"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is, among many other things, a response to Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress." The speaker of Marvell's poem is bold and confident, while Prufrock is the reverse. One of the great contrasts between the two poems is their attitude to time, as Marvell begins with an announcement that the two lovers have not enough time for them to be able to delay their lovemaking. He later says that they must "devour" their time, rather than "languish in his slow-chapped power." Prufrock alludes to both these lines when he insistently repeats the word "time," as in the following passage:
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
Eliot, in contrast to Marvell, sees vast deserts of time stretching out before Prufrock. He alludes even more precisely to Marvell in the line
To have squeezed the universe into a ball ...
This is clearly an echo of
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball.
Prufrock's bleak assertion is again the opposite of the one made by Marvell's ardent speaker. Even if one could roll the universe into a ball, it would make no difference to the solitariness of life and the impossibility of acting bravely.