Friday, 31 August 2012

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – T.S. Eliot – Analysis

The title deceives one into thinking the poem to be romantic when actually it is anti-romantic and can be termed as a ‘mock love poem’. It depicts modern man’s feeling of frustration, anguish, despair and alienation. Just as the epigraph details Count Grido’s (a character from Dante’s Inferno) experience in hell; a man trapped on earth is in a kind of living hell and unable to relate to where he lives.

“LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky”  

The poem is camouflaged at the onset to appear to be a love poem but then the tone changes and a sense of pressure is felt. People are etherized and unconscious to life, streets are deserted and restaurants unaesthetic while streets unending and leading to no definite destination.
The man is unable to enter a room full of women seen as the other quite like a cat that is unable to enter a house or like the mist that circles the house and then is content to settle around it. ‘Time’ and its passage is a repeated motif akin to Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”.   

“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,”

In the last line of the quote we see objective correlation where objects are used to describe the speaker’s emotions. There is a sense of inability predominant. The speaker wants to go somewhere but once he reaches the house and is infact at the threshold of the room he is held back by awkwardness. He cannot enter, he feels inadequate and ill at ease. There is an inability to penetrate both sexually and also intellectually. Just as the cat that is unable to enter the house, Prufrock is indecisive and unable to move with the times.
“And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare? and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair –”

Modern man is self-conscious. Prufrock cannot go forward and nor can he turn back, he is frozen. He is conscious of the toll time has taken on him physically and intellectually. He cannot keep up with the woman on their talk of ‘Michelangelo’ while his physical limitations like his thinning hair, add to his feeling of inferiority.
“For I have known then all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall”

There is isolation; a life lived alone without any human connection. A man who wants to enter a room but is too afraid to do so as he has spent too much time on his own. He has spent his life alone at his table in a way letting each epoch of his life be a lump o coffee dropped into a cup from a teaspoon. To speak to others is as acutely uncomfortable as being pinned on the wall like an insect being studied. He perceives himself to be a boring middle-aged man whose conversation no one can take any pleasure in for he cannot take any pleasure even in himself.

“But though I have wept, fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,”

Prufrock has tried to reverse the ravages of time that he is so conscious of; he keeps coming back to his baldness with embarrassed consciousness. He no longer sees any germinating spark within himself as he has spent his all. There no longer is any passion left in him even though he wants to evoke it. And due to this feeling of inadequacy he is afraid.

“And in short, I was afraid
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,”

Instead of taking a plunge he like Hamlet sits debating the matter in his mind even as the precious minutes slip by and the chance passes him by,

“To squeeze the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,”

One gets a sense that Prufrock is exaggerating the crisis. It surely cannot be as crucial or difficult as he makes it seem. He makes a mountain of a molehill. Language falls apart, he is unable to express himself clearly and so he keeps repeating: That is not it at all/ That is not what I meant at all.
“I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”

In vain effort to make himself seem more with the times he takes to fashion and dresses himself younger which has the reverse effect. He tries to appear serious and staid and ends up a walking joke. Despite all his efforts the mermaids shall not sing to him as he doesn’t even see them as part of the same species. He is a man who has wandered to streets that are endless and he is unable to find a space he can call his own in a world that bewilders him more by the day. Even though he embraces the superficial aspects like fashions in dress, he is unable to penetrate to the root of the matter and reconnect himself to life.

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