Monday, January 10, 2011

Classical Poet review by heidiim2 "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrok"-'T.S.Elliott'

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – ‘T. S. Eliot’

I should initially start with a confession; I have loved this poem since I was 15/16, have read it almost non stop for the past 8 years, and even wrote my dissertation on it. However, whenever I mention the poem I am greeted with blank faces. ‘T. S. Eliot’ brings a sort of nod of school memories and a social osmosis effect (similar to the way people know what 1984 is about without ever reading it), but any particular poems are outside of their knowledge.

In my opinion, this is one of the greatest poems ever written. We start with an Italian introduction before Eliot, or Prufrock, our narrator takes on a journey through the evening and through a neurotic man’s mentality with so many hidden meanings that it can mean a different thing to everyone who reads it, and will mean more each time you subsequently read it.

The poem was first published in 1915 when Eliot was living in, or had just left (I can’t quite remember) Europe. The world was in a strange place – there were the tensions of war juxtaposed with what we can suppose was the start of modern continental culture in Europe. The poem encapsulates the two lifestyles – there were the soldiers having sex whereas (in Britain in particular) sex was as taboo as ever and talk on the matter was suppressed (the two only collided in 1922 when the government intervened due to a breakout in STDs).

So, with that in mind, and in the words of Eliot, ‘Let us go then, you and I’...

We start in the evening, ‘spread out against the sky’ with ‘yellow fog’. Despite the initial negative ideas with the imagery of ‘fog’, ‘smoke’, ‘arguments’ Eliot creates a sense of calm – even the fog ‘curled up and fell asleep’. Therefore, we get the feeling of a certain tediousness in life, war is underway in Europe and has been for about a year, rationing, bombing, gassing and deaths so there is an air of quiet exhaustion and perhaps the propaganda ‘Go on lads!’ message has faded.

From the evening, Prufrock begins his pondering of ‘time’.
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


This, perhaps, sums up the ideas almost perfectly. There is the idea of hiding behind a mask, particularly later in the poem, and oxymoronic ideas throughout the poem. The fickleness of life is also brought up in this stanza – ‘a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions’. And we finish introducing the theme of civilisation – ‘the taking of toast and tea’, which Eliot goes on to compare with the primeval desires – the good old id vs. Ego conflict.

I’m going to speed up now, because otherwise we could be here all day. So, in the next stanza we come back to that idea of time and begin to discuss the idea of fate. Does a learned man believe in such ideas? Well clearly, Prufrock believes in autonomy – ‘a hundred decisions, and revisions’’, but does this man have faith in a predestined idea of balance in the universe? After all, ‘do I dare disturb the universe’ certainly suggests an idea of an entity.

We have now almost hit key theme number three. Firstly, we must introduce man’s greatest weakness –women. Prufrock has ‘known them all’ but, in ‘pushing the moment to its crisis’ he’s ‘afraid’. What does this mean? Well, many have argued, myself included in aforementioned dissertation, that Eliot is asking if man is so full of knowledge (e.g. Shakespeare whom he mentions) and civilisation (toast and tea) that we have become too neurotic for the animal urges, such as sex, which reside in all of us.

I’m now going to fast forward, or we’ll be here all day, to the very end of the poem. Time has passed, Prufrock is an old man now – with the bottom of his trousers rolled – and we introduce the mermaids. What is he saying? Well, there are many arguments – firstly that the mermaids are the metaphor for the problem of women and that even at the end of his life he is still haunted by his neurotic tendencies. Secondly, there is the idea that impending death and drowning is the metaphor of becoming too submerged in thoughts and troubles that it takes over your life.

That’s my (supposedly quick) summary of Prufrock, but there’s so much more in the poem, and if you read it you’ll almost certainly fall in love with it.

-heidiim2 from All Poetry

1 comment:

  1. "There will be time to murder and create"

    This line is hidden reference to the biblical prophet Ecclesiastes.
    References are common in Elliot, especially given his attitude to Christianity.

    ReplyDelete

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