- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Infobox Book |
name = The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
title_orig = Prufrock Among the Women
image_caption = Cover page of The Egoist, Ltd.'s publication of "Prufrock and Other Observations"
T. S. Eliot
language = English
genre = Poetry
publisher = The Egoist, Ltd.
release_date = 1915
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is the 1915 poem that marked the start of
T. S. Eliot's career as one of the twentieth century's most influential poets. [Laurie E. Rozakis, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Literature" (New York: Alpha Books, 1999), 277. ISBN 0-02-863378-4.] The poem, also referred to simply as "Prufrock", [See, e.g., W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., "Prufrock and Maud: From Plot to Symbol," " Yale French Studies" no. 9 (1952): 84-92.] is one of the most anthologized 20th century poems in the English language. [In Joshua Weiner's informal [http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/feature.onpoetry.html?id=177518 survey] of 17 'best poem' anthologies, Prufrock appeared number 20 in the list of the top 20, having been anthologized in six of the anthologies. It was one of only three 20th-century poems in the top 20, the others being Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush", dated December 1900, and Yeat's "The Second Coming", dated November 1920.] The poem is a dramatic monologue, a form that had been much favored by Robert Browning, and uses the "stream of consciousness" literary technique.Perrine, Laurence. "Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense", 1st edition. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1956. p. 798.]
Composition and publication
Composed mainly between February 1910 and July or August 1911, the poem was first published in the June 1915 issue of "" (
Chicago) [Southam, B.C. "A Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot." Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York 1994, p. 45.] after Ezra Pound, the magazine's foreign editor, persuaded Harriet Monroe, the magazine's founder, that Eliot was unique: "He has actually trained himself "and" modernized himself "on his own". The rest of the "promising" young have done one or the other, but never both." [Capitalization and italics original. Quoted in Mertens, Richard. "Letter By Letter." "The University of Chicago Magazine". August 2001. http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0108/features/letter.html (accessed April 23, 2007).] This was Eliot's first publication of a poem outside of school or university publications.
In June 1917, The Egoist, a small publishing firm run by
Dora Marsden, published a pamphlet entitled "Prufrock and Other Observations" ( London), containing twelve poems by Eliot. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was the first poem in the volume.
Eliot's notebook of draft poems, "
Inventions of the March Hare" (published posthumously in 1996 by Harcourt Brace), includes thirty-eight lines from the middle of the draft version of the poem that were withheld from the initial publication. This section, known as "Prufrock's Pervigilium", contains the " vigil" of Prufrock through an evening and night.
In the drafts, the poem had the subtitle "Prufrock among the Women". [Eliot, T. S. "
Inventions of the March Hare", 1st edition. Christopher Ricks, ed. Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1996. pg 39.] Eliot said "The Love Song of" portion of the title came from "The Love Song of Har Dyal," a poem by Rudyard Kipling. [Eliot, T. S. "The Unfading Genius of Rudyard Kipling", "Kipling Journal", March 1959, pg. 9.] The form of Prufrock's name is like the name that Eliot was using at the time: T. Stearns Eliot. [Eliot, T. S. "The Letters of T. S. Eliot", vol. 1. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1988. pg. 135.] It has been suggested that Prufrock comes from the German word "Prüfstein" meaning " touchstone."Fact|date=February 2007
There was a "Prufrock-Littau Company" in St Louis at the time Eliot lived there, a furniture store; in a 1950 letter, Eliot said, "I did not have, at the time of writing the poem, and have not yet recovered, any recollection of having acquired this name in any way, but I think that it must be assumed that I did, and that the memory has been obliterated." [Stepanchev, Stephen. "The Origin of J. Alfred Prufrock." "Modern Language Notes," 66, (1951). 400-401.]
In context, the epigraph refers to a meeting between Dante and Guido da Montefeltro, who was condemned to the eighth circle of Hell for providing false counsel to
Pope Boniface VIII. This encounter follows Dante's meeting with Ulysses, who himself is also condemned to the circle of the Fraudulent. According to Ron Banerjee, the epigraph serves to cast ironic light on Prufrock's intent. Like Guido, Prufrock had intended his story never be told, and so by quoting Guido, Eliot reveals his view of Prufrock's love song. [Banerjee, Ron D. K. "The Dantean Overview: The Epigraph to 'Prufrock'." "Comparative Literature", 87, (1972). 962-966.]
Frederick Locke contends that Prufrock himself is suffering from multiple personalities of sorts, and that he embodies both Guido and Dante in the "Inferno" analogy. One is the storyteller; the other the listener who later reveals the story to the world. He posits, alternatively, that the role of Guido in the analogy is indeed filled by Prufrock, but that the role of Dante is filled by "you", the reader, as in "Let us go then, you and I," (1). In that, the reader is granted the power to do as he pleases with Prufrock's love song. [Locke, Frederick W. "Dante and T. S. Eliot's Prufrock." "Modern Language Notes", 78, (1963). 51-59.]
Although he finally chose not to use it, the draft version of the epigraph for the poem came from Dante's "
Purgatorio" (XXVI, 147-148):
:'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor'.:Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.
Eliot provided this translation in his essay "Dante" (1929):
:'be mindful in due time of my pain'.:Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.
The quotation that Eliot did choose comes from Dante also. "Inferno" (XXVII, 61-66) reads:
:"S`io credesse che mia risposta fosse" :"A persona che mai tornasse al mondo," :"Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse." :"Ma perciocchè giammai di questo fondo":"Non tornò vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero," :"Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo."
One translation from the "Princeton Dante Project" is:
:"If I thought my answer were given: to anyone who would ever return to the world,: this flame would 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." [Dante. [http://etcweb.princeton.edu/dante/pdp/ "The Inferno"] . Transl. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. Princeton Dante Project. (accessed
April 30, 2007).]
As it shows us only surface thought and images, it is considered difficult to interpret exactly what is going on in the poem.
Laurence Perrinewrote, " [the poem] presents the apparently random thoughts going through a person's head within a certain time interval, in which the transitional links are psychological rather than logical". This stylistic choice makes it difficult to determine exactly what is literal and what is symbolic. On the surface, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" relays the thoughts of a sexually frustrated middle-aged man who wants to say something but is afraid to do so, and ultimately does not. [ [http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/eliot/prufrock.htm On 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'] (accessed June 14, 2006).] The dispute, however, lies in who Prufrock is talking to, whether he is actually "going" anywhere, what he wants to say, and to what the various images refer.
First of all, it is not evident to whom the poem is addressed. Some believe that Prufrock is talking to another person [Headings, Philip R. "T. S. Eliot". Revised ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. p. 24-25.] or directly to the reader,Hecimovich, Gred A (editor). [http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/english/English151W-03/prufrock.htm English 151-3; T. S. Eliot "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" notes] (accessed
June 14, 2006), from McCoy, Kathleen; Harlan, Judith. "English Literature from 1785". New York: HarperCollins, 1992.] while others believe Prufrock's monologue is internal. Perrine writes "The 'you and I' of the first line are divided parts of Prufrock's own nature", while Mutlu Konuk Blasing suggests that the "you and I" refers to the relationship between the dilemmas of the character and the author.Blasing, Mutlu Konuk, "On 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'", from "American Poetry: The Rhetoric of Its Forms". New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.] Similarly, critics dispute whether Prufrock is going somewhere during the course of the poem. In the first half of the poem, Prufrock uses various outdoor images (the sky, streets, cheap restaurants and hotels, fog), and talks about how there will be time for various things before "the taking of toast and tea", and "time to turn back and descend the stair." This has led many to believe that Prufrock is on his way to an afternoon tea, in which he is preparing to ask this "overwhelming question". Others, however, believe that Prufrock is not physically going anywhere, but rather, is playing through it in his mind.
Perhaps the most significant dispute lies over what the "overwhelming question" is that Prufrock is trying to ask. Many believe that Prufrock is trying to tell a woman his romantic interest in her, pointing to the various images of women's arms and clothing and the final few lines in which Prufrock laments that the mermaids will not sing to him. Others, however, believe that Prufrock is trying to express some deeper philosophical insight or disillusionment with society, but fears rejection, pointing to statements that express a disillusionment with society such as "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (line 51). Many believe that the poem is a criticism of Edwardian society and Prufrock's dilemma represents the inability to live a meaningful existence in the modern world. [Mitchell, Roger. "On 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'", in Myers, Jack and Wojahan, David (editors). "A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry". Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.] McCoy and Harlan wrote "For many readers in the 1920s, Prufrock seemed to epitomize the frustration and impotence of the modern individual. He seemed to represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment."
Finally, readers and critics are not sure what the many images refer to and what they represent. For example, "yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes" (line 15) has been interpreted as many things, from symbolism for the decline of society (in a similar manner as the Valley of Ashes in "
The Great Gatsby", another Modernistwork),Fact|date=February 2007 to a reference to the behaviour of a cat. ["On 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'", from North, Michael. "The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. pp. 76-77.] As the poem uses the stream of consciousness technique, it is often difficult to determine what is meant to be interpreted literally and what is symbolic, what is actual and what is subconscious imagery or both. In general, Eliot uses imagery which is indicative of Prufrock's character, representing aging and decay. For example, "When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table"(lines 2-3), the "sawdust restaurants" and "cheap hotels," the yellow fog, and the afternoon "Asleep...tired... or it malingers" (line 77), are reminiscent of languor and decay, while Prufrock's various concerns about his hair and teeth, as well as the mermaids "Combing the white hair of the waves blown back / When the wind blows the water white and black," show his concern over aging.
Prufrock and Raskolnikov
John C. Pope, for one, has postulated that Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock is connected to
Fyodor Dostoevsky's Raskolnikovof " Crime and Punishment". While Dostoevsky "caught the undercurrent of stifled suffering" in the "withering life of cities", Pope suggests that Prufrock is a victim of "stifled suffering," while the "withering life of cities" is more referential to the slow demise of fashionable society. ["Academy", 63, 685.] [Pope, John C. "Prufrock and Raskolnikov." "American Literature", 17, (1945). 213-230.]
Use of allusion
Like many of Eliot's poems, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" makes numerous allusions to other works, which are often symbolic in and of themselves.Laurence Perrine identifies the following allusions in the poem:
*In "Time for all the works and days of hands" (29) the phrase 'works and days' is the title of a long poem - a description of agricultural life and a call to toil - by the early Greek poet
*"I know the voices dying with a dying fall" (52) echoes Orsino's first lines in
Shakespeare's " Twelfth Night".
*The prophet of "Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter / I am no prophet - and here's no great matter" (81-2) is
John the Baptist, whose head was delivered to Salomeby Herodas a reward for her dancing (Matthew14:1-11, and Oscar Wilde's play "Salome").
*"To have squeezed the universe into a ball" (92) echoes the closing lines of Marvell's '
To His Coy Mistress'.
*"'I am Lazarus, come from the dead'" (94) may be either the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 16) who was not permitted to return from the dead to warn the brothers of a rich man about
Hellor the Lazarus(of John 11) whom Christraised from the dead, or both.
*"Full of high sentence" (117) echoes
Chaucer's description of the Clerk of Oxfordin the General Prologueto " The Canterbury Tales". [Perrine, pp. 798-789.]
Johan Schimanski identifies these:
*In the final section of the poem, Prufrock rejects the idea that he is
Prince Hamletsuggesting that he is merely "an attendant lord" (112) whose purpose is to "advise the prince" (114), a likely allusion to Polonius. Prufrock also brings in a common Shakespearean element of the Fool, as he claims he is also "Almost, at times, the Fool."
*"Among some talk of you and me" may be a reference to Quatrain 32 of
Edward FitzGerald's first translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam("There was a Door to which I found no Key / There was a Veil past which I could not see / Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE / There seemed - and then no more of THEE and ME.") [Schimanski, Johan. "T. S. Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock'". http://www.hum.uit.no/a/schimanski/littres/pruann.htm (accessed August 8, 2006.]
*Drew, Elizabeth. "T. S. Eliot: The Design of His Poetry". New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949.
*Gallup, Donald. "T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (A Revised and Extended Edition)" pp. 23, 196 (Harcourt Brace & World 1969)
*Luthy, Melvin J. The Case of Prufrock's Grammar. (1978) "College English", 39, 841-853.
*Soles, Derek. The Prufrock Makeover. (1999). "The English Journal", 88, 59-61.
*Walcutt, Charles Child. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". (1957). "College English", 19, 71-72.
Portrait of a Lady (poem)
* [http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides3/Prufrock.html#Top J. Alfred Prufrock Study Guide] Annotated Text, Themes, Study Questions, and More
* [http://www.uvm.edu/%7Esgutman/Eliot.htm Eliot's Prufrock] Text and extended audio discussion of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
* [http://www.salon.com/audio/2000/10/05/eliot/ Audio of T. S. Eliot reading the poem aloud]
*gutenberg|no=1459|name=Prufrock and Other Observations
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