To what extent is "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" a love song?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very pertinent question to ask about this strange "love song." Surely, out of all of the love songs that have ever been composed, this must be one of the most peculiar, as signified by one of the first images included in the third line:

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table.

This is hardly the most romantic image to start off your "love song"! As we read on, we see that J. Alfred Prufrock is a man who definitely has feelings but he can only entertain them in the privacy of his own mind. Although his thoughts and emotions are clearly complex, it is evident that they do nothing to help him overcome his biggest barrier, which is fear of participation in the world and commitment or engagement. Thus it is that the song actually shows how he as a character has to take refuge in heroic fantasy, as he compares himself to a variety of heroes. We are left with a haunting image of a man who is unable to commit, who measures out his life "in coffee spoons" and faces a lonely future burdened by the fear of what others think about him:

I grow old... I grow old...

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shal I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

Such questions and preoccupations are what fills J. Alfred Prufrock's day. What is unique about this love song is that it actually reveals far more about the speaker than his "love" and focuses more on his hang-ups and worries.

Read the study guide:
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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