Often called the first Modernist poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was published in the prestigious American journal Poetry in June 1915. About the Poem: The poem centers on the feelings and thoughts of the eponymous speaker (the somewhat neurotic Prufrock) as he walks through the streets of London route to meet a woman for tea. He is considering a question (perhaps, broadly, the meaning of life, or, more narrowly, a proposal of marriage). Far more than just the “love song” of a romantic, agonized young man, the poem explores the Modernist alienation of the individual in society. Thomas Stearns Eliot, 1888 – 1965
Born into a prosperous Midwestern family, Eliot attended Harvard and then went on to study at Oxford. Although born an American, Eliot married an Englishwoman, gave up his American citizenship, and lived most of his life in London. Eliot made his living as a teacher, a banker, and an influential literary critic. He popularized the modernist style of thinking and writing. In fiction, modernism was represented by the stark realism of such writers as Ernest Hemingway, but in poetry this new sensibility was quite different. The Imagists, including Eliot’s close friend and fellow poet, Ezra Pound, believed in the motto, “No ideas but in things,” in other words, the image is most important, the meaning secondary. Modernists embraced free verse (no regular rhyme scheme or meter) and freedom of thought (often their writing questioned accepted ideas and social norms). This anti-traditional and anti-romantic trend began before World War I; however the unprecedented loss of humanity during the war accelerated the popularization of modernism. The war caused many people to reexamine their previous beliefs in religion and the innate goods of humankind, and one radical branch of modernism, known as Dada, claimed that the only legitimate emotion left was disgust. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," An Overview
The entire poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is an interior monologue based on the traditional dramatic monologue, a solo speech that often puts into words the speaker’s inner turmoil, as in Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Prufrock often alludes to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but admits, “I am not Prince Hamlet.” He has no such grand illusions. His thoughts and feelings tend to be humble and full of self-doubt. He worries not about “outrageous fortune,” as Hamlet does, but about growing old and being rejected by a woman. Critically Analyzing the poem:
Contrary to what the title implies, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot, is anything but a love song. It is instead quite the opposite. Although the poem is open to several interpretations, after careful reading of the poem, the several underlying themes can be expressed by one central idea. In the poem, the narrator, J. Alfred Prufrock, portrays his disappointment with the society he lives in. By interpreting aspects of imagery, speaker and intended audience, one can easily assess Prufrock's views of life. His interpretation of everyday life can be described as a vacant, bleak, and repetitive. Early on in the poem, Eliot creates a scene that does not seem very inviting. Prufrock describes his surrounding on an evening out with phrases that insinuate melancholy and depression. In line 6, Prufrock describes the night as "restless" and says that the streets are "tedious arguments of insidious intent". From this the reader can infer a certain discontentment that Prufrock has with his surroundings. He refers to his, and his companions', destination as “one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells". Even though these descriptions leave the reader only approximately 10 lines into the poem, we already have a feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction from Prufrock about his life. As the poem continues, the reader is bombarded with even more imagery that conveys Prufrock's...