How does T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" exemplify Modernism?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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T S Eliot lived at the height of industrial change and invention and Modernism reflects that change. In The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock, Eliot takes Prufrock's dilemma and translates his dismay onto the page in a foggy, dirty city where there is little, if any, drive to succeed. Image is everything and the depressed Prufrock is preoccupied with his position in the world and he is representative of the "modern" man of the time, uninspired and weak. His attempts to find release in his thoughts of literature and dreams do not help him as "It is impossible to say just what I mean." 

Eliot refuses to be compartmentalized and neither wishes to create a new form of poetry or to be restricted by existing forms. He is very aware of the poet's responsibility to the reader to produce a quality piece of work and therefore, in terms of Modernist poetry, relates Prufrock's problems as they consume him, introducing a very psychological edge to this poem, allowing the reader to consider the emotional state of Prufrock, as he spits "out all the butt-ends of my days." A structure remains in place. 

The elements of modernism in this "love song" can also be found in the form and rhythm. What could otherwise be fragmented, as Prufrock's thoughts move between women's chatter, fog, insects and so on, becomes integrated. The reader feels the sway and lyricism which provides the continuity and flow and stresses the endlessness of Prufrock's existence as he is "afraid" of this modern era and has "measured out my life with coffee spoons." Eliot wants to ensure that the reader sees the "bigger picture" and that Prufrock represents far more than this personal account would otherwise suggest. 

Eliot was introduced to Ezra Pound's circle and his style portrays his dedication to poetry as an essential part of the modern man. His insistence that poetry must combine traditional elements with illusionary ones and that it must not be prescriptive, together with his use of straight-forward language so that interpretation is complex but assured, confirms his place as a modernist poet. 

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