Understanding “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Hi, I’m Rebecca Balcarcel. Let’s take a close
look at the poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by TS Eliot. Already, with the
title, we get the sense that this man, who is speaking to
us in a dramatic monologue, is unusual. He’s awkward, and his name is a little stilted
and strange. It doesn’t flow musically or melodically, and that turns out to be true
of this man who is speaking to us in the poem. Now even before
the first line of the poem, we have a little section from Dante’s Inferno. Now, Dante goes
into hell and sees things and talks to people, and then
comes back out. This passage is from a soul that’s in hell, who speaks to Dante, figuring
nobody ever leaves hell, so it’s okay if I just tell my whole story to Dante, ’cause
no one will ever know about it. It turns out he’s wrong, and
Dante does tell about it and embarass this man. So embarassment is one of the emotions
that we’ll see in the poem, but even more important than that
is the idea that Dante has been in a remote underworld, and wants to come back and tell
something, but the secrets of that underworld are normally kept hidden. And I think the
secrets that this man carries around about who he really is,
or about what he thinks, his intellectual life… He keeps it all a secret, and he doesn’t
tell it, and he doesn’t live a social, public life. It’s all
hidden. That’s some of the relationship between this Dante passage and the poem, and there’s
more to say about that, and people have written papers about just that, but that’s enough
to get us started. So let’s move into the poem. It starts
out addressing the reader. “Let us go then, you and I,” so he’s saying, okay, come on
with me. “When the evening is spread out against the sky
/ Like a patient etherized upon a table;” this is not a very pleasant image for the
end of a day, or the sunset. It’s a patient etherized on a table is an inert body, a body
without liveliness, without consciousness. It’s deadened, even
though it’s not all the way dead. So this is an image that sets up a tone of bleakness,
and that continues. He says, “Let us go, through certain
half-deserted streets, / The muttering retreats / Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
/ And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:” Here he’s describing some of the things along
their walk. We’re going to go past these one-night, cheap hotels, and these sawdust restaurant
which would have a floor of sawdust. They put sawdust
on the floor so they can just sweep out all the grime and gunk that collects on the floor.
The sawdust tells us that these are not fancy establishments. This is kind of a seedy part
of town. They continue on, the you and I, to these
streets, “Streets that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent / To lead you
to an overwhelming question … / Oh, do not ask, What is it?
/ Let us go and make our visit.” So now we know that they’re going to walk through these
streets, and then visit somebody. But the streets are half-deserted, they have these
seedy restaurants, and the streets are like a tedious argument.
So they wander around, they don’t really go anywhere, and again we have that feeling of
bleakness and not hopefulness, this purposelessness. And now
they’re going to go an make their visit. But first there’s this reference to an overwhelming
question, and that is referred to again throughout the poem. So one of the questions we readers
have is, what is that question? Eliot does not
tell us directly what that question is. He just says that the streets follow like a tedious
argument, a line of reasoning that is tangled of insidious
intent, so this is a bad intent, to lead you to an overwhelming question. So somehow the conversation or this argument
which is not a fighting argument but more like a line of reasoning, it leads to some
overwhelming question, and what that is, we can explore. Okay.
Next stanza: “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.” This line gets
repeated. It’s a little refrain, it’s almost like a little song in the middle here. And
he is decribing where it is they’re visiting. So they’re in
a place where women are going by, and they’re talking about an artist. Michelangelo’s a
famous artist. But these women are not acedemics or artist
themselves, it’s just fashionable to speak of artists, kind of like name-dropping, pretending
to know a lot about art. Maybe they really don’t. It’s sort of a show, a social play
that they all participate in. Now he describes the yellow
fog. “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, / The yellow smoke that
rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,” so now the smoke is like
an animal that has a muzzle. “Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,” very creative.
So it seems mostly like a cat here. “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, / And seeing that it was a soft October night, / Curled once about the
house, and fell asleep.” This is all personification or, if
it’s a cat and if it’s a catification describing fog or yellow smoke. Again, we’re in a not
pretty, not picturesque part of the city. It’s yellow
because it’s industrial, and even though the cat imagery is kind of interesting, creative,
it’s not really a happy image. We have the fog all the way up from the sky, and then
down into the pools, in the drains. So we’re moving from
looking at the sky down onto the ground. “And indeed there will be time,” he says, “For
the yellow smoke that slides along the street, / Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
/ There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you
meet;” this line about there will be time refers to another
poem that talks about time and is trying to hurry time along, but here he keeps insisting,
there will be time, as if there’s always more time, and he says that in that extra time
we have, there’s time for that fog and that smoke to wander
around some more. We have wonderful language here, as far as the smoke rubbing its back
on the window panes. But then it says to prepare, there will
be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet. He’s talking about how, when
you go into a social situation, you prepare your face. So you either prepare a persona,
through which you will be speaking and acting, you know, “Okay,
I’m going to pretend to be cheerful even though I don’t feel that great right now.” Or maybe
you prepare a face, as in, you decide you’re going to
be polite even though that may not be strictly how you feel about these people or about this
event. You’re going to make the best of it, you’re going to be a good sport, when in fact
maybe you don’t really want to be there. And all of
us have had to do this in our social lives, visit people we don’t really want to see,
etc. So here he is making this visit, and he spends a lot of time
talking about the fog and the smoke, none of which sounds really happy. It’s rather
industrial and dark. He goes on: “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;” so, there will be time to murder and create. So this is about things
that her actually wants to do with life, to create, murder…
I guess we have the constant destruction in creation as a theme in a creative life or
even in our own psychological life, we murder parts of ourselves or bad habits, and then
we create ourselves anew. We get rid of old identities and form
new ones. I think that is part of what he’s saying here. All through here there’s more interpretations,
there’s different ways to read it, so this is just one take on it, okay? But that’s what
I think of when I read that line. “And time for all the
works and days of hands / That lift and drop a question on your plate;” all the things
you might do in a day, the works you would accomplish with your hands, or whatever, and
then it drops a question on your plate. We’re mentioning a
question again. “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.” A toast and tea makes me think that this gathering, this visit,
might be a tea party, or it may just be a gathering that has tea available, you know.
But notice how he says, “There’s time for you and time for me.” So
he’s speaking either to the reader again, or maybe by now the “you” is feeling more
like a companion that he’s speaking to, and if he’s speaking to
the companion, then maybe we’re just overhearing this whole conversation between two people,
even though the one is doing all the talking. If it’s the reader though, then he’s saying,
you know, reader, there’ll be time for you and I to
have an exchange that is meaningful at some stage, but right now we have to be polite
in all of this tea party stuff. Now, he also says, “Time for a
hundred indecisions.” And indecision seems to be one of the traits of this speaker here.
He doesn’t make decisions. There’s this overwhelming question. We don’t know what it is. There’s
this worry about going to this place, that all
this imagery that’s uncomfortable and bleak, and indecision is what he’s thinking about,
not being able to make a decision, not being able to act. And
he’s thinking about a hundred visions and revisions. So planning to do something but
then changing his mind, or setting out on one direction and then deciding to go another
direction. So he’s not secure, he’s not confident. And we can
see that in these lines. Then we have the Michelangelo line again. “In the room the
women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.” So while he’s
been thinking about visions and revisions, the women are still doing their artist talk
and so on. So he’s not participating in this visit. So far he hasn’t met anyone, he hasn’t
talked to anyone. All of this is happening mostly in his head,
and we’re overhearing his thinking. At some point you hope he’ll actually start to do
something at this visit. Let’s see. “And indeed there will be
time.” So he says this again. He has a thing about time, I guess. He thinks that there’s
always a little more time. “…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!) / 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 / Disturb the universe? / In a minute
there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” Let’s go back
and see what he said there. He says, “There will be time
to wonder, do I dare?” So there’s something he wants to do here at this social event.
Do I dare, though? He is nervous about it. He is insecure. He doesn’t know if he should
go ahead with it, whatever it is. Then he thinks, well, wait,
but there’s time to turn back and descend the stairs. So we’re going down again, descending,
and he’s nervous that people will comment on the bald
spot in- on his head, and that they’ll think he looks bad, that he looks maybe, that he
looks old. And even though he looks like he’s dressed alright, my necktie, and I’ve got
this pin, no that’s not enough, because people are going
to say, gosh, he’s growing thin. So he’s worried about what people think of him, he’s worried
about looking a little silly, stupid, old. He thinks
he’s not impressive, according to him. Maybe he’s just paranoid and everybody thinks he
looks fine, and they’re not even thinking about his bald spot and so on, but he’s obsessing
about it. He notices little details, and he’s worried that
he’ll be judged by the little detail of his hair, in this social situation. Poor guy. Now, the next stanza: “For I have known them
all already,” meaning all the people, all this whole situation at this gathering, “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 / Beneath the music from a farther room. / So how should I presume?” So here he says,
I’m familiar with all of this. I’ve known the mornings,
the evenings, the afternoons. I’ve done all these stupid parties quite a lot. He says,
I’ve measured my life with coffee spoons, which is a famous
line, and quite original. It’s as if he’s just always at these coffee things, and one
more spoonful of sugar, or one more stir of milk, and boy, that’s his whole life. It feels
like these social gatherings are constant. Then he says,
“I know the voices dying with a dying fall.” Now here’s mention of dying. You notice how
we’ve had descent, descending the stair. We’ve had the
beginning where Dante’s in hell. There’s this kind of downward motion of the poem, and I
think when he says, “the dying fall,” we have another sort of descending idea, that people’s
voices in the other room sound like ending, not at a
fresh beginning, but a dying fall. He doesn’t hear the exact words, perhaps. Maybe he’s
hearing just the music of the voices, but they seem to be
dying. They seem to be ending, descending. And that’s not a very happy image either.
Now he says, beneath- this is beneath the music, he hears these voices. “So how should
I presume?” So now he’s questioning himself some more, like,
“Should I do this thing? How should I presume? Why would I be so presumptious as to go ahead
and do this thing, or ask this question?” Whatever it is
that he is there to do. And he’s questioning himself, doubting himself. “And I have known
the eyes already,” so he talks about how he’s already known these events. Now he’s focusing
just on the eyes of people. “I have known the eyes already,
known them all / 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, / Then how should I begin / To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and
ways? / And how should I presume?” So again he’s imagining trying to be in a conversation
with someone, but he knows that they always pin him to the
wall, so they’ll ask some kind of formulated phrase. Maybe they’ll say something of a pleasantry
that’s not a real question, or he feels like it’s a
superficial exchange. And then he is going to feel like he’s sprawled on a pin, and a
pin is used for putting insects on a card, or something, to study. So he feels like he’s
being scrutinized, studied, analyzed, and he doesn’t feel at
liberty to express himself, not for real. He says, how should I begin to spit out all
about my life, the butt-ends of my days and ways? Butt-ends doesn’t
sound like it’s very pleasant. He thinks that what his days and ways are would not make
good conversation, that people don’t wanna hear about his days and ways. He says, how
should I presume? How should I talk about that? Do they want
to know that? He cannot find a way to engage with people in this setting. Next stanza: “And I have known the arms already.”
Now, instead of talking about whole people, he talks about the eyes, and now here we go
to the arms. “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!) / Is it perfume from a dress / 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?” Alright, so he’s talking about women here.
Women’s arms, he’s noticed them very particularly. He’s noticed
the hair on their arms. He notices the perfume from a dress, and he’s thinking, well maybe
that’s why I can’t talk. It makes me digress, it makes me lose my train of thought, so maybe
this shows that he’s attracted to these women, and that’s
why he’s intimidated and can’t figure out what to say. He’s observing the women very
closely, and that they make him nervous. He says, “How should
I presume, and how should I begin?” He doesn’t know how to try to tell these women about
who he is or what is life is like. Next stanza: “Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through
narrow streets / And watched the smoke that rises from the
pipes / Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …” That doesn’t sound like
a great conversation starter, does it? He’s thinking,
that’s something I could say, but he knows that that isn’t what people want to talk about,
so in the next section he says, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling
across the floors of silent seas.” Again, he puts himself
in a subterranean level, down, down, down. That’s where he’s thinking it makes sense
for him to be. I should just be like a crab, with claws. I’m
so awkward, I’m so wierd. Nobody wants to talk about what I want to talk about. No one
will be interested in what I have to say. “And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so
peacefully! / Smoothed by long fingers, / Asleep … tired … or it malingers, / Stretched
on the floor, here beside you and me.” So again he’s using
animal language or personification to talk about how the evening sleeps peacefully, and
the evening, instead of being an etherized patient, now the evening is lying down on
the floor, between you and me, so either between the reader and
the speaker here, or between this companion that he’s talking to. But the evening, he
says it sleeps peacefully, smoothed by long fingers, which is
kind of pleasant, kind of relaxing, but then it says, “Asleep … tired … or it malingers.”
Now malingering is something I associate with illness or people pretending to have an illness
and lying around lazily, and trying to get out
of doing their work. So that’s a negative word to throw in with this peaceful image.
So we don’t really get a nice, peaceful image after all. The
evening is possibly malingering. So we don’t entirely trust its peaceful sleep, and it’s
stretched out on the floor, here beside you and me. Well, what does that mean? I think maybe he’s
referring to a time after this social tea party thing. He doesn’t know how he should
feel about how the social thing went. Then he says, “Should I,
after tea and cakes and ices, / Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” Okay,
so at the event, there’s tea, cakes, ices. Should I have forced the moment to its crisis?
So he meant to do something and take some action or say
something that would have forced the moment to a crisis, that would have created some
tension here and caused something to happen. But he didn’t do it.
It says, “But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, / Though I have seen my head
(grown slightly bald)” let’s not forget, “brought in upon a platter,” and that’s a reference
to John the Baptist… Though that has all happened,
“I am no prophet and here’s no great matter; / I have seen the moment of my greatness
flicker,” so he says, okay, even though I have wept and
prayed and now I’m older with my bald head or slightly bald, I’m not doing all this suffering
to be a martyr, to be a prophet, even though I feel persecuted, like John the Baptist,
maybe because, socially, he feels persecuted. He doesn’t
fit in with society the same way a prophet doesn’t fit in. He still says, “I’m not a
prophet, and I’ve seen the moment of my greatness flicker.” So even
the potential he could have had to be great, it has flickered. It wasn’t just strong and
shining, it has weakened, and shifted, and flickered. So that’s not happening anymore. Alright, now we still have a ways to go. Let’s
see. “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short,
I was afraid.” Now I apologize for not reading that together,
because flicker and snicker go together, rhyme. But now we have yet another death image. The
eternal footman holds my coat. That’s like death is standing there like, “Come this way,
sir, to death.” And not only is he ushering him to
death, but he’s snickering, so that’s like laughing, making fun of him, as if his life
is a joke, or maybe his death is a joke. Again, he’s questioning
his worth, or the worth of his life. He’s feeling like even death is going to laugh
at his expense. Now he’s going to look back a bit: “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, / To have
bitten off the matter with a smile, / To have squeezed the
universe into a ball / To roll it towards some overwhelming question, / To say: I
am Lazarus, come from the dead, / Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
/ If one, settling a pillow by her head / Should say: ‘That is not what
I meant at all; / That is not it, at all.’ Okay. Help. Let’s go back. He’s questioning
whether it would have been worth it after all of that cakes,
marmalade at the gathering. And some talk of you and me, the companion, or the reader
become the companion. Would it have been worth it to have bitten of the matter with a smile?
So what does that mean? He means, should I have gone ahead
and talked about it, and smiled, and put forward this thing that I’m not saying, and this thing
that he was too afraid to say? In fact, he says
earlier, “In short, I was afraid.” He’s been afraid to be himself, especially in society,
and here he’s saying, well, okay, what if I had gone ahead and said it, and bitten off
the matter with a smile, and squeezed the universe into a
ball? It would take such a effort to do that, but it would be such a grand thing. It would
be like squeezing the universe into a ball, and roll it
to the overwhelming question. So again we have this overwhelming question. What is that
question? Is the question the thing he can’t say? He has a question to ask, and he won’t
ask it? He’s mentioned women, and- and, uh, the fascination
he has with women. Is it about the women? Maybe he wants to marry one of these women.
Is it that he can’t ask her to marry him? Is that the
question? Or is it more of a question that would challenge the situation, that would
shatter this oh-so-polite, superficial thing, and make it a deeper situation, or make it
a more genuine situation, if he were just himself. Maybe
that’s what it would take, is to roll the universe into a ball and… Well, then he
says an example of something he might say, like, what if I said, I
am Lazarus, come from the dead, and I have something to tell you. Again we have the mention
of death and dead. So Lazarus in the bible is brought back to life by Jesus. Lazarus
has been to wherever after death is, and is able to come
back and say something about where he’s been. So maybe Prufrock is saying, I have something
to tell all of you about my journeys. Maybe they’re
creative journeys, maybe they’re artistic journeys, maybe he’s seen death in some way
because of his experience in life. But whatever it is, he compares himself to Lazarus, who
has been dead, but now is alive and has something to say. But
now he says, would it have been worth it to try to say that if a woman would just settle
a pillow by her head, and said, oh, that’s not what I meant
at all. So maybe he’s saying that every time these women will ask him a question or try
to get him to talk, if he would say what he really wants to say, they would be confused
and look at him, and say, well that’s not what I meant to ask
you. You don’t understand my question. So he is insecure about how he would answer.
And if he answered truthfully, or answered fully, the women would
be confused. It’s just bad news for him all around. Alright, next stanza: “And would it
have been worth it, after all, / Would it have been worth while, / After the sunsets
and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets, / After the novels,
after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor” all these details from
the social gathering, “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: / 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.'” Now he’s throwing rhyme
in here, but here we have repitition as well as rhyme. It’s
like he keeps circling back to this problem. Maybe there’s a way to make these social situations
work. Maybe I need to say this or do that. And he thinks, would it have been worthwhile
if I tried to say just what I mean. But he says it’s
impossible to do that, especially if the audience would just again say, oh, that’s not what
I meant at all. He is quite certain that he will be
misunderstood. Now he says, “No!” So the question for a while has been, would it have been worth
it? His answer is no, it would not have been worth
it. “I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;” he’s going to refer to Hamlet here,
and also the lord who attends to the kind in the play,
HAMLET, who’s name is Polonius. And Polonius is not a very likeable character. He’s in
a respectable role, but he does some mean stuff in the play, and he’s not well-liked,
and he’s kind of wordy and long-winded, and people think of
him as a bit of a fool. He takes himself too seriously. So that guy has some parallels
to this speaker, Polonius and this speaker. And he says, “No! I
am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; / Am an attendant lord,” and he means to say,
I am an attendant lord, but he leaves off the I, and some scholars have said that’s
because he has such a weak sense of self or ego that he doesn’t
assert himself even enough to use the word “I.” “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, / Politic, cautious, and
meticulous; / Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; / At times, indeed, almost ridiculous
/ Almost, at times, the Fool.” So that’s a little summary
of Polonius’s characteristics, and also the speaker’s. He’s saying, I’m not the main character
of a play. I’m more like the secondary character who is a little obstuse, and is almost a fool,
and is glad to be of use, but isn’t the hero. And this is how he sees himself, doesn’t see
himself in a good light. Now he says, “I grow old … I
grow old … / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” I’ve read this is a style
that young people are wearing at this time period, so maybe he’s saying, I’ll try out
this new clothing style so that I look younger. But whatever
it is, this rolling of the trousers doesn’t seem like it’s going to fix the problems that
he has that this lack of confidence and this obtuseness and
all that. Now we’re getting close to the end. “Shall I part my hair behind?” Now he’s thinking,
well that might help, I’ll cover up the bald spot or something. He’s worried about aging,
he’s worried about death, as we keep saying. “Do
I dare to eat a peach?” Now he’s thinking of doing something that people full of life
would do, eat a peach, savor it. And peaches are also associated
with femininity and savoring sensuality as well. And he has trouble with that too. So
now he’s asking, do I dare eat a peach? My guess is he won’t be doing that. “I shall
wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. / I have
heard the mermaids singing, each to each.” Now this sounds kind of positive. I’ve heard
the mermaids singing. That sounds cool. For the first time
we’re not talking about the dirty city, the polluted yellow fog and stuff. The mermaids
singing is a kind of mythological image, and a natural image, out there in the sea. It’s
a little moment of hope, here. But then immediately he says,
“I do not think that they will sing to me.” So whatever the mermaids are singing, he has
heard them, but they’re not going to sing to him. He’s going
to be left out of that as well. “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.”
So he has seen the mermaids out there, and that tells us
that there is something special about him, and it’s too bad that he hasn’t been able
to express it, uh, because he has seen something special, and we
wish he could, like Lazarus, come back and tell us all about it. But he says, I have
seen them, and then here’s the last three lines: “We have lingered in the chambers of
the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till
human voices wake us, and we drown.” A sad ending here. He’s saying that we, and
now he’s trying to involve us, the reader, again, or maybe his companion. We have lingered
in the chambers of the sea. So we’ve been in that
subterranean level, that low down, whether it’s Dante’s hell mentioned at the beginning,
and the low things mentioned throughout the poem. Now they’re in the sea chambers, like
underwater caves, and he says we’ve lingered there. Is that
a metaphor for the unconscious, for the creative artist who goes down into the imaginative
depths of his psyche? Seems like he’s had some kind of
experience that is like exploring the underwater caves. And he has lingered there, and in these
underwater chambers there are sea-girls wreathed with seaweed, red and brown. So they have
the seaweed, they have life. The seaweed is not
dead but alive, unlike so much of the other imagery that’s dealing with death and so on.
It’s contact with life, and yet they’re mermaids so it’s
almost like an imaginary life, or the underground source of life. He has lingered there, but
then human voices wake us. So they were lingering there until human voices woke them. And we
drown. So they were underwater, and it was okay until
they woke up and now they drown, because you can’t be underwater while you’re awake, once
regular life comes in. You cannot mantain the imaginative
life. Or maybe it’s like the human voices are the calls upon you, the duties of the
world, or the social constraints. The human voices could be any kind of call that comes
from the regular world, outside of this mythical sea chamber place.
And when you realize that that’s there, the real world is there, then you drown. That
is you cannot mantain your existence down in that realm, whatever
it is, whether it’s the imagination, or the psyche, the unconscious, whatever. It cannot
be mantained. We can’t stay there. This is his sad ending, I guess, is that he can’t
quite make it in the human world, and yet he can’t stay in his
own mental world, or his imagination world, either, ’cause the human voices do wake us,
and we drown. Well, I hope this helps you understand the
poem a bit more. We could analyze lots of other aspects of the poem, but as far as a
first reading through, this is a good start, and I hope you’ll
join me for another video sometime.

100 thoughts on “Understanding “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

  1. Thank you very much on your insight I liked most of the explanation but:
    1. He is a sexually frustrated man about his appearance and about being accepted into the world of the women.
    2. He is unable to take decisions and that worries him,
    3. He is very urban, cosmopolitan.
    4. He talks about the vanity and false knowledge just because it is popular does not mean that people really know about art.

  2. He is an awkward, solitary middle age man. Perhaps so painfully shy, he has never been able to approach a lady. Therefore his life evolves in a brothel. He has been with all the women, but has not feel what is love. His life is so isolated, even tough he wants to dare to live a different way. His life in this environment us the only one he can handle. He knows it, he is not happy about it. He wants to break away, but he cannot find the strength to do it. So he thinks, is the "love" he finds in this place the love he deserves? Is this place and with this women tat I can find love, ultimately?

  3. Eliot is speaking to himself not 'us'…. We are privee to this. Do try and listen to this recital: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi-Lcq2sgrE

  4. This is a wonderful explanation! Made me appreciate this poem so much more. I feel like every time I read Eliot's work, I find something new to analyze. Thank you!

  5. Nice Job. I agree with a lot of what you say. I have just added some of my commentary as you go along. I feel Elliot feels the world is not a very nice place, and that he will have time to make all the decisions of life, but never being able to take a stand on anything of importance. In his youth he says I will have time for a hundred visions and revisions. Letting the reader know right off that he is not a man of convictions. The Michaelangelo line, to me, seems to talk about the artifice of people in general who are shallow and talk about a work of art that is universally loved, and therefore an easy thing to talk and have an opinion about. In other words why are people not discuss art that brings the viewer more of a challenge. He sees his peers as shallow and perhaps not worth putting in the time and effort to get to know them. His life is passing him by and he is still not making any decisions. He is not so much worried about being judged by his thinning hair, I think it is more a tool to let the reader know a lot of time has gone by and still he has no answer. to anything. Measuring his life in tablespoons. Meaning he never took a daring leap in his life. Everything in his life has been very deliberate. He is no risk taker. He is bored with himself. I think that is a very important passage. Picture measuring your life in teaspoons? He always plays it safe. he is afraid of being pinned down, and asked anything of importance., He puts up walls, and never really lived. By his older years he knows everything about people but he still refuses to TAKE THE PLUNGE!! As in marry. He is an enigma, maybe even to himself. He thinks about taking a stand on something as he gets closer to death, but figures why bother at that point. Even lamenting as to whether it would have been worth Playing the game. Partaking in the small talk. Joined in the conversations he saw as monotonous and popular culture of his day.
    I think the yellow smoke, is a metaphor for all cowards like him, (YELLOW=Coward) that want to be inside with the people, but are content to look in the windows, and settle themselves in the recesses of the night. The YELLOW smoke prefers to dance around the action but never invade it. I think that he described the smoke as yellow was deliberate on Elliot"s part. The yellow smoke is like himself. The monotony of it all. He compares it to something as bad as pollution. Verbal pollution. I don't think he had a hard time "Playing the game" as it were to get along in his society. I think he just felt it was not worth it. As though he is just playing out the game and waiting for death. I think he was capable, but felt it was just not worth it. Not worth "Biting it all with a smile" When he questions whether his companion would have had deeper thoughts and worth putting in the time and effort it takes to get to know someone. Would the time and effort be worth it in the end. He feels that not trying at all, because it probably wont be worth it anyway. Would it have been worth letting his walls crumble, and letting people, (women) into his life. I think his many references to death are just considered the END OF THE RIDE. And the Lazzerous comparison is that he wonders if even after death he will wonder if it would have been worth it to do anything/everything differently. I think he was more than capable of living a fully actuallized life, but that he chose not to. I agree he was insecure. He could not make decisions easily. He doubts himself constantly and never trusts his gut, his intuition. He always feels he would be misunderstood. He wonders if he had played the game, would his life have been fulfilling.

    Eating a peach was clearly a reference to sexual relations with a women. Which I assume he has done in his life. Because of previous lines referring to one night cheap hotels, I would not say by this point in his life he is a virgin. I think the Peach reference means should he have married. I may well be wrong, but this is how I see it.

    Talking about the underwater chambers, I believe he is again better off being in the shadows rather than in the spotlight. When he let the voices in he died because maybe it was an answer to his question as to whether it was all worth it. As you say he can not make it in the Human world.

    I read this poem for the first time in 7th grade and knew I was J. Alfred Prufrock. I am 47 and I am still J. Alfred Prufrock. I detest popular culture. Always have as long as I have been alive. I prefer being alone to talking about the Kardashians, or as a child the movie ET. Anything that was packaged and sold to me and my demographic by large corporations. So far, putting in the time and taking the leap is not worth it to me. I so identified with this man at such a young age. I was a very serious child and understood Prufrock as soon as I was done with this poem the first time. I am not ptoud to be like Prufrock. In fact I would give everything I own to not be prufrock. I have lived a very colorful and to most people a kind of crazy life. I find my life to be boring , however when I tell it to whom I consider "Normal" people they beg me to write a book. I may have done many colorful things in my life, and I have been with my share of women, but none have been worth marrying in my opinion. I may have done lots of crazy, interesting things, but none of them are of significant Which is why I feel a kinship with Prufrock

  6. very nice and thanks for your effort .. but can you add a script of your oral talking because I speak Arabic and I don't understand you very well

  7. OMG! Thank you so much for that video! I need this poem for a final exam, and I read it twice in english, then I read it in bulgarian (i'm bilingual) I read summary, notes etc. and I still felt like an idiot not getting what this is really about, and then I found your video and now It opened my eyes 😀 i already know much more for 38 minutes than from 3 hour researching 😀

  8. I think the best way to interpret the poem is to imagine it as having been written by Prufrock himself to try and woo a woman. In this sense, a lot of the poem can be seen as him thinking out loud as to how best to write this love song.

    The epigraph, about embarrassment of telling the audience his story, is similar to the embarrassment a poet feels in sharing their early work (Elliot would have related. He said that, although he wrote his first poems at around 14, he destroyed them cause they apparently were "gloomy and despairing").

    The title "The Love Song of …" is quite simplistic, and makes sense as a working title for someone writing a poem but hasn't come up with a proper title.

    Prufrock says later on that he is "Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse". That would explain some of the melodic yet seemingly tautologous lines, like "To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet" and "I know the voices dying with a dying fall". They're tautologous because they were written by Prufrock himself.

  9. Thank you for your instruction on this piece of poetry. It really helped me understand it more and also finish my paper. 🙂

  10. Amazing video. Loved the way you broke down every sentence of this poem. By far one of the best explanations i have heard or read. After watching this video i understood the poem in its entirety. I am recommending your videos for others in my class to see! Keep up the good work!

  11. Translation in Macedonian linguage
    Љубовната песна на Алфред Пруфрок
    Т.С. Елиот
    “Да бев оној кој да му се врати на светот брза,
    ќе сметав дека одговорот веќе сум ви го дал
    и пламеноблујавиов јазик ќе ми беше врзан.
    Ама, бидејќи амбисов нема ни врата ни џам
    и никој жив не отишол од овој подземен бал,
    за сѐ што чув ќе ви дрдорам без страв и срам.“
    Данте, Пеколот, XXVII, 61-66
    Да појдеме додека вечерта тоне спроти ова небо
    како под опојка да е пациент на операциона маса;
    да појдеме по улицата каде сиромавиот во џебот
    до тивко ноќно засолниште во ефтин хотел стасал,
    во ресторан послан со струготини служат школки,
    таму тој ќе ги ублажи многуте свои бессони болки;
    по полупусти улици водич ни е измамната химера,
    до здодевниот доказ нѐ води со подмолна намера,
    до надмоќното прашање од филозофската стоа…
    Ох, немој да прашуваш волку рано `Што е тоа?`!
    Ај да се правиме дека воопшто не ни се ита
    и да уживаме во нашата откривачка визита!
    Ко насретсело во собата жените се сноваат
    и премудри тиради за Микеланѓело коваат.
    Од прозорските рамови жолта магла грб си чеша,
    на нив и жолтиот дим муцка трие ко да бара храна,
    ги лиже аглите на вечерта што е четвртеста цреша
    заглавена во бари заостанати во одводниот канал;
    а кога од оџаците грбот на маглата го оросат саѓи
    таа потскокнува изненадена, преку терасата ползи,
    гледа дека октомвриската ноќ се истенчила бааѓи,
    врти задкуќа и легнува да спие како небесни солзи.
    И верно, ќе има доволно време за жолтестиот чад
    сладострасно врз колковите на улицата да светне;
    ќе има доволно време за сеуште да се остане млад
    и да спремиш гард пред лицата кои ќе ги сретнеш;
    твое ќе е времето во сите денови и за сите нешта,
    ќе има доволно време да создаваш и да ништиш,
    ќе има дигалка со која нечија рака, долга и вешта,
    ти го сервира во чинија прашањето што те тишти.
    И верно, и за мене и за тебе ќе има доволно време
    за стотици колебања за возможен почеток или крај,
    за стотици замисли и премисли да бидам спремен
    пред да го лапнам колачето и го испијам мојот чај.
    Ко насретсело во собата жените се сноваат
    и премудри тиради за Микеланѓело коваат.
    И верно, доста време ќе имам, за дилеми и теза,
    да се прашам`Дали смелост во срцево носам?`.
    Време кога ќе се свртам за по скали да слезам,
    закитен со ќелавото теме насреде мојата коса,
    (тие ќе речат:`Супер, косата не ќе му се дига`)
    цврсто стегнат во мојот фрак, но не како позер,
    со кравата модерна и скапа но со проста игла
    (тие ќе речат `Бре, што има тенки раце и нозе!`),
    дали тогаш доволно ќе бидам смел и со стис
    да ја вознемирам вселената и саатното клатно?
    Во минутата има доста време за настап на бис,
    за одлука и за пишман што неа ја врти обратно.
    А јас веќе ги знам сите нив, ги имам проверено,
    знам вечери, утра, попладниња, знам жега и лад,
    со кафени лажичиња животот го имам измерено:
    ги знам умирачките гласови во умирачкиот пад,
    придружувани со музиката од далечната соба.
    Ни претпоставка ми треба, ни генерална проба!
    А јас веќе ги знам сите очи чиј поглед е свиснат,
    сите тие очи кои те втеруваат во шаблон и фраза:
    а кога сум шаблонизиран и со топуската стиснат
    ко еден од инсектите кои навидум и мртви лазат,
    како тогаш јас би требало да почнам без горчина
    од моите денови да ги исплукам сите догорчиња
    и да претпоставам дека уживам а не дека мразам?
    А јас веќе ги знам и рацете, сите ми се стиснати,
    тие бели и разголени раце со бразлетни украсени,
    (но, осветлени од ламбата, влакносани и виснати!)
    Дали мирисите од фустанот ги сторија огнасени
    моите денови што минат оддалечени и вџасени?
    Раце спружени на маса, или затскриени со шал.
    Па така, треба ли да претпоставам, без ронка жал,
    дека за да тргнам ми треба само еден чекор мал?
    Дека на самрак по улици лутав да кажам дали треба,
    дека сетив тутунски чадја и мириси на тешки манџи
    кои рееја откај осамените луѓе желни за поарни неба.
    А можев да бидам сал еден чифт парталосани канџи
    кои на дното на некое тивко море талогот го гребат.
    И вечерта тивко залегнала во попладневна дремка!
    Долгите прсти на саатниот бројчаник ја измазниле,
    таа заспива, преуморна, или можеби само се фемка
    испружена на подот, како јас и ти да сме ја казниле.
    По чајот, колачите и сладоледот, по таа слатка низа,
    треба ли јас насила моментот да го втерам во криза?
    Иако постев и плачев, со солзи се молев пред Ѕидот,
    иако на дискусот мојата оќелавена глава си ја видов,
    јас пророк не сум, немам големо прашање или став;
    видов дека моето време на величие е само секунда,
    видов како вечниот лакеј ја придржува мојата бунда,
    кратко речено, јас поминав низ секој трепет и страв.
    И по толку кафиња, мармалад, по толку испиен чај,
    среде тој порцелан, среде муабет меѓу тебе и мене,
    дали воопшто може да има вредност и некаков сјај,
    дали е толку драгоцено за на престолот да се крене,
    јунаштвото дека со насмев го оставаш зад себе сето,
    дека сета вселена ја сплескуваш во сал едно ќофте,
    дека се вртиш кон некое надмоќно прашање клето –
    за потоа да видиш дека промашување е тој повтеж
    зашто токму кога ќе разгласиш дека си оној Лазар
    што од мртвите е вратен, дека ти на сето си сума,
    домашниот есап не ти го признаваат на овој пазар –
    залегнатиот в кревет вели: `за тоа не станува дума`.
    И по тие зајдисонца в градини пред влезни врати
    во улици извалкани, по толку романи и шољи чај
    и предолги сукњи и толку плати и долгови и рати,
    по многу други нешта, вреди ли тоа како за крај?
    Невозможно е да се каже што точно јас мислам,
    зашто како магична ламба по нерви да ми шета,
    ме турка во обрасците на некој екран да киснам
    и да се прашам вреден ли е тоа ќар или е штета,
    бидејќи секогаш има некој што ќе ти дупне гума:
    удобно залегнат в кревет, тој џитка мисла клета –
    дека ти врска немаш, за тоа не станувало дума.
    Јас не сум принц Хамлет и не мислам да бидам,
    само прислужник сум за напредокот да брекне,
    да почнат една или две сцени меѓу четири ѕида,
    да го советувам принцот кога нема да му текне,
    почитуван, сигурен алат сум, лесен за ракување,
    политичар, претпазлив, педантен но малку глуп
    оти напати сум високоумен па ми треба чување;
    верно, некогаш сум и смешен па испаѓам труп,
    во мене Будалата и Џокерот најчесто се на куп.
    Стареам, од она кое вредеше останаа само талони,
    веќе ги подвиткав ногавиците на мојте панталони.
    На плажа спружени сирени си пеат една на друга,
    смеам ли праска да загризам а патецот на тилот?
    Не ни помислувам некоја со мене да сподели шуга,
    си седам мадро, се правам како ништо да не било.
    А гледав, они похотно на морето му се подаваат,
    седите коси му ги мрсат дури на таласите јаваат.
    И ние долго се сновеме низ тој морски харем,
    и ние би сакале така да ни прават и да правиме,
    тие сирени да нѐ впрегнат во љубовниот јарем –
    но човечките гласови нѐ будат и ние се давиме.

  12. Brava! You deserve kudos for the relatively gentle and painless way of inviting your audience to engage with the poem, holding their hands on their first cycle around the hermeneutic circle–or perhaps I should say the hermeneutic spiral. .

  13. Hi Rebecca,

    What a wonderfully unpretentious and unthreatening manner you have with regard to clearly explaining and making accessible these wonderful works of literature. I just came across your channel today and I will promote it on my podcast;


    Forgive the plug. 🙂 I look forward to watching more or your videos. Thanks.

  14. Thank you so much. I like the way you went smoothly in this reading. However my question is why you didn't try read the poem title. It starts with the "love"! What love? Why it doesn't appear in this love song? Did he (a) love song not (the) love song?! The sense of hopelessness is very clear in the poem so what love is it that can make a thin hared man dress up and attempt to eat a peach. This metaphor I think refers to his sexual "inability".
    I love poetry and although English is not my language I feel this poem has touched me very deeply.
    Thanks again

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You explained this poem in such a way that left me informed of your great ideas, but also allowed me to form my own opinions of the life of Prufrock. You were enjoyable to listen to as well. 🙂

  16. I think you have mixed up the Lazaruses and that Eliot is referring to Lazarus by the Gate from his parable about the pauper Lazarus ascending to the bosom of Abraham whilst the rich man is rejected. The rich man then says that if a dead person were able to come back to life and warn others…etc etc.
    But thank you for this vid.

  17. thank you for this wonderful explanation, it really helped me understand fully 🙂

  18. This has been enlightening. As you pointed out, it just gives us a way to think about the poem. Thank you. I have a test today on it. 😀

  19. Thank you so much for this break down! I love your videos, they really help me get a better handle on the meanings and ideas behind my favorite poems and stories!

  20. The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock is one of the most beautiful, compelling, enigmatic poems of the 20th century. Many of us, I'm sure, have come back time and time again to this poem, wondering what additional glimmer of insight may illuminate it and move us – as I have, and been moved. So here's my take.

    First of all, it is a love song. So while it may be a stream of consciousness, it is a structured one – e.g. note the repetitions – albeit a complicated structure. Indeed, Prufrock is in love, painfully so. He longs deeply for a particular woman, whom he refers to in "If one, settling a pillow by her head…"

    Some have argued that Prufrock is terribly indecisive and passive. Similar to Hamlet, he seems to agonize and obsess over what to do, in relation to her, and and may indeed paralyze himself into saying nothing or doing nothing. Instead, I would argue that he has approached this woman, spent a lot of time with her, and gone to bed with her! He is neither indecisive nor passive.

    But alas Prufrock is a dour, anxiety-riddled man who, in bed with his love, sometimes goes soft on her – his erection fails him. It is so deeply embarrassing that he dies on the spot. That death is figurative of course, but it figures prominently throughout the poem: Shame so discombobulating to and disintegrating of his psyche, i.e. self esteem, that it paralyzes him, it demoralizes him, and it makes him wonder "Would it have been worth it…"

    To my argument about his increasing impotence, reference the following lines:

    Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
    Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
    But though I have wept and 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,
    And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
    And in short, I was afraid.

    Poor Prufrock wonders, after a dissatisfying turn in bed with his love, if he should have at it again next time. Of course, he does, because he's in love with her!

    Besides being a love song, Eliot's masterpiece is a highly erotic one. More specifically I argue that it is a brothel that he frequents, and sex is literally everywhere around him. Prufrock is a proper gentleman, as evidenced by his attire:

    My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
    My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin…

    But the opening two main stanzas speak to the route he has to walk and the air he has to breathe – it's all a bit macabre ("Like a patient etherized upon a table") and seedy ("pools that stand in drains" and "soot that falls from chimneys"). But more metaphorically, Eliot's vivid description of the surroundings tells the tale of how Prufrock experiences his love and lust for a woman and what he has to go through psychologically to be with her. It makes me think of another famous Shakespearean character – Prince Hal – who, long before he became King Henry V, frequented the taverns and cavorted with the common people, much to the chagrin of his royal father. For Prufrock it is his gentlemanly sensibility that finds the longing, lustful side of himself despicable.

    The repeated lines:

    In the room the women come and go
    Talking of Michelangelo…

    are the ladies in the brothel. In general, he's enamored with them:

    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!)
    Is it perfume from a dress
    That makes me so digress?

    I doubt that they, in turn, are enamored with him, but over time they've become used to him and some of them may even find him endearing. But notice that he doesn't refer to them as whole people, but as body parts – arms and eyes. I argue that this is a manifestation of his obsessive, psychologically compartmentalized nature and also his haughty demeanor. He looks down on these women: After all what do they know about Michelangelo, he may wonder; and they shouldn't be talking about the great artist in passing anyway, he may silently scoff.

    Back to his love affair with one of those women: Prufrock is an awkward gentleman, not just in his manners but also in his speech: "It is impossible to say just what I mean!" So we can imagine his conversations with her as having a fair amount of misunderstanding. He hopes to win her love, and maybe even believes at times that she does. Alas, however, having sex with him is only a job for her! She may like him, but it doesn't seem that she truly loves him at all. So his repeated love overtures only come across to her as repeated misunderstandings:

    “That is not it at all,
    That is not what I meant, at all.”

    Moreover, it kills Prufrock every time his woman has sex with another client:

    I know the voices dying with a dying fall
    Beneath the music from a farther room.

    We can imagine him sitting in one of the rooms in the brothel, time and time again having coffee by himself, waiting for this woman and her client to finish their business. The sound of sex surrounds him, and the owner knows that it's best to have some music to drown it out. But Prufrock knows this woman's voice, and perhaps her clients' voices, too, and he hears them – oh, he hears them – and it's utterly painful and deflating!

    The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock is a profound philosophical treatise, similar, I'd argue, to The Myth of Sisyphus. Beyond the brothel setting and Prufrock's love affair, Eliot may be speaking to the Zeitgeist of the time when he wrote it – the advent of World War I. While Camus argued that Sisyphus was happy, despite having to repeatedly push a boulder up a hill, it is a life of existential absurdity and tedium. Love and life, work and sex had perhaps become that absurd and tedious for scores of people as well, at least according to Eliot.

    So in light of this world that Eliot created in The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, what does he do in the end? He elevates that brothel, its ladies, and its business to mythic levels:

    I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

    I do not think that they will sing to me.

    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
    Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

    Just as Camus can argue with Sisyphus, so too Eliot can argue with Prufrock: i.e. that in the end he is happy. My sense is that he beds other women in the brothel, and because there isn't that anxiety and disenchantment of his unrequited love, getting hard and getting his rocks off aren't an issue:

    Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach [i.e. have oral sex]?
    I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach [i.e. put on a condom, and have intercourse].

    At the end of it all, he is satisfied. We ought not take "we drown" as literal, though. In Shakespeare, the notion of dying is a metaphor for having an orgasm. There is that sharp, guttural sound from man and woman as they approach climax (i.e. "human voices") and there is that pleasurable death (wink, wink) among those "sea-girls."

    Finally, what is that "overwhelming question" that is also a pervasive theme in The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, which he can hardly acknowledge even to himself? It is this, I'd argue: He wants to ask this one woman "Do you love me?" Surely, he knows that it's only a job for her, but he wonders if she has any feelings for him and whether she truly cares about him. He can tolerate the other ladies seeing him as nothing more than a skinny man with a bald spot on his head. But with this one woman, his love is of mythic proportions and his lust fills him with existential pain.

  21. i have been in love with this poem for more than 10 years…. and your commentary is thoroughly awesome… you have my sincerest gratitude!

  22. Thank you a lot for such a detailed analysis! I'm going to read this poem at a literary soiree and your commentaries helped me to understand what I want to emphasize then.

  23. How many many times I have felt what TS Eliot is here describing.What a horrible feeling and thinking process.
    Again Rebecca thank for the elucidation…
    I can listen and listen to you till the time of End…

  24. love this explanation. after reading the poem twice I found myself still having questions. this truly helped thank you.

  25. I love the videos you make! Your videos really help me understand and appreciate the work so much more. As opposed to just being confused and dragging through English 2. Thanks so much for your work! <3

  26. THANK YOU!!!! You helped me appreciate this poem so much more! With love in Christ, have a blessed day! 😀

  27. He could be trying to constantly remind himself that he has time. As he may be the one worrying. Maybe he is reassuring himself

  28. The overwhelming Question in the poem , i think is about the meaning of life and existence.

  29. The problem with Prufrock is , he feels that Time, the ETERNAL FOOT MAN , snicker at his romantic escapades and fantasies . He feels inwardly hollowness .He is getting old and soon he will die . These social gathering and gossips seems to him futile but all the people around him consider these activities very important and so absorbed in them that PRUFROCK could discuss his problem with . so he talks in this round about way and he himself also could not face this question

  30. I just finished my ENC1102 class, and your videos were so helpful. THANK YOU SO MUCH

  31. Prufrock is a royal doctor and Jack the Ripper. That is his obsession with women, what he cannot show and his impulse with death but this is him in a social gathering despite his true character. It fits the medical allusions, Dante's foreward and his neurotic narcissism.That is how I've always felt about this poem. I questioned it at the start of this video but with age and over the years the feeling becomes stronger. Not to mention I've always got vibes from Poe's Tell-tale Heart from this.

  32. Sorry this isnt related to the analysis, but i must say, i WISH i had your last name!! It's so pretty, unique, and flows so well

  33. This really helped me with my finals exams thank you so much, you have a very soothing voice and an interesting take on things.

  34. Thanks a lot Rebecca. Your explanation was really helpful.

  35. The references are not dealt with properly; they are in reality much more intertextual than what appears to be the case here. The analysis lacks theoretical rigour and critical depth. I'm sorry if I've hurt somebody's feelings, but that's what the reality is.

  36. I am 68. I read this poem as a sophomore in my English honors calss when I was 19/20 yrs old in Iran.I loved this poem so much that I still can read some part of it by heart. Ur " definition" of the poem is perfect, However I think there is another layer to this poem . It is a transition from an old familiar culture ( that's why Prufrock is old ) to a new civilization – after industrial revolution -where values have changed, and therefore Prufrock can not relate to it, which is exemplified by new sexual relations. In essence he is alienated from this new society and can not relate to it ( Mermaids/ Hamlet/ Lazarus are what he can relate to). Briefly human alienation in a different set of new environment in a cultural change. Yet described in a sex-related environment/relation. Also a bit of a psychologically self inflicting environment since TSL was a religious man( at least later confirmed, and his later picture of walking on the beach with his trousers rolled) and could not identify with such a new societal setting .

  37. "Like a patient etherized upon a table" is considered by many literary scholars to be the first existentialist line of poetry written.

  38. toast and tea could be the next morning and he's just saying this would be a long night… having a lot of time..

  39. This is a 'love song' and therefore presumably addressed to a woman he is in love with. We have an expression 'to pop the question' meaning to ask the woman you are in love with to marry you. This surely provides the conceptual frame within which the 'events' of the poem take place. It could perhaps be fruitfully compared with Philip Larkin's poems on a similar theme, notably The Whitsun Weddings. Is Prufrock in fact old? Or does he just see himself as old? Or is he seeing himself as he might be in the future if he never marries? (Hamlet also is uncertain of what to do with himself. As well as having his father's death to avenge there is also the question of what to do about Ophelia, Polonius's daughter!)

  40. The feminine , the imagination, the unconscious is alluring but dangerous. These mermaids are like sirens, they will draw you to your death – unless you are heroic, which he is not. Also the banality of human discourse and the monotony of the life of "coffee spoons" is a form of death too. It is his fear of embracing life that is paralyzing him. Hence the opening image of an anesthetized patient.

  41. I have heard the mermaids sing; is an allusion to Go and catch a falling star by John Donne.

  42. Thank you for helping me with most of my college courses as an English literature student

  43. Another perspective could be that the “mermaids” are sirens. My prof was saying Prufrock does not even see himself fit to be drawn in and drowned by a siren. These are the “sea-girls”.

  44. Thank you. Love from India, Assam. You saved me.. have semester exams in 3 weeks.. thank you so much.

  45. the line "Like a patient etherized upon a table" simply means drunk on the nights alcohol.
    In my opinion it sounds like he's propositioning a lady of the night.

  46. A poem must not mean, but be. Any narrow interpretation trivializes the poem. Viewed through a sexual lens, Prufrock could be asexual, homosexual, heterosexual, confused, a virgin, a superannuated nerd longing for a connection, and so on. A close reading supports all these possibilities. But there are so many other lenses through which to view it. Mortality strikes me (etherised upon a table, thinning hair, mermaids that will not sing to him) as a lens you should investigate. There's a political lens as well (think Ezra Pound). The power of the poem is that is an imaginary garden with real toads, to quote Marianne Moore. It's the words and the discordances that make the poem great. Like the poetry of Emily Dickinson, it cannot be reduced or distilled.

  47. Thank you so much that's really helped and ur a beautiful person ❤️❤️

  48. One cannot know what poetry is about and talk about it with lack of passion

  49. I wish you were my literature teacher ☺️ I wish my teacher would care to explain like you do

    Thank you so much

  50. I always think that the yellow smoke bit is an introduction to the story he's considering telling which goes nowhere (falls asleep). It's like he's starting some storytelling but decides it's futile. Which is why later he says 'And how should I begin? Should I say I have gone at dusk through narrow streets and watched the smoke that rises from the pipes of lonely men in shirtsleeves leaning out of windows?' – Then, again, decides it's futile – 'I should have been a pair of ragged claws…' I think the overwhelming question is an attempt at a great work – a piece of art that asks an important question. He's contemplating the depressing thought that his motivation to do that would only be to get laid, and since he isn't sure it would even work, he isn't even motivated to do it for that reason

  51. I think the 'voices dying with a dying fall beneath the music from a farther room' is a mixed up reference to Shakespeare's verse ie great works. Because he says straight after 'so how should I presume?' Meaning how could he presume to create something he knows would be mediocre when he's aware of great work.

  52. Thank you so much:)
    I can connect with it. It is a poem about escapism and loneliness and escapism.

    The refrain "That is not what I mean at all" is repeating multiple times and hinted that no one really understands the speaker's mental world. Due to this loneliness, he created a companion who he could talk to while he was sitting among a group of stupid women, hear them talking about Michangelo all day along. This companion could be a normal person in the street, could be the reader, could be you, could be me. The speaker doesn't care as long as it is a listen who would be there for him and listening all his insecurity, anxiety, hesitation and loneliness.

    When he couldn't bear the real world anymore, he tends to escape to a place which is the peaceful sea with mermaids. Elliot creates such a beautiful image with the sea and the mermaids. I have a different opinion towards the ending which would be analyzed by many people as the death and despairing, or maybe sad. Nonetheless, the only word in my mind is beautiful. Drown in the sea with the singing of the mermaids, it is not choky not struggling, only peace and beauty. You can escape from the fucking society and disgusting people forever, only peacefully falling down and down into the deep blue sea.

  53. Never listened to a worse interpretation. Horrible! You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but may need to leave behind your hatred of men and focus more on the ridiculousness of trying to fit into society. Yes, Alfred was disenchanted, but gives good reason for being so. Thank you for the review…In the future I suggest that you dive deeper.

  54. Is this just a start???? I thought I covered all of the poem's aspects. I thought after watching this video I can get an A in my final exam. seriously, the video is thirty-eight minutes long, I could have done so many things. Thanks for wasting my time.

    I'm just kidding. it's very useful, I learned a lot 🙂

  55. Thank you so much, it helped me to highlight the social deformation in Eliot's poems for my graduation project.

  56. Rebecca, your dissection manages to remove all life from this wonderful poem.

  57. 0:37 Dante’s Inferno
    – Embarassment, Secrets
    2:06 Inviting the reader in
    – Tedious, Bleak, Going nowhere (or not getting anywhere)
    5:17 Women going by, talking about art
    8:13 Facial preparation (persona)
    30:00 Fear of being misunderstood. Hamlet and Polonius
    33:46 “Do I dare Eat a peach” 🍑?
    35:27 Sea seaweed, linger, drown

  58. Elliot was certainly high to be this paranoid while writing the poem.

  59. “The ‘you’ of the first line seems to be the reader at first, but ‘you and I’ could be two aspects of Prufrock- his thinking self addressing his public personality- though the final ‘we’ that drowns may not be only the whole Prufrock, but a universaling touch.”

  60. I think, on surface level, by "overwhelming question" he means Prufrock wants to propose the woman he loves, like, 'Will you be mine, or will you marry me?'. On other levels, this question may be something higher philosophical question regarding the nothingness of human existence (notice the tone of hopelessness all through the poem). Again, the question overwhelms him because he does not know the answer… The burden of his dual personality (you and I) makes him wonder about insignificant things. It's connected to the mental drama going inside, rather than any practical or physical action.

    That's what I think!

  61. Eliot described the various psychological states of man, here a neurotic Prufrock, in his poems culminating in the person who embraces the Christ

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