“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” – Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T’S Eliot (1915) – 6 pages

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized on a table.

K426When I was in college, “The Waste Land”, that poem with the opening line ‘April is the cruelest month…”, was considered T. S. Eliot’s greatest poem. Today, I think “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” has surpassed “The Waste Land” in critical acclaim. Since “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is my favorite poem of all time, I may just be projecting my own idea on to the world.

Where “The Waste Land” is deep and serious, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is deep and playful. Prufrock is a fellow, let’s say in his mid-thirties, walking along the city streets on his way to a party. He is single, but he is considering asking a woman who will be at the party to marry him. That is the overwhelming question.

In the room women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo
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 –
(They will say, ‘How his hair is growing thin’)

Prufrock is picturing the party ahead of him; these self-assured women are discussing art while he is trying to build up his courage to ask this one woman to marry him. He gets self-conscious about his bald spot, and considers turning around and not going to the party. The world is going along just fine; how presumptuous of him to upset everything by asking this woman to marry him, and what if she should say ‘No’ ? “Do I dare disturb the Universe?”

Should I, after tea and cake and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

He ends up not asking the overwhelming question, doesn’t even go to the party.

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 have it been worth while,
To have bitten the matter off with a smile

He walks wearily back the way he came.

I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each

I do not think they will sing for me.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, written almost a hundred years ago, is often considered the first modernist poem. Some of the techniques used in the poem were not used in poetry before, but the poem is also about the modern man. Whereas men in the past acted without hesitation, the modern man over-thinks the situation and may end up not doing anything at all

At one point in my life I identified strongly with J. Alfred Prufrock. I’m not at all sure if the post-modern men of today are still self-conscious and indecisive like J. Alfred Prufrock.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. What a pleasure is is to read this again and your interpretation of it, Tony:)

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Thank you, this is one poem I always wanted to write about if I ever had a blog. Still I left out one of the poem’s most famous lines – “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.”

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  2. Oh please don’t remind me of those “coffee spoons”. Took me a while to get that metaphor. This was one of the first poems I learnt to seriously analyse in high school and it showed me how easy it is to trip yourself up if you don’t think very well. It too is one of my favourites, not withstanding the coffee spoons.

    Thanks for a lovely post … the language is delicious. I do love TS. Another line – from another poem – that I love is “the burnt out ends of smoky days”.

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  3. Hi WhisperingGums,
    “the burnt-out ends of smoky days”, that is a wonderful line. Which T. S. Eliot poem is that from? Eliot has a way of writing these lines that stay in your mind forever and ever.
    Just the two lines
    “In the room the women come and go
    Talking of Michelangelo”
    would have been enough to make him one of the great poets.

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