Introduction to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T. S. Eliot’s first major poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” was published in Poetry in 1915. The poem’s publication, which was championed by Ezra Pound, marked Eliot’s arrival as a central poet in the burgeoning modernist movement.

The poem’s subject matter, themes, and techniques reflect the ethos of modernism. The eponymous Prufrock wanders through foggy streets, isolated and full of longing. He muses on the superficialities of society, reveals his anxieties about mortality, and bemoans his inability “to say just what I mean.” Prufrock’s feelings of alienation and existential dread express the spirit of the modernist age.

In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” one finds Eliot’s signature techniques: formally inflected free verse, structural fragmentation, and wide-ranging allusiveness. These techniques became central features of modernist literature in the ensuing decades. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is widely considered one of the masterpieces of Eliot’s career and of twentieth-century English-language poetry more broadly.

A Brief Biography of T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) was born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri, in a well-to-do family with New England roots. He showed immense academic promise as a young man, studying philosophy at Harvard and Oxford. Before receiving his doctorate, however, he decided to leave the academic world behind, move to London, and pursue poetry.

Eliot quickly distinguished himself as a key figure of the burgeoning modernist movement with the 1915 publication of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The poem, Eliot’s early masterpiece, uses fragmentation and allusion to explore themes of isolation and meaninglessness. Eliot’s next major breakthrough was The Waste Land, published in 1922, a long poem that uses a jarring, experimental structure and a rich combination of vernacular and poetic idioms. This philosophically dense poem, with its obscure but poignant evocations of despair and disorientation, is considered a touchstone of modernism. Eliot’s late masterpiece is The Four Quartets, a book-length poem published 1943 in which Eliot explores the concepts of time and eternity while drawing from his Catholic faith.

In addition to his work as a poet, Eliot was a well-regarded playwright and arguably the most influential literary critic of his era. By any measure, he stands as one of the most important English-language writers of the twentieth century.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T. S. Eliot uses figurative language to describe the yellow fog in terms of an animal, most likely a cat. He does not use simile or direct metaphor to...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:49 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

As it is presented in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," to eat a peach is to take a risk, seize an opportunity, or live life to the full. The eponymous speaker asks toward the end of the poem,...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:53 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The short answer to the question of what J. Alfred Prufrock does with his time is that he wastes it. He does this in at least two specific ways, both explored extensively in the poem. In the first...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:34 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

There is a slight inconsistency in T. S. Eliot's portrayal of J. Alfred Prufrock, to which Ezra Pound objected. Throughout most of the poem, it is clear what kind of man he is: timid, cautious,...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:14 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

At one point in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Prufrock claims he should have been born as a crab or some other crustacean : I should have been a pair of ragged clawsScuttling across the...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:53 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” can be seen as a quintessentially modern poem in that it lays bare the condition of modernity as understood by a generation of artists and intellectuals in the...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:48 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

J. Alfred Prufrock has several problems that can be identified and discussed. His first problem might be described as a lack of energy or emotion. He compares an evening to “a patient etherized...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 12:27 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

J. Alfred Prufrock, the poem's speaker, says, "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." The spoons serve as a metonym, an object in Prufrock's daily life that represents the vapidity of his...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:56 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The epigraph to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” comes from Dante's Inferno, a work of literature that had particular resonance for T. S. Eliot throughout his life. The words are spoken by...

Latest answer posted September 7, 2020, 11:32 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

There is no concrete answer to the question of what the name Prufrock means, nor is there any clear idea of where T. S. Eliot got the name from. The author himself said that he had no recollection...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:45 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is an ironic title not only because of the bourgeois bathos of the singer's name, but because the song is silent. Throughout the poem, Prufrock is most likely...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:45 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

J. Alfred Prufrock is drawn to women but is unable to connect with them. At a social gathering, he observes "the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo." But he remains at a distance, perhaps...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:20 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Prufrock lacks self-confidence. He believes that he is going to be judged harshly by others if he ventures out into society, and he imagines that they will talk about "how his hair is growing thin"...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 12:53 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

J. Alfred Prufrock asks "Do I dare eat a peach?" because he is nervous about doing anything at all, even something so apparently innocuous as eating a piece of fruit. However, the peach symbolizes...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:20 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

As in Eliot's The Waste Land, the modern city in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a surreal place. The title character is isolated from the city in which he lives and from which he feels...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 2:49 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

J. Alfred Prufrock is afraid of a number things, perhaps most of all aging and death. Despite his repetition of the phrase "there will be time" five times in the poem, he admits that he is afraid...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:22 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot wrote "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in 1910 and 1911, during which time he was living in Prison and studying at the Sorbonne. Though it is impossible to say precisely why T. S....

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:42 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The “overwhelming question” that Prufrock points to is never explicitly formulated. However, the question invites certain inferences and can be discussed at two different levels. First, the...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:52 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” offers a variety of meanings, given its formal, thematic, and allusive richness. At one level, the poem’s meaning can be found in its exploration of...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 12:10 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is an exemplar of the modernist literary movement, both in its form and its themes. It was written at a time when Western society was going through a crisis,...

Latest answer posted September 6, 2020, 11:06 am (UTC)

1 educator answer
Next

Summary