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An Essay addressing the following T.S.

Eliot poems:
THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK
RHAPSODY ON A WINDY NIGHT

Focusing on this question:


QUESTION 1
The opening of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (Ln. 1 9)
creates "an image of sterility in an urban landscape which seems
inimical to human life 1
In your view, how does Eliots portrayal of alienation and
fragmentation contribute to the textual integrity of his oeuvre?
Make specifi c references to the introducing lines of The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and as a whole as well as ONE other
poem set for study.
According to Barzinji, the opening of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock
establishes an image of sterility in an urban landscape which seems
inimical to human life. This observation captures one of the central
concerns in T.S. Eliots work; the 'Modern' condition. In a world upended by
WWI and challenged by the unrelenting tide of Industrialism, Modern man
negotiates a new landscape which is hostile and morally void. These
markers of the modern condition are starkly portrayed through the
experiences of the speakers who seems detached from life and from
themselves. This fragmentation and alienation are most salient especially
in Eliot's early poems in Prufrock and Other Observations. Furthermore,
the frightful yet conspicuous accuracy of Eliot's poetry in capturing mans
struggle within this era adds to the integrity of the work. The poems don't
merely reflect the events at that time, but are fundamentally the events
themselves. Both Prufrock and Rhapsody on a Windy Night are poems
which reveal the sterility of life in a malignant urban setting. Both
poems depict a speaker who is isolated, paralysed and anxious;
navigating a world that is almost obsolete, and void of communication and
1 The Image of Modern Man in T. S. Eliot's Poetry by Mariwan Nasradeen
Hasan Barzinji 2012

life. In these poems, death is either absurd and violent in absolute solitude
or subdued in a dream-like state of exorbitant consciousness.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a poem not only establishes the
modern condition and the modern man, but the essence of the conflicting
modern mind. The lines in the epigraph are spoken by Count Guido de
Montefeltro, a damned soul in the Eighth Circle of Hell in Dantes Divine
Comedy (Inferno, Canto 27, lines 61 66). By presenting the epigraph in
Italian already achieves an obscured foreignness, as the title The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is already incongruent by the musicality and
lightness of a Love Song juxtaposed by the serious and formality of the
name J. Alfred Prufrock. Also, by using this intertextual extract from
Dante it establishes the poem with a Mock Heroic tone; Prufrock is
presumably a middle-aged man of working class, but pathetic and
indecisive. The city in which Prufrock is set is sterile and by using
enjambment, it further conveys the labyrinthine structure with sordid
images of the city; the sky etherised looming over the half-deserted
streets leading to one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants
that are of insidious intent. The romantic invitational opening Let us go
then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky is
undercut by the simile with a distinct modern tone Like a patient
etherised upon a table and is the first example of somnolence in the
poem. Etherised connotes the numbing of pain as well as artificial sleep,
suggesting not only does Prufrock perceive the sky to be sick, but the
modern condition to be diseased. This observation could also be
commenting about humanity being contaminated by industrialism and the
urbanised society as well as the results of the corruption by both World
Wars. The modern man is metaphorically sick and weary, and desires for
inactivity. The couplet In the room the women come and go / Talking of
Michelangelo is repeated twice and is considered as a disjointed scenario
as it is Prufrocks mental projection into the room, which is also his
destination. This sudden dislocation creates an effect showing a tension of
apprehension in Prufrocks mind. It also shows that his nature is
fragmented, and that fear is invading his tortured psyche.

Rhapsody on a Windy Night is a visual portrait of the societys breakdown


through the eyes of a lonely speaker who communicates with a
streetlamp. It is a lyric poem in free verse, divided into six stanzas that
vary in length and concluded by a single closing line at the end of the
poem. In a sense, and in relation to Prufrock, the title seemingly reflects
the poems form as in music; a rhapsody is erratic, irregular and
unstructured yet ironically, chronologically ordered in context of time. And
although the wind is emphasised in the title it seems that the only sign of
movement ever is the passing of the street lamps, monotonous and beats
like a fatalistic drum. It is ironic, and does not contain the suggested
mood of extravagant enthusiasm of a conventional rhapsody nor the freemoving motions of the wind. It is in fact, eclectic and restless in a sense of
lunacy and manic, just like the streams of consciousness of the frightfully
isolated persona. Despite the streetlamps heed of that woman / Who
hesitates towards you in the light of the door, and the observations made
by the persona of a child who pockets a toy and seeing nothing behind
the childs eye, there is almost no sense of life and connection with
another human within the dilapidated urban landscape. Also, the lines I
have seen eyes in the street / Trying to peer through lighted shutters
reveals the city consciousness, and, as this line follows directly after the
observations of the child, suggests further that even the innocence and
purity of children. In this fourth stanza there is a heightened incongruence
with the images of a cat devouring a morsel, a child who steals, eyes
peering through shutters, an old crab. Again, this is a demonstration of
the fragmentation of the modern man. Prufrock and Rhapsody are heavily
obscured and absurd, reflective on how the modern mind works.
Time is an important role in both poems, but Eliots treatment of each
differs. In Prufrock, the word time being repeated eight times
throughout the fourth stanza highlights Prufrocks need to stall for time,
meaning that repeating the word time would be a sort of false hope.
Such repetition it would make it mundane, as if an attempt to render it as
something insignificant but it is still meaningless and futile. In the same
sense, space and movement adds to the meaninglessness of time in

Prufrocks mind. It is unclear as to whether Prufrock ever leaves from his


original position. From the lines And time yet for a hundred indecisions, /
And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a toast and
tea it is possible to interpret that he has not left his room. J. Hillis Millers
observation about space and time in Prufrock states that if all space has
been assimilated into his mind, then spatial movement would really be
movement in the same place, like a man running in a dreamTime, like
space, has only a subjective existence for Prufrock. As a result, past,
present, and future are equally immediate, and Prufrock is paralysed. 2
Time and space are mere abstractions. The poem has no systematic
structure of time which further suggests that not only Prufrock is
indecisive and pathetic but highly conscious of his own self and position in
the Modern world. The lines There will be time / To prepare a face to meet
the faces that you meet indicate that there is a masked reality and an act
of social performance. The idea of needing to prepare a face, and
possibly different faces for different situations, is accentuated by the use
of synecdoche; instead of preparing oneself, it is preparing just a face.
This reveals that the modern society has certain aesthetics and rules and
one has to change themselves to fit the criteria or else they are frowned
upon, as if the society looks up to artificiality. Thus, it represents the ever
so conscious of the modern man that they in fact, metaphorically die as
seen in the concluding lines of Prufrock Till human voices wake us, and
we drown.
While time is a mere abstraction in Prufrock, time in Rhapsody is a
countdown to another sort of death, one which is murderous and brutal.
This countdown of time begins at midnight with beyond earthly and
spiritual powers, impacting the personas memories by Whispering lunar
incantations / Dissolve the floors of memory / And all its clear relations.
The simile Midnight shakes the memory / As a madman shakes a dead
geranium is incongruent; a geranium is a symbol of friendship and
hardiness, but it also thrives on neglect, and thus this madman shaking a
2 From Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers. Cambridge, MA:
The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1965.

dead geranium out of anything suggests a maniacal absurdity and further


paints an image and meaning to represent the modern man. Half-past
one and the first, and possibly the only, instance of communication
occurs, where a street lamp tells, with a lack of clarity, the persona to take
consideration of a particular woman. She is poor, and is hinted with
prostitution and seediness. The persona is then thrown into a memory, the
wasted urban landscape that contains a crowd of twisted things / A
twisted branch upon the beach / Eaten smooth, and polished. Stress,
disuse, and visceral imagery of skeletons are accumulated, representing
that even the memory is of the decayed relationship of society and
nature. Stanzas four and five bears more imagery of the cityscape
including an allusion to Jules Laforgue, a French poet whom Eliot looked up
to for the mature, poised, and satirical complexity in his works, Regard
the moon, / La lune ne garde aucune rancune. These stanzas also echo
the happenings in Prufrock, with fragmentation in the fifth stanza of the
external crevices and streets that seem to slither with enjambment
into the internal places of rooms, corridors, and bars. Finally, the
persona arrives home, commanded by the lamps decisive tone and
imperative verb mount. They seem to be petrified of the lone toothbrush and ironically prepares for life by sleeping, before the unfortunate
event in the stand-alone concluding line. The use of the word last
suggests that there was more than one twist. While Prufrock terminates
with a relatively peaceful death of drowning in the inordinate amounts of
consciousness of the world, Rhapsody concludes with a domestically
prepared death, an alternative death of the modern man that is both
physical and metaphorical.