New criticism of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S Eliot is a narrative poem which portrays the life of the title character, i.e. Prufrock. The origination of the name ‘Prufrock’ is vague; on the other hand it can be seen to be very much similar to his own name ‘T. S Eliot’ which he used to write it as T. Stearns Eliot and hence J. Alfred Prufrock can be seen as a representation of himself. The poem has the main qualities of a love song as the lines follow a rhythmic pattern and there is also the presence of repetitiveness such as the lines, “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” yet at the same time the poem is very much unlike that of a love poem The form of the poem is that of a dramatic monologue, making it a modernistic poem where there is only one narrator thus ‘monologue’; the narrator talks about a matter that gives the readers a chance to see the narrator’s individual feelings as well as his personal information. The beginning of the poem starts with the epigraph that has been taken from the first section of “The Divine Comedy,” which is of six lines in Canto 27 of the ‘Inferno’ which has been written by the famous Italian Renaissance poet Dante degli Alighieri. Eliot has purposefully kept the epigraph in Italian in order to grasp the original essence, as well as for the readers to do a little research on their own to find out what it is actually referring to. As seen in the epigraph of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S Eliot; “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…” (Eliot 5)
This can be translated into English to mean “If I thought that my reply would be to one who would ever return to the world, this flame would stay without further movement; but since none has ever returned alive from this depth, if what I hear is true, I answer you without fear of infamy.” This is said by Guido da Montefeltro in Dante’s Inferno where he is shown to be incarcerated within the eight circle of Hell that is comprised of nine circles in total in the form of a flame for his sin of fraudulency. Guido da Montefeltro makes this statement to Dante as he thinks that even if he shares his dishonorable acts that he had committed in his earthly life, no one back at earth would ever get to know any of his evil deeds and will not harm his reputation because in Guido’s knowledge no one who has been sent to Hell has ever made it out alive again. However, Guido does not know that Dante will eventually leave Hell with the information of Guido’s punishment for his sins. So keeping this whole understanding from Dante’s Inferno inside the mind, T. S Eliot wants the readers to then come to the modern world where he is present, hence the epigraph can also be a means to draw a connection with the past which is Dante’s writing and the present that is of Eliot’s own work.
Upon beginning the poem, the readers get the view of the modern world where ‘Prufrock’ is situated and it is far from pleasurable. Consequently, it is comprehensible that the circumstances of both Guido da Montefeltro and J. Alfred Prufrock are very much similar in the sense that they are both living in a state of Hell; one is located in the Inferno while the other is located ironically in earth, at a city which is dark, gloomy, smoky, friendless, and barren filled the mimicry death. This is the state of the modern man, of ‘Prufrock’ who is most likely a man in his middle-ages as his hair has started to fall off, hence the baldness. He conveys his sense of loss and on how life has turned out to be for him, monotonous and deadly boring due to his lack of self-confidence as well as indecisiveness. Although the title suggests a ‘Love Song,’ it is ironic that ‘Prufrock’ fails to convey his emotions of love as a result of his fear of failure towards the approach of women. He seems to be in a state of psychological torment as he feels that he can never have the courage to go up to these women due to not being able to live up to their expectations, hence the reference to ‘Michelangelo’ twice in the poem; “In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo.” (Eliot 5) These two lines are a very significant factor of the poem for articulating the basis of ‘Prufrock’s’ strong inner emotions of hurting, resentment, discontentment, insufficiency, and cynicism; as he finds himself to be compared to the great Renaissance artist ‘Michelangelo’ who perfected the model of the ideal man in his work of the Statue of David. Therefore, ‘Prufrock’ feels that if only he could be like those men that ‘Michelangelo’ portrays in his works of art, he would have been avle to fulfill his dreams and desires because in his current condition he would not be able to draw the attention of the woman he seeks. Since it is shown at the very ending of the poem when ‘Prufrock’ says to himself; “I do not think they will sing to me…” because his psyche tells him that he is inadequate to be of any match to those idealistic men due to his features.
After analyzing ‘Prufrock’s’ psyche, it can be concluded that he is just like Guido da Montefeltro as he seems to be too concerned about his image in society, of what people would say of him if he dared to do approach the women being in his middle-aged condition and this prevents him from going out of his ‘safe zone.’ So this poem being called a “Love Song” may not be at all about good- hearted people, rather of those who pretend to be something in order to maintain their status society.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. Prufrock and other observations. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.