Common songs of love from the present day are a man-made phenomena; though they are written in
a modern world that the modernist poet would describe as fast, fragmented, and "sold to the highest bidder," love songs encapsulate
the accessible, personal, and confident nature of the Romantic era. In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T.S. Eliot has
taken creative liberties with what characteristics can or should make up a "love song" according to this careful synthesis.
A love song, as most people would recognize it, contains allusions to "going against the crowd (The Romeo and Juliet cliche)",
as well as the physical, verbal, or spiritual characteristics of a person or idea that are attractive or appealing. Prufrock
takes those very characteristics and turns them on their heads, spinning their truly negative light on his feelings. There
is a profound irony in the poem being titled as a love song, when the entire piece is riddled with the insecurities, mal-decision,
and desperate abandonment of the main persona, Prufrock. What is most striking is the poet's decision to end the poem with
the Prufrock's decision to live out a life of hopeless loneliness that he blames himself for, an idea that the Romantics would
not likely settle for!
Prufrock, the poem's speaker, seems to be addressing a potential lover, with
whom he would like to "force the moment to its crisis" by somehow consummating their relationship. Prufrock, however, knows
too much of life to "dare" an approach to the woman in the poem: In his mind he hears the comments others make about his inadequacies,
and he chides himself for "presuming" emotional interaction could be possible at all. Right away, in his desire "to prepare
a face to meet the faces that you meet (27)," he reveals his insecurity in society as a prominent one. Plagued with the self-conscious
questions "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare? (38)," he attempts to
move through the actions of his courtship as if succeeding would be the greatest of heroic victories. Throughout, he imagines
the thoughts of on-lookers in the crowd, who he imagines to criticize everything from his small bald spot ("How his hair is
growing thin!(41)") to the size of his limbs ("But how his arms and legs are thin!(44)") Prufrock's obvious fear of lacking
hair or body mass alludes to one of many insecure fears of being lesser in some way, or insignificant. He asks himself "Do
I dare/ Disturb the universe?(45-46)" as if the victory and contentment he seeks are somehow in opposition to the cosmic plan,
and a feat unlikely to acheive. Prufrock, as a doubting individual, extends his doubt even further to proclaim that nomatter
how long successful he is in his attempt to convince himself all is well, "In a minute there is time/ For decisions and revisions
which a minute will reverse (47-48)."
Prufrock's fear of society as a collective being narrows now to the fear of the female gender.
In the time he was created (in other words, at the time the poem was written), the woman's right and habit to assert herself
in society was just becoming truly stationed. This could have been a very intimidating factor for Prufrock and men like him.
One must keep in mind that The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an examination of the tortured psyche of the prototypical
modern man--overeducated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally uneasy. These factors can only be made worse by the presence
of a possibly oppositional gender- women who were undereducated against their own wills and in the former habit of keeping
words and emotions to themselves. These women, Prufrock believes, have special abilities when it comes to making him question
himself and his ability to exist in these advantages.
Lines 55-59 read "... 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," showcasing his insecurity when pressured with a question or challenge from a woman, and his inability to
form words that support his role as an educated male.
The next stanza picks up with Prufrock's uneasiness at the physical attributes of the women and
how those characteristics impair his ability to function as a superior, well-spoken member of the male gender: "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/ That makes me so digress?/ Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl
(62-68)" Catching sight or sense of these iconic features of a woman seem to make him uneasy and unable to communicate his
true intent or feelings.
Prufrock, as a thinking, feeling character, does not begin the poem resigned to live a life avoiding
the people and things that make him insecure- it is he, after all, who notices the "lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out
of windows (73)" and assigns them the label of "lonely" as if they are separate from him. However, he also makes several references
to being dead, which would counter this possibility. He refers to himself as "Lazarus"- meaning that it would likely take
a true miracle of Biblical proportions to bring him back to life from whatever death he has taken upon himsef (94). The language
of "a patient etherised upon a table (3)" has similar connotations, pointing to the possibility that maybe this idea of a
figurative death is the only way Prufrock can avoid his insecurities that push him toward a life full of loneliness.
"Prufrock" ends with the hero assigning himself a role in one of Shakespeare's plays: While
he is no Hamlet, he may yet be useful and important as "an attendant lord, one that will do / To swell a progress, start a
scene or two (111-113)." This implies that there is still a continuity between Shakespeare's world (more Romantic in nature)
and Prufrock's. It seems to suggest that Hamlet is still relevant to Modern society and that Prufrock is still part of a world
that could produce something like Shakespeare's plays (or a love song, at that!). The last line of the poem suggests otherwise--that
when the world intrudes, when "human voices wake us," the dream is shattered: "we drown." With this final line, the romantic
notion that poetic ability and appreciation for love and beauty is all that are needed to triumph over the destructive, impersonal
forces of the modern world is destroyed. What is left at the end is the complete opposite of a love song, and seeks to represent
the possibility that love and insecurity just may be mortal enemies in every context.