be optimistic by saying that there is time in a minute also, meaning there are so many seconds in a minute, to take decisions and then reversing them again,
“In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse”
In the fifth stanza, there is again a juxtaposition where he measures his life with coffee spoons. Life, which is supposed to be so precious and priceless, he measures it with coffee spoons! Hence the juxtaposition sublime and ludicrous.
From the sixth stanza onwards starts the most painful and disgusting of all imageries. The poet uses synecdoche here, which means a term denoting a part of something is used to refer to the whole thing , or a term denoting a thing (a "whole") is used to refer to part of it , a term denoting a specific class of thing is used to refer to a larger, more general class, a term denoting a general class of thing is used to refer to a smaller, more specific class, or a term denoting a material is used to refer to an object composed of that material.
In the sixth and seventh stanza the poet says he knows the eyes and he knows the arms respectively, which shows that he knows only in part and hence his mind is very fragmented.
“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?
Imagine about hundred eyes fixed on you observing your every move. How would it feel? In the context of the poem it is as if the eyes that look at you make you like a word and fix you somewhere. As Mr. Pinto shared that the first few days of going to a class is very uncomfortable as you are completely new to the students and they want to know you, hence observe you very carefully, if you move right all the eyes move right and if you move left all the eyes move left. Hence he admitted that he used to break the chalk pieces and throw it, maybe out of the window, so that at-least for that time the eyes would be distracted!
You may be thinking that this imagery is not very painful but if you further read on third and fourth lines of the sixth stanza, you could take it as an image of an alive insect in a biology laboratory which is pinned on the wall for the observation of students and he is wriggling on the wall. Wriggling as a word has pain and struggling in itself. He is pinned by the society, observed by them with curiosity and not compassion or sympathy, just curiosity. Then the last two lines of this stanza give an equally or maybe more painful imagery where he talks about the most dreaded kind of vomiting, during which, along with the materials in the stomach the excreta also comes out (butt-ends). It is painful beyond words.
Someone in the class asked Mr. Pinto, that why is it that the poet is using such unpleasant imageries for a supposedly love song. The answer that he gave was, that creativity and sensitivity at that age was so lost that even the love songs, according to the poet, seem to be so unpleasant and almost disgusting.
In the seventh stanza he uses this imagery where he uses artificial aspects and not natural ones (lamplight instead of sunlight). And he is distracted (digresses) by the perfume from a dress and not the presence of the female. In the sixth line of this stanza he uses an image that shows complete inactivity:
“Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.”
In this stanza the poet is portraying Prufrock as an emasculated man without any courage.
In the eighth stanza, at dusk he wants to go and watch the smoke that arises from the pipes of lonely men in whose, shirt-sleeves only he can see leaning out of the windows. At dusk normally people want to watch the sunset and maybe brilliant shades of the sky in the play of light. But this guy wants to watch the smoke rising from the pipe of these anonymous people.
In the ninth stanza:
<blockquote>“I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas”
Here if you try to visualise the imagery and put emphasis on auditory part of the imagery, it can be very disturbing. Here, the poet maybe prefers this painful thing than proposing to his beloved. Maybe that is why is he says that she should have been a pair of ragged claws and so on.
In the tenth stanza time is personified, where he says:
“And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!……”
In this stanza he uses the paradox of having the strength to ‘force the moment to its crisis’. to force a moment to its crisis is something that only God himself can do or maybe the Military heads, hence its a paradox.
From the sixth line onwards he uses the religious imagery. Where saints and prophets used to pray for a decent or a sacred cause this man prays and fasts and even weeps for asking this very simple question (proposing).
He also compares himself with the prophet from the Bible called John- the Baptist. John the Baptist was a man of conviction, and the king of that time, king Herad, feared him. He lived a life of penance without worrying about anything or anybody, not even the king. Hence the comparison of Prufrock with this great man is really ridiculous. Therefore there is a constant use of juxtaposition of something sublime and ludicrous.
Pinto, Anil. Class Lecture. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 3 March 2009
4 March 2009
Eliot was 22 when he wrote the poem, it took him three years to write this poem. Anyone’s writings are a reflection of one’s age. But here we see that being 22, he talks about middle age crisis. It takes a lot to rise above your age and write. This poem is a piece of carefully thought critique of modern industrialisation. This is what primarily Mr. Pinto appreciates in the poem.
In the tenth stanza, ninth line, for the first time the poet tries to be a little honest by saying that he is not a prophet. He almost sees his end in the last two lines of this stanza and is afraid. Here he is probably referring to Emily Dickenson where she has a very pleasant take on death, she says that death comes as a lover to take you away.
In the eleventh stanza he says that when he eventually asks her the question, he might end up regretting it after all. He uses a list of things, again to delay (cups, the marmalade, the tea) . He uses a metaphysical wit here referring to the metaphysical poetry- to have squeezed the universe into a ball, to roll it towards some overwhelming question. Here we see that the question is not a question after all but a statement. He is again comparing himself with something divine. The rising of Lazarus from the dead was something that was always referred by the priests while praying for certain things. And he calls himself Lazarus.
In the end he is so scared that he eventually withdraws the statement immediately.
Pinto, Anil. Class Lecture. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 4 March 2009