In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," what is significant about time?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The number of times that the word "time" is repeated in the poem obviously stresses its importance, as Prufrock feels that he is losing hold of time and he is growing old before he has really lived. He is a character who reflects constant indecision, because his own examination of his physical deterioriation such as his balding compels him with urgency, and yet then he hesitates because he feels that he still does have time before he is forced to act and do something decisive in his life:

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 tme yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Having "time" means that Prufrock is able to hold back from commitment and making any life-changing decisions that will impact his life and prevent a "hundred visions and revisions." Prufrock is well aware that there is only so much "time" before Death comes for him, but in the poem he is balancing the need to act with the fear of what he will be committing himself to if he does make this momentous decision, which will lead him into an existence defined by "sunsets and teacups and sprinkled streets." The opportunities for indecision, as much as he likes it, are limited at the end of the day, and if he waits too long, the vision he has of himself growing "old" and wearing "the bottom of my trousers rolled" will become a reality as he will age and die alone.

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

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