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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Poetry Analysis

Michelle Rose

on 5 May 2014

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Transcript of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

A Walk in His Shoes
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Lines from Dante's "Inferno"
"If I but thought that my response were made to one perhaps returning to the world,
this tongue of flame would cease to flicker.
But since, up from these depths, no one has yet
returned alive, if what I hear is true,
I answer without fear of being shamed."
Spoken by Guido de Montefeltro who is in the eighth circle of hell
Based on the epigraph, what do you predict the mood of this poem will be?
Initial Reading of the Poem
Stanza 1
Stanza 4
This poem is a dramatic monologue: an audience is implied; there is no dialogue; and the poet speaks through an assumed voice—a character, a fictional identity, or a persona.
Based on the title "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," what do you predict this poem will be about?
What conventions do you expect this poem to include?
What kind of man would you expect to have a name like J. Alfred Prufrock?

Highlight figurative language
Underline repetition
Circle images of bodies/body parts
? - Anything you don't understand/ have questions about

What are your first impressions of the poem?
What is this poem about?
What questions do you have?
Who is the "you" addressed at the beginning of the poem?
Identify the first simile in the first stanza. What two things are being compared? What does the simile convey about the evening?
How would you characterize the place the speaker wants to explore in the first stanza? Give details from the poem to support your answer.
Identify the second simile. What two things are being compared? What does the simile convey about the streets?
What do you think the "overwhelming question" is?
T. S. Eliot and "The Love Song"
Eliot :
was born in St. Louis in 1888
was educated at Harvard
settled in England in 1914
published "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in 1915 with the help of fellow poet Ezra Pound
was considered a leading poet of the avant-garde
melded the qualities of the English metaphysical poets of the 1700s with those of the 19th century French symbolists
won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948
What type of women would be "talking of Michelangelo"?
Stanzas 2 & 3
In the second stanza, what is the yellow smoke compared to in an implied metaphor? Give details from the poem to support your answer.
Thinking about the time period in which this poem was published, what else could the yellow smoke symbolize?
What word is repeated excessively in the third stanza? What message is the speaker conveying through this repetition?
What does the speaker imply about human interactions when he states "there will be time/to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet"?
What does this visual tell us about the modern worker? How does it make this argument?
When Prufrock asks himself, "Do I dare?," what do you think he is referring to? What does this question convey about his character?
Prufrock imagines others talking about his thinning hair and skinny appendages. What does this illustrate about his state-of-mind?
Explain what he means when he asks "Do I dare/Disturb the universe?" Is he really talking about changing natural forces like time, space, etc?
Stanzas 5 & 6
Prufrock says "In a minute there is time/ for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse" and " I have known them all already, known them all." What do these lines show us about his attitude toward life?
What kind of life has Prufrock led? What lines reveal this?
What does the speaker mean when he says the eyes "fix you in a formulated phrase"?
When Prufrock addresses being "pinned and wriggling on the wall," what is he comparing himself to in an implied metaphor? Why does he make this comparison?
Stanzas 8 & 9
Why does he "watch the smoke that rises from the pipes/ Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves"? What does this image reveal to us about men in the modern world?
What is he comparing himself to when he proclaims, "I should have been a pair of ragged claws..."? What attitude does this metaphor convey?
Stanza 10
malingers: to pretend illness in order to avoid work

What does this choice of diction reveal about Prufrock's view of the evening? What earlier image is reminiscent of?

John the Baptist - John condemned Herod for marrying Herodias (who was not only his brother Philip's former wife but also Herod's niece) in violation of Old Testament Law. Later Herodias's daughter Salome (who was both Herod's grand-niece and stepdaughter) dances before Herod, who offers her a favour in return. Herodias tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, which is delivered to her on a plate (Mark 6:14-29).

What does this allusion convey about Prufrock's attitude toward himself? Toward women?

Who is the "eternal footman"? What is his attitude toward Prufrock?
Stanza 11
What does he mean when he asks, "Would it have been worth while/ To have bitten off the matter with a smile,/ To have squeezed the universe into a ball/ To roll it toward some overwhelming question."?
Lazarus: Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days, is the subject of a prominent miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus restores him to life four days after his death.

How does this allusion connect to the epigraph at the beginning of the poem?
Stanza 12
When Prufrock exclaims, "It is impossible to say just what I mean!, " what is he conveying about communication in the modern world? What other quotes from the poem convey this same message about communication?
magic lantern: an early type of image projector developed in the 17th century. Why does he mention the magic lantern?
Stanza 13
Prince Hamlet: tragic hero from the play Hamlet by Shakespeare. His tragic flaw is generally considered to be his indecision.

Why is it ironic that Prufrock says he is not Prince Hamlet?

Write your own question about this stanza.
Final Parts of the Poem
What does Prufrock feel anxiety about?
Wearing one's trousers rolled and parting one's hair behind are styles of the young? So, why is Prufrock thinking about doing these things if he "grows old"?
What do the mermaids represent? Why won't they sing to him?
What do "we drown" in?
Final Analysis
What does Prufrock’s mental state convey about the challenges that modern life presents for the individual? What causes Prufrock to become disillusioned with his life? How is he similar to the zombies we discussed at the beginning of this lesson series? Cite examples from the poem to support your answer.
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