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THE LOVE SONG OF J.

ALFRED PRUFROCK
A COMPLETE BREAK WITH THE 19TH
CENTURY TRADITION
Anti –romantic: T.S. Eliot marks a break from the Romantic tradition of the nineteenth century. By the end of the
19th century, the romantic poets sought an escape from the realities of life into the world of nature and art. He also
exploited the past for its colourful view and glory. Eliot’s poetry faces the problems of modern life and does not turn
its back from urban civilization. Its settings are in the streets of London or the city slums, the ugliness of the factory
surroundings, pollution of the smog and loneliness of the city life.

Anti-love: Romantic poetry dealt with love with all its glamour and glory. Love was the only refuge from the
stresses and storms of life. They wrote of their own love affairs and those of their characters. The love song is in no
sense a love poem. It is moving back from love. Prufrock is undecided about his lady and has no idea of speaking out
of his mind. He may be called an anti-hero because he is nervous, timid and cowardly who imagines himself
sometimes as worm and sometimes as spider and some time as fish.

Colloquial Language: Romantic poetry had its own diction which was highly imaginative and stimulating
memories of the past. The works of the romantic poets expressed themselves in a language which was quite
deliberate, suggestive and emotional. Eliot however uses the colloquial idiom. The words are bodily taken from
everyday conversation. Many prosaic words are also found for example, “Half deserted streets, chimneys, coffee
spoons, smoked cigarettes and men in shirt sleeves”, etc.

Flexibility of Versification: The traditional verse form and rhythms have been rejected by Eliot. He believes in
the freedom of the writer and in the need of flexibility of style. One need not be slave to the requirement of metre
and rhythm. For example, “The Love Song of Prufrock” has stanzas of different lengths and rhyme scheme is also not
regular. Some lines are rather short and some rather long which reflect the mood of Prufrock.

Unusual Imagery: The romantic poets used conventional images and symbols. They draw largely on nature and
the past for their images. Eliot draws his images from the immediate scene, from the dirty environments of the
streets and slums. The evening is compared to a patient lying on the operation table.

Impersonal Tone of the Poet: Prufrock is not Eliot. He is the main character of Eliot. Romantic poetry was
mainly subjective, where the poets wrote of their own thoughts and feelings. The Love Song of Prufrock is not
subjective but objective. Prufrock is the hero of the poem and not Eliot. The poet is only describing what happens in
the minds of Prufrock.
Romantic poetry was the poetry of dream world. It offered an escape from the sad realities of life into some
imaginary world. Eliot, however, does not wish to create an imaginary world. He wishes to highlight horrors and
frustration of modern life. He is concerned with the problems and frustration of modern man and how they could be
overcome.

Conclusion: All the elements mentioned above indicate that The Love Song of Prufrock is a definite departure from
the English romantic poetry and may be taken as a landmark and trend-setter for modern English poetry.

Written and Composed By: Prof A.R. Somroo


T.S.ELIOT:
IMAGERY &SYMBOLISM IN “THE LOVE SONG”
Symbolism is a device used in literature for comparison of certain objects, especially when an object is used to
represent something abstract. Symbol represents ideas through concrete things. Imagery is different from symbolism.
In imagery, similar and dissimilar objects are put together. Similes and metaphors are images. They do not represent
ideas, concepts or abstract things.

There are two types of symbols: traditional and personal. Traditional symbols are common symbols which have been
used in ancient times. Personal symbols are those which are used by the poet in his own way and show his originality.
For example, the evening is compared to a patient on the operation table; the unending streets are compared to
tedious arguments. Similarly, images are of two types: traditional and personal. The metaphysical conceit which
consists of comparison between far-fetched objects is a kind of personal image. For example, the moving fog is
compared to a lazy cat.

Symbols and images reflect mood of modern city dweller: The love song of Prufrock is a
symbolic poem which gives the mood of the modern city-dweller. It expresses the bareness, the mental tension and
frustration of the modern man. Eliot depicts the mind of the modern man and the frustration of modern civilization
through images and symbols which are mainly functional, precise and compact.

The first line of the poem is an invitation to the beloved to go out with him in the evening. The mental condition of
Prufrock is symbolized by a patient who is anesthetized for the operation. The patient is in a peculiar state of mind—
he is conscious but conscious of nothing. The poet uses another symbol of chain of arguments to show the large
number of the streets.

Images of Living Creatures: The spreading of fog of the month of October is compared with a lazy cat. The
fog also reflects the state of Prufrock’s mind. It also represents the dirty and unhealthy environment of city life.
Prufrock wishes to shut the responsibilities of life.

Images of Death-wish: Prufrock’s death wish shows the inclination of suicide in the modern man. The poet
uses various images for this. For example, “Pinned on the wall”, “The floors of silent seas and “The eternal Footman”
means death.

Images of sea: Eliot is fond of images of nature particularly the sea. He scatters the floor of restaurants with
oyster sea shells. He refers to himself a kind of fish in the sea. In the end of the poem he tells about the beach where
he heard the song of the mermaids. He has seen them riding on the waves and combing their hair. The sea is the
image of the mind of Prufrock that is stormed.

Literary Images: The greatest satisfaction to the literary reader is given by the literary images in “The Love
Song of Alfred Prufrock”. There are three allusions in the poem—Lazarus, Prince Hamlet and John the Baptist. Lazarus
was brought back to life after death by Christ. That is Lazarus came from the Hell. Prufrock says that he has come
from the hell to tell you all. This means that the world is of the dead men. The second allusion is of Prince Hamlet.
Prufrock says, “No, I am not Prince Hamlet”. Hamlet had a responsibility but Prufrock has no sense of responsibility.
Therefore Prufrock says that he is not Hamlet but rather Polonius.

The third literary allusion is of John the Baptist who was killed by Salome and she brought his head to King Herod.
Prufrock says that he is not like John the Baptist, prepared to meet a martyr’s death. John lived for a purpose and died
for a cause whereas Prufrock wishes to die because he finds no purpose in living.

Conclusion: The variety and freshness of Eliot’s images in “The Love Song of Prufrock” add to the literary artistic
qualities of the poem. Of course, some effort is required to understand them because they reveal the inner state of
mind of Prufrock which is full of conflicting thoughts and feelings.
T.S.ELIOT:
IRONY IN THE “LOVE SONG OF PRUFROCK:
Irony is a literary device of humorous expression in which the intended meaning of the words used is the direct
opposite of their usual sense. The main focus of irony is contrast between what is expressed and what is implied.

Ironic Title: In the poem, the title suggests that the lover is expressing his love for the lady. However, in the body
of the poem there is hardly any mention of love making, rather the lover invents reason for postponing the proposal
to the lady. He analyses his feelings which reveal his helplessness and his incapacity for love. The two main hurdles to
the making of a proposal, are his old age and his consequent decline in health and vigour and, secondly, his reluctance
to give up the single state in which he has been engaging himself in sexual intimacy with opposite sex. The irony of
situation is that he would like to make love but there are serious issues which prevent him from doing so. He longs for
love but he has no capacity for it. In “The love song of Prufrock”, he finds excuses for postponing his decisions. As an
ordinary lover, he should have been bold and aggressive, but, in reality, he is cowardly and shy.

Strange Juxtaposition: In the poem, the important things are placed side by side with the common. There is a
mingling of the high and the low, the grand and the mean. Look at the sharp contrast between the first and the last
line. Similarly what starts as very important in value is brought down to the level of the mean as for example: “I have
measured out my life with coffee spoons”. He throws into relief the uselessness and bareness of urban life.

Satirical images in “The love song of Prufrock” and glorification of the insignificant:
In this poem, Eliot raises his trivial and personal to the level of universal issues. For example, the simple decoration of
proposal is compared to a sort of earthquake disturbing the universe. Similarly, the decoration of his love is as
difficult as “ To murder and create”. Though he has wept and fasted and prayed, he can not muster courage to declare
his love. His real cowardice is a reflection of the soul’s sickness and uselessness of the urban civilization. There is
another bit of irony in his assumption that the beloved might reject him. She might deny any love or affection for him.
These assumptions are only excuses for his delay and inaction. Moreover, though he is old he wears the latest
fashioned clothes in order to hide age and to cover up his baldness. There is an implied irony in what he wishes to
appear physically. There is a kind of pathos in his descending to the level of Polonius when apparently he has points
of similarity with Prince Hamlet. All these examples of irony both in the matter of language and of situation show that
the poem is an outstanding example of Eliot’s use of the device of irony.

Written and composed by:


Prof. A. R. Somroo
M.A. English, M.A. Education.
Cell : 03339971417

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