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T. S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" contains many striking contrasts and juxtapositions of imagery, starting with the title itself. The form of address, "J. Alfred Prufrock," is what one might expect to see on a formal business card, and it is strikingly incongruous to see it paired with "love song." In fact, the persona of Prufrock, a hesitant, polite, middle-aged man, is in striking contrast with the usual young romantic characters populating love songs. The setting also contrasts with our expectations of the love song genre, being gritty urban London as opposed to the idyllic countryside of the pastoral.
One of the first startling juxtapositions in the poem has do do with the nature of love, contrasting the seedy London slums and sordid sexual encounters, possibly with prostitutes ("The muttering retreats/Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels") with fashionable drawing rooms where:
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The Prufrock character's clothing shows him to be clearly of this upper-middle class world ("My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,/My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin ...") and yet, in his search for love, he is not fundamentally different than any other single man, something he acknowledges, comparing himself with other London men:
..., I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...
The final striking contrast of imagery in the poem is one where Eliot sets a vision of Prufrock, descending into a cautious and proper old age against a romantic version of unobtainable mermaids. Prufrock reflects:
I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
This beach evokes the image of mermaids, and what is the closest part of the poem to a conventional love song, in an almost Tennysonian style:
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
However, as Prufrock has pointed out, his world is one contrasting with that of romantic love rather than participating in it, and he wryly comments at the start of the song: "I do not think that they will sing to me."
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