illustration of a woman holding a glass of wine and a man, Prufrock, standing opposite her

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. Eliot

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What role does time play in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? Are there concrete examples of this or merely hints?

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Time plays a crucial role in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot. The narrator is a man who is terribly shy and inhibited. He longs for intimacy but does not have the courage to pursue it. Although he attends social gatherings at which women are present, he cannot bring himself to go beyond surface-level pleasantries and expose his real feelings.

The phrase "there will be time" is repeated over and over, but it is obvious that the narrator is deluding himself. He says that "there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet," but this is part of his self-delusion. In preparing a face to present socially, he is hiding his true self.

The phrase "there will be time" is used ironically, because for the narrator, in fact, time is running out. He keeps putting off the decision of taking steps to pursue intimacy and a more fulfilling life, and in the meantime, he is growing old. He laments: "I grow old ... I grow old ..." He is worried that people will notice this and remark that "his hair is growing thin" and "his arms and legs are thin." He foresees his own death, at which "the eternal Footman" holds his coat and snickers. In other words, death itself makes fun of him. His self-doubt and depression frighten him and prevent him from taking action to better his situation.

We see, then, that the passage of time is an important theme that runs through the poem. The repetitions of "there will be time" only serve as an excuse to put off what he knows needs to be done. The signs of old age remind him, though, that he does not have an endless amount of time to improve his situation. In the end, in despair, he expresses his belief that he has waited too long and can no longer hope to fulfill his dreams. He imagines mermaids singing, but he does not think that they will sing to him. He believes that he has lingered too long in indecision; now, his time has passed, and it is too late to make his desires come true.

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