Compare Elliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" with R. Frost's "The Road Not Taken."

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” are two poems that have a very different sound and rhythm, but an important thematic similarity.

One theme that both poems deal with is the idea of time. The subject of Frost’s poem has made a crucial decision, which is symbolized by the “two roads” that “diverged in a yellow wood.” Near the end of the poem Frost writes:

I shall be telling this with a sigh,

Somewhere ages and ages hence

In other words, the subject is wondering how, as time progresses, he will judge the decision that he has made. The “sigh” represents the idea that there will be some kind or regret or nostalgia involved. No matter what decision he makes he will always wonder about the possibilities that he left behind.

Eliot’s subject in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” uses the word “time” repeatedly (five times in stanza four alone), usually in the phrase “there will be time.” He tells the reader that there will be time:

  • to prepare a face
  • to murder and create
  • for a hundred indecisions
  • to wonder do I dare?

The speaker is saying that there seems to be plenty of time to do all these things, to deal with life, until suddenly the time is gone, and you are left wondering, as Eliot’s subject does later in the poem:

And would it have been worth it, after all

Would it have been worthwhile . . .

The subject of each poem is wondering how they are going to view their decisions and actions later in life. Will their decisions turn out to be wise? Will their actions be deemed worthwhile? Both poems explore the uncertainty we feel about our own lives and the consequences of our actions. In both poems, the speakers seem to realize that they are bound to feel some regret when they think about their past. 

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