Explain the line "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the line "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" means that Prufrock has frittered away his time and talents going to inane, repetitive parties rather than writing the work of literature he's dreamed of.

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Prufrock has led a pretty unfulfilling life, to say the least. He wants to lead a heroic life, but in reality, he's much too nervous, shy, and neurotic to do so. Each time he ventures out into society, he is reminded of his many shortcomings as an individual.

Far from leading an exciting, rich, fulfilling life, Prufrock is forced to acknowledge the uncomfortable fact that so much of his existence has been frittered away in pointless social gatherings at which, one presumes, coffee was invariably served. Hence the reference to measuring out his life with coffee spoons.

The measure of Prufrock's life has not been heroic deeds or passionate love affairs but by an endless round of painful encounters with members of the opposite sex in respectable social gatherings. Looking back upon the life that he's lived, Prufrock can only lament how it's all turned out.

This is not a heroic age, and Prufrock is certainly no hero. He is marking time and nothing more, and he can only do by the countless coffee spoons he's used in an ultimately forlorn attempt to make his mark upon a world that he neither likes nor understands—and which is a constant source of fear and disappointment.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 26, 2021
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Prufrock is a timid, disillusioned middle-aged man. He wanted at some point in his life to create a great work of literature, and so he joined literary circles in London. Now, contemplating his life and lack of accomplishments, he realizes he frittered away his time at parties, drinking coffee and exchanging the same worn-out comments with people rather than setting himself to the harder task of writing literature.

The line "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" means that Prufrock has spent the bulk of his time on what is small and inconsequential, such as drinking coffee. This is a visual and auditory image (we can hear the sound of the spoon stirring the coffee) that shows the repetition of a mundane social activity, one that contrasts sharply to writing a great work or to the lyrical mermaids from Greek poetry that Prufrock dreams of.

The line speaks to the frustration most people feel when they have to spend time on obligatory tasks when they would prefer to be doing something more meaningful. In Prufrock's case, however, he has embraced the trivial as a way to avoid facing the great task. Ironically, for all his complaining about being at yet another boring party, he has freely gone to yet another boring party. He has made his decisions, bit by bit, or coffee spoon by coffee spoon, and now he feels regret—but not enough to overcome his inertia.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 22, 2021
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The speaker of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a disillusioned and discontented middle aged man who is reckoning with his own anxiety, alienation, and indecision. When Prufrock says, in the poem's seventh stanza, "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons," what he means is that his life has always been carefully controlled and predictable—in other words, measured.

The image of the coffee spoon is one of middle-class domesticity. The idea of measuring one's life with such an instrument implies a lack of risk or excitement; instead of big decisions or milestone events defining the course of his life, all Prufrock has with which to mark his time on earth is the quotidian coffee spoon. The reader can easily imagine Prufrock going through the motions of a daily routine of making a cup of morning coffee.

The line also serves as an indicator of Prufrock's age. That he is looking back on his life and making this kind of observation makes it clear to the reader that he is no longer a young man.

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In T. S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrok" the following line appears:

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

What Eliot, and the speaker, is saying that in life he has been very careful with decisions in life. When measuring coffee to brew one must be sure to use the exact amount, and no more, to create the drink. Like measuring coffee out, the speaker is saying that he has been very careful to not take too little or too much out of life. He has simply taken all he has needed to survive.

What this means is that sometimes people are so careful as to examine their life that they are so careful that they measure out specific aspects of life. The speaker seems to be stating that his carefulness has, unfortunately, left him feeling doubtful, alienated, and as if time has passed without recognition or concern. The look back on his life suggests that Prufrok regrets taking such measured actions--instead wishing that he would have thrown the spoon to the wind and done more.

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