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Prufrock Spring 2009

Page history last edited by Kyle Korelishn 11 years, 8 months ago

You can also listen to a recording of Eliot reading the poem.


T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)


"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917)


         S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
  A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
  Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
  Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
  Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
  Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.[1]
LET us go then, you and I,[2]
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;[3]
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats         5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels[4]
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument[5]
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …         10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.[6]
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,[7]         15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,         20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time[9]  
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;         25
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,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;         30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go         35
Talking of Michelangelo.[10]
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”[11]
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—         40
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare         45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,         50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;[12]
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?[13]
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—         55
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[14],
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?         60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all— 
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress         65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin? [15]
      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets         70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!         75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?         80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,[16]
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,         85
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,
Would it have been worth while,[17]         90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—         95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,         100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:         105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
      .      .      .      .      .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;[18][19]
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,         115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;[20]
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.[21]
I grow old … I grow old …         120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach,[22]
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.[23]
I do not think that they will sing to me.         125
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown         130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.



  1. This opening passage is from Dante's "Inferno". Specifically, the line is uttered by Guido da Montefeltro in the Eight Circle of Hell. Translated, it means: "If I believe that my reply were made to one who could ever climb to the world again, this flame would shake no more. But since no shade ever returned, if what I am told is true, from this blind world into the living light, without fear of dishonor I can answer you;" He is basically telling Dante that he doesn't want to confess his sins to him for fear of anyone on Earth finding out, but seeing as how no one has ever made it out of Hell back to Earth alive, he figures he can tell Dante. By prefacing the poem with this line from "Inferno", we know that Prufrock is about to tell us some of his sins that he doesn't think we will repeat to others for whatever reason. Perhaps this also means that Prufrock feels like he is in some sort of Hell himself, and that this dramatic monologue to the reader won't mean anything because he is in a Hell by himself. Lance Hayden
  2. In this poem, it is important to understand who the speaker is and to whom he is talking. Prufrock, the apparent speaker, shows in his stream of consciousness thought that he is a confused, hesitant, lonely, and depressed aging man. However, it is not evident to whom this poem is addressed. The importance of this is stressed in the very first line with “you and I”. In this case, the “I” could be any of three possibilities. First, it could be multiple personalities of Prufrock. He could simply be talking to himself or thinking out loud. He could also be addressing the reader to witness his romantic struggle. He hesitates to take action in all instances in the poem and therefore he could be addressing the reader, someone not in “his” world. Finally, the “I” could also be Prufrock’s romantic lover. Even though he is awkward and confused, he could be attempting to convey his feelings to her. Patrick McFarland
  3. In this poem J. Alfred Prufrock is portrayed as being socially awkward, lacking confidence and not really fitting in. The use of the image of "a patient etherized upon a table" as a comparison to any sort of evening illustrates this. An etherized patient does not really evoke a pleasant image, and definitely not a romantic one. This is not a good conversation starter. The frequent use of repetition ("Do I dare?", "In the room...of Michelangelo", "there will be time", "And I have known...known them all", etc...) also seems to indicate hesitancy and Prufrock's lack of confidence and social skills. - Jasmine Jenkins
  4. The first stanza seems to be the only normal or typical part of the speaker’s song to his love. In this stanza, he speaks romantically of semi-romantic retreats with his beloved. Lines 1 and 2 are sweet and sound naturally poetic, but line 3 makes a turn for awkward. Throughout the poem Prufrock seems to stumble in finding a way to accurately convey his feelings. It seemed to me quite queer for him to compare the starry sky to an unconscious patient lying on a hospital bed. The man speaking has an awkward disposition when speaking with women and his talk of "cheap hotels" reveals his romantic yet inelegant way of alluding to their intimate time spent together. It’s an interesting opening that is very unlike the rest of the poem.
  5. T. S. Eliot’s poem innovatively creates a twisting labyrinth in which the character Alfred Prufrock gets lost in. The opening stanza is a long sentence focused around the streets "half-deserted" already that dark from the evening and putting up a "tedious argument." It seems that no matter which way Prufrock turns, there are turns and dead ends that force him back until anyone would eventually be lost. The confusion becomes so much that Profrock debates the "insidious intent" of the streets and whether this was intentional from some evil creator to trap lonely souls. Even Eliot’s structure lends to a maze-like idea. The enjambment that is especially noticeable in the first stanza runs along jutting lines with rhymes thrown in at different times ("I" and "sky," "hotels" and "shells," "it" and "visit"). The use of irregular rhythm adds to the confusion with the varying stretches of rhyme and free verse. Repetition of the refrain "In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo" also adds to the roundabout mayhem and the loss of direction or control. Similarly the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of lines (example lines 17-19 "Lih") as well as words (example lines 92-94 "To") link the relation of time to the repetitive streets and crisscrossing labyrinth paths Prufrock is stuck in. – Kristen Williams
  6. Until now the poem has described empty streets and dirty surroundings. Nothing has been said to stand out positively; even the restaurant is described with the bitter sound and taste of sawdust. In no way is sawdust appetizing and oyster-shells are not edible as far as I know. The meet inside of the oyster-shells is slimy and contrasts with the dry and dusty taste of sawdust. Nothing really contrasted with the miserable scene described until the mentioning of Michelangelo. The previous lines made me think about a dark old motel with prostitutes moving in and out frequently. Oddly enough, the women discuss something much deeper than expected. The poem is already describing a situation with many conflicting ideas. -Andrew Mulhall
  7. Eliot uses vivid imagery in the stanza that begins with line 15. In this stanza, he specifically describes the fog and the smoke as being colored yellow (lines 15-16). Although yellow has many meanings, yellow can be associated with sickliness, which often plagues older individuals. Thus, Eliot's use of yellow in the text seems to correlate with the speaker's fear of aging and dying. Moreover, Eliot uses metaphors to describe the fog and smoke as an animal that rubs a back or a muzzle against window-pains (lines 15-16) and ''licks [Licked] its tongue into the corners of the evening'' (line 17). In the scene in this stanza, the animal seems omnipresent and unavoidable similar to the constant fear of aging as one gets older. However, Eliot explains that the animal, ''seeing that it was a soft October night, / Curled once about the house, and fell asleep'' (lines 21-22). By indicating that the animal falls asleep when it realizes that the night is calm, Eliot appears to suggest that aging will be less threatening when one is calm and does not fight the inevitable. Stacey Elkhatib
  8. T.S. Eliot uses a variety of figures of speech and a repetition to express the characteristic of J. Alfred Prufrock, a narrator of this poem. Eliot repeats a certain series of words and sentences for several time throughout the poem. Prufrock starts off the lines with "And" for about 20 times which allusively indicates how monotonic, repetitive and meaningless his life is. Prufrock also repeats following phrases for several time throughout the poem: "Let us go", "In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo", "Do I dare", "Should I presume", "Would it have been worth it". These phrases express how Prufrock feels about himself and his life: meaningless, cautious, diffident, unsure and pathetic. "In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo" metaphorically states how Prufrock is lack of confidence and considers him as a very lowly person compared to attactive and educated women talking about art. By stating such phrase, he allusively isolate himself from the women who he yearns for. From lines 15 to 22, Prufrock likens yellow fog to a quite and cowardly cat that allows soot falls upon its body after curling up to sleep. The cat resembles him in inactive and timid personality and him standing idly isolating himself from the crowd in gatherings although he awares that he is being seen as a ridiculous person by the crowd. -- Juhee Ban
  9. The phrase "there will be time" is repeated 5 times between lines 23 to 37, showing the hesitation apparent throughout the poem. In this case, Prufrock speaks of an upcoming party where there will be women present but he's not confident in himself to approach them. As a reader, it's frustrating to read about a character who seems unable to partake in any sort of decisive action. Though he seems optimistic that there will one day come a time when he is able to approach a women, he seems to quickly change his mind later when he says "Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse" (45-48). While initially he reassures himself by repeating "there will be time," his outlook becomes more despondent when he actually starts to picture himself talking to a particular woman. He seems to be stuck in time and space - in his constant state of anxiety along with emotional and physical paralysis, and delusional in that he seems to stick by the faintest of hopes that one day he will be able to approach someone.
  10. These two lines represent the "cultured" women of the time. I feel like the significance in these lines is to show not how intelligent these women are, but rather, the opposite. I feel like it's as if these women are merely superficial, "talking of michelangelo" to put on a display of their consciousness of the world around them but not really understanding the scope of the topic(s) they discuss. The lines are repeated in this poem to emphasize the "coming and going." These lines are representative of the rest of the poem because this poem deals with what the speaker is on the surface versus what he is on the inside. - Alice Chen
  11. I believe this stanza is about the speaker being afraid to confess his love to someone, because he is concerned about his outter appeal and age. Although, he does not mention love in this stanza, the poem has love in its title. He repeats the line "do I dare," which shows he is contemplating about completing some challenege such as confessing his love. He continues by saying, "time to turn back and descend the stair," to show that he does not face his challenge. He includes that he is dressed decently, but for some reason his body and hair seem weak. This may show the signifiance and stigma of aging alone to society at that time. Shahnaz Rahman
  12. This line significantly captures the motif of fragmentation evident throughout the poem. The image of "measuring out [one's] life with coffee spoons" conveys the speaker's low estimation of his own accomplishments and the unremarkable nature of the events of his life. Prufrock, the speaker, has marked time and evolution with as mundane and frequent an activity taking coffee, or the objects associated wherewith. This also reflects the theme of disembodiment reflected in the language of the entire poem. A woman-- the object of his ruminations-- by name or description is not present, only "voices" (52), "eyes" (55), "arms" (62), "hair" (64), "dress" (65), "long fingers" (76), etc. Even with regards him himself, the speaker references his balding head, thinning arms and legs, his "pair of ragged claws" (73), and his external affects-- his collar, tie, pant legs, etc, though in verses 111-119 he does give the reader a list of his more abstract traits. This poem reminds me of "Madame Bovary" in its tendency of dismemberment and the benign unhappiness of its protagonist. Alison Mattox
  13. The typography and form of this poem, based around the fragmentation of thoughts and observations, parallels Prufrock's personality. He himself is very fragmented in his thoughts and ideas, and this ultimately displays his neurosis and constant sense of anxiety. Prufrock, for example, goes from describing the social scene among which he finds himself to describing what he supposes will occur as he encounters various people. These rapid shifts in language appear to symbolize the rapid shifts that occur in Prufrock's mind. He continually asks "how [he] should presume,' in the situation, for example, but this question is found at various points throughout Prufrock's thought process. Diana Fridlyand
  14. The poem appears to be a monologue about the speaker's inability to find where he belongs in society. In addition to this, the speaker is having problems expressing his emotions. The speaker cares about how society views him and his inability to see past this is hindering his life. The idea of the speaker not being in tune with society is exemplified in stanza 8. The speaker describes how he feels when he is being looked upon and says that it feels as if he is"pinned and wiggling on the wall." The fragmentation and constant self-questioning within the dialogue leads one to believe that the speaker has anxiety issues and is used to being alone. - Kendrick Daniel
  15. Lines 37-69 all seem to deal with the speaker's indecisiveness to approach a woman that he likes (or loves since the title suggests the poem to be a love story). He also talks about time a lot (lines 23-34: time is mentioned 8 times). In line 47-48, he says "in a minute there is time/ For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse" which seems to suggest that he wants to tell this person he loves her but that he may decide to tell her then within a minute his mind may change. It can also maybe mean that if he does tell her, things will change within that minute he has expressed himself. At the end of three stanzas (lines 47-69), he ends with "how should I presume" or "how should I begin". When the speaker asks himself these questions he is not sure how to approach this girl or even whether or not to tell her because the repetition suggests his strong indecisiveness in the matter and even in line 65 when he says "is it the perfume from a dress that makes me so digress?" something is holding him back from expressing himself, and perfume seems like an excuse. It may be this indecisiveness or his lack of confidence to tell her that could be holding him back. - Seema Jabbar
  16. This stanza reflects the normality of the speakers life while painting a vivid picture of the speakers mortality. The idea of the "head on a platter" is the manifestation of the speakers fear of death, while the mention of slightly balding hair on that severed head seems to relate his loss of life with a loss of his greatness. The speaker has faced the fact that every moment he has cannot be great, seeming to make the speaker seem more urgent in achieving some form of greatness. This poem is referred to as a love song, but to whom is the love directed? It could be the person earlier alluded to, but his love could also be partially for himself. He seems to love the idea of living, though some of his life is in an "etherized" state. James Garland
  17. To pinpoint a singular tone of this poem would be a difficult task; rather it is evident that there are several messages conveyed in a somewhat rambling dialogue between the speaker “I” and the stated listener “you” in line 1. The repetition of phrases between stanzas and use of enjambment suggest that the speaker is somewhat transient in his train of thought. An interesting “fragment” of this love song begins in line 90, when the speaker probes deep into the worth of “it,” where it must signify life and or love. This part is noteworthy because he uses a metaphor comparing himself to Lazarus; he appears to be elevating himself as if he is an omniscient being that comes back to explain to “you all,” possibly meaning humanity. Kyle Korelishn
  18. This poem seems to have a contradiction starting at the 112th line. The majority of the poem has the speaker talking about how he is an educated man. Starting with the Line “No! I am not Prince Hamlet”, he shows that he thinks of himself as very second tier. Almost as though he thinks he is not good enough in the real world, so he has to place himself into fiction to make him happy. While education is certainly not the key to happiness, the current view is that it will allow access to the rest of the world, and hopefully with all the options that come with education, happiness somewhere along the way. The speaker is almost saying that he wishes that he had never gotten to his level of education because it made him unhappy. -Sam Frenkel
  19. The poem seems to be the stream of conscience of the speaker, who is speaking about his future and how he does want or intend to spend it alone. However, the speaker seems to find it hard to express himself, and how he feels about the person whom he loves and wants to spend the rest of his life with, saying in one stanza “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” Later on in the poem the speaker compares himself to Hamlet, exclaiming that he will not be like Hamlet and more importnatnyl not MEANT to be like Hamlet; implying that he unlike Hamlet, he will take action, and make decisions, rather than spending his time contemplating, and as a result die alone.– Alexandra Adair
  20. In the stanza beginning with “No! I am not Prince Hamlet…” the man discusses his personality traits, and states that he is cautious. His cautiousness along with his insecurities and fear ultimately prevent him from confessing his love to the woman of his life. In the first section of the poem, this woman is at a party or some type of social gathering, and because she is with a group of other women the man becomes discouraged from entering the room and confessing his love. He wonders if the women will make fun of him for his baldness and his slender build. His insecurities about his physique have dire effects on his overall confidence. Towards the end of the poem there is the reoccurring line “and would it have been worth it,” which indicates that he never told her about his love, and is stuck with wondering what would have been. The tone of this part of the poem is filled with a sort of depressed emptiness, as the man never got the courage to express his feelings.
  21. This stanza describes how the speaker views himself and his position in the world. He understands that he is not the main character in the act of life. He is not meant to be a prince or a hero, but something different, something less glamorous. He is an attendant to those who capture the eye of the audience and perform the great deeds within the world. He is there to advise them and remind them to be cautious. He is the man who is "Politic, cautious, meticulous." He understands the need for words and politics rather than just actions. And within his advising just as in a play he may be seen by others as "obtuse" and even "ridiculous." But he seems to accept this and the fact that at times he may be the fool. This description of himself reflects the rest of the poem in his worries and fears of age and death. He is a cautious man who wishes to be meticulous about things. He does not wish to rush into things such as love and death. At times he will even seem the fool in his caution and as his brain races through different matters. -Zack Roward
  22. The Author juxtaposes visuals of material or menial things with images that are either fantastical or more emotional in order to differentiate between the things in the speaker’s life that he (the speaker) ultimately decides are irrelevant to life when faced with death and the things that he finds important. Earlier he asks, "would it have been worth while,/ after the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets…"(line 99-100). The images in the second line are so sparsely described that the reader can’t really get a grasp on what the full memory is so they are probably the speaker’s own meaningful memories, as opposed to the next generic, emotionless images; "novels… teacups…skirts that trail along the floor…" (102). In this example, the speaker talks of parting hair, peaches and "white flannel trousers" before hearing mermaids sing. The author is exaggerating his point by using a fantasy to say that the moments in life that are worth remembering in the end may be the ones that are intangible, unlike hair and peaches.
  23. The speaker effectively uses colors to portray a theme about the woman he is speaking to and more generally all women. The speaker wears “white flannel trousers” to display his purity. He also describes the arms of women as “braceleted and white and bare.” The change in tone comes when the speaker says he will “wear the bottoms of [his] trousers rolled” in the future to portray his diminishing purity and gain of apathy for love. This is in contrast to the “yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes” in the streets. Yellow is just the opposite of white in this poem, impure and representative of (metaphorical) pollution. On the same beach that the speaker wears white trousers, he says he has “”heard the mermaids singing, each to each. [He does] not think that they will sing to [him].” Because the poem is such a string of thoughts and emotions, it is hard to say the colors and imagery are there to represent anger, sadness, or just impurity. -Michael Solomon
  24. The speaker in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" seems to be afraid of aging and more importantly growing old alone. He contemplates the risks of finding an intimate mate and questions the possiblity of a relatioship with a positive ending. He voices these concerns when asking, "And would it have been worth it, after all...That is not it, at all." During this stanza of the play my perception of the speaker is altered due to his indecisiveness. He seems to make excuses because he is afraid of failure, and yet he is afraid of lonliness. The speaker of the play as a result becomes an "underdog" in my eyes. My final conclusion is that the situation itself will not be the determining factor of his success in wooing a partner, instead overcoming his fear will be the most important issue.

Comments (6)

hrberma@... said

at 4:40 pm on Jan 29, 2009

The narrator in this poem is not something special, nor something significant. He's what I would like to call a "cog in the American Dream machine." He is middle-aged and has "a bald spot in the middle of [his] hair." He is describing himself with these words, which leads me to believe that he is unsatisfied with himself and what he has become. He also "...measure[s] out [his] life with coffee spoons." He looks back on his life, and he cannot compare it to anything better than coffee spoonfuls. This man is simply lost. In his old age, there is not much more to do and no where else to go but at the pace he has been going at. When reading this I feel sorry for him. He states "the mermaids will not sing to me." He knows he is nothing special, and that his life has just been a run through, nothing more.

Jung Hong said

at 7:25 pm on Jan 29, 2009

Some of the themes portrayed in this poem include loneliness, indecisiveness and pessimism. For example, lines 17 – 19 allude the speaker’s unconfident self as he alienates himself from vibrant social scene into the “corners of the evening.” The image of the “evening” was initially introduced in lines 2-3, where the author uses simile that compares the “evening” with “etherized patient.” This suggests lifelessness and hopelessness of the evening just like what ether would do to a patient – render him unconscious. Therefore, putting himself into the corners of this depressing imagery suggests his inferior position or inability to interact with people in the society. Then, he does not have the courage to enter the room (lines 20-21), and remain reiterating over and over again, “there will be time,” as if he is reassuring himself that one day he will become courageous and interactive.
In addition to the speaker’s dark personality, I also wonder if he is sane. Making “a hundred indecisions…visions and revisions before the taking of a toast and tea” (lines 32-24) is not a normal behavior. It is possible that he is making his daily chores more complicated to overcome his loneliness, to keep his mind preoccupied, but I also think he might be mentally unstable, possibly suffering from depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. -- Jung M. Hong (my computer won't let me footnote this for some reason!!)

Cara Weiner said

at 7:42 pm on Jan 29, 2009

For the past few hours I have been trying to put in a footnote but the screen does not proceed past "preview," so I will post here. The footnote would have been at line 48:

This extensive poem seems to reflect the thoughts and reflections of an aging man. The first few stanzas include much repetition, symbolizing the speaker’s low confidence in his life. He continuously repeats the word, "time" to further enforce that he is looking back on his life. There is also a good amount of personification in the third and fourth stanzas, where the fog "rubs its back…rubs its muzzle…licked…fall[s] upon its back…slipped…curled…slides." Perhaps the speaker feels lonely in the world at this time and personifying fog and smoke makes him feel better. This poem is like his monologue of what the speaker is thinking. Throughout most of the poem with the repeated "time," it seems that the speaker is wondering about the future, but at the same time, looking back on the past, trying to determine if everything was "worth it." The speaker thinks about what life amounts to, and what it means, in the end. His repetition of "shall I" and "I should have" indicated that he cares what other people think, and wonders if he made the most of his life. In the last few stanzas, he seems to answer some of his own questions and perhaps has accepted that he is "grow[ing] old." Despite what seems like acceptance, the speaker still ends the poem with a feeling like he does not deserve certain things, like the mermaids will sing "each to each" but not "to [him]." This poem is somewhat depressing, but interesting, reading into the thoughts of this lonesome speaker. –Cara Weiner

Kyuhee (Ginny) Chae said

at 7:54 pm on Jan 29, 2009

I had the same problem as Cara.

The footnote is for Line 1:

The first line of the poem, "Let us go then, you and I", seems to be a direct response to the epigraph from "Dante's Inferno". In the epigraph, Guido (a poet in the 8th circle of hell) tells Dante that he admit his sins as Guido is under the impression that he will never leave hell. Similarly, Prufrock says: "let us go then", "then" being the key word. Under normal circumstance readers would question why Eliot has decided to include the word "then", but if we are to see the poem as a response to the epigraph, Prufrock is in a way admitting his “sins” to the ambiguous "you". And like "Dante's Inferno", Prufrock leads "you" through "half-deserted streets...streets that follow like a tedious argument/Of insiduous intent". The streets are a metaphor for exploring who Prufrock is, and as we examine further we find ourselves in Prufrock's own personal circle of hell.
In short, I read the poem as Prufrock being dead and revisiting parts of his life. When Prufrock compares himself to John the Baptist, he explains his fear of women (since John the Baptist was beheaded because Salome), a woman, but he also articulates that he is "no prophet", and he feared the "eternal Footman", most likely death. Since it is all written with past tense, I thought Prufrock to be dead and looking back on how he felt these things when alive. However we catch glimpses of Prufrock's life when he was alive (which seems to be made up of cowardice and feeble attempts to talk to women), which are his sins.

-Ginny (Kyuhee) Chae

Gregory Irons said

at 9:14 pm on Jan 29, 2009

The sixth stanza begins, “And Indeed there will be time/ To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’” The speaker is reassuring his audience. In saying there will be time we can infer that there is a pending event, possibly a tea party, causing apprehension. It’s clear that either the speaker or audience is considering doing something significant because they ask “Do I dare?” twice. It seems to be that the speaker is speaking to himself when he says “Time to turn back and descend the stair,/ With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—.” He is nervous about what others will think of him. He is apparently aging and balding and losing weight and has dressed up for the event. The issue of “Do I dare?” still weighs on him. He gives it more importance by asking, “Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?/ In a minute there is time/ For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” He is contemplating doing something with enormous consequences. The tone is very apprehensive and indecisive because the last line describes the speaker coming up with scenarios and changing his mind all within a short period of time, which could all be thrown out the window with a simple event. Given it is a love poem, I would assume a woman he desires is going to be at the event and he is considering expressing himself to her. Greg Irons

Myung keun Shim said

at 9:35 am on Jan 30, 2009

Yes there are some problems with the footnoting and I would write it here. The poem is about a modern man in that period who had too much information about life to the extent of being pessimisstic and lonely. He is somewhat overly informed of the word, and is emotionaly unstable. Prufock who is the poem's direct speaker has somebody he secretly loves. However he is scared and his passive of his love because he knows too much of life to share love with a woman. The ryhme and the structure seems like arbitrary, but as you read it several times, there is a form to it that is easily noticeable. There are stages to his reactions. First he asks,“What is it?” He is not as pessimistic yet but as he grows older, “That is not it at all." He has become pessimistic and has denied the possibilties in life.

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