What does the “Pervigilium” section add to the poem? What are the published poem’s three main themes and how does the “Pervigilium” complicate them?  Why do you think Eliot chose to...

What does the “Pervigilium” section add to the poem? What are the published poem’s three main themes and how does the “Pervigilium” complicate them?  Why do you think Eliot chose to edit it out of the published version?  Be specific and quote from Eliot’s language.

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Michael Ugulini | (Level 3) Educator

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

What does the “Pervigilium” section add to the poem?

The “Pervigilium” section adds a deeper layer of description of the society and the streets the narrator of the poem (J. Alfred Prufrock) inhabits. In the published poem, T.S. Eliot, through the main character, speaks:

a) Of lonely men in shirtsleeves, leaning out of windows.

The subsequent two lines after this line in the published poem are:

b) I should have been a pair of ragged claws

c) Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

However, in the original (unpublished version), T.S. Eliot inserted the main portion of the “Pervigilium” section between a) and b). In addition, after c) he added another four lines. Therefore, these combined constitute the entirety of the “Pervigilium” section.

The “Pervigilium” section gives the reader a more vivid picture of the harshness of the society of the day. This section says that “Women, spilling out of corsets, stood in entries”. It also speaks of “children whimpering in corners”, alongside these women. This is alluding to women prostituting themselves in this poorer society to feed their children.

The “Pervigilium” section of the poem expands on the loneliness aspect mentioned above (lonely men). J. Alfred Prufrock talks of walking by the homes of the neighbourhood alone at night. To him, these are evil houses. He feels that their inhabitants are looking out at him and laughing and ridiculing him for his, as he believes, ineptness as a man.

The “Pervigilium” section adds a feeling to the poem that the modern society of that day was beating people down. It seems that J. Alfred Prufrock sees people just existing, struggling, toiling and not really enjoying life to the fullest.

What are the published poem’s three main themes and how does the “Pervigilium” complicate them?

I believe that the published poem’s three main themes are: Time, Facades, and Yearning. Regarding Time, J. Alfred Prufrock considers that life’s days come and go too quickly. The “Pervigilium” section complicates this somewhat because it speaks of the monotony of days and nights (things just happening as usual), for example in this line:

And the world was peeling oranges and reading evening papers

Concerning Facades, J. Alfred Prufrock ponders how he needs each day to prepare his face to meet people. He puts on a façade each day. He doesn’t really reveal his true inner being to others in the daily course of life. The “Pervigilium” section complicates this to a degree by speaking of the blind old drunken man, who in no way is putting on any airs or a façade to hide his real self from those around him.

Pertaining to Yearning, J. Alfred Prufrock understands that he was not forceful enough in grabbing opportunities in life. He believes he was too passive most of his life. He yearns to be a stronger man and have proper love with a fine woman that will give him a peace in his life. The “Pervigilium” section complicates this in that it speaks of Prufrock not having the mindset and internal strength to achieve these goals, as related in this line:

I fumbled to the window to experience the world

And to hear my Madness singing,

Why do you think Eliot chose to edit it out of the published version?

I believe T.S. Eliot chose to edit the “Pervigilium” section out of the published version for two reasons. First, brevity. The “Pervigilium” section adds a significant portion to the poem and he probably thought the poem was becoming a bit too unwieldy for his purposes.

Second, a lot of what is conveyed in this section (about the society around him, how people see him, how he sees life) is alluded to in other parts of the poem. It was not really necessary to belabour the point with extended discourse here.

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