The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Critical Overview - Essay

T. S. Eliot

Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

According to Vincent Miller, "By 1914 the age of the heroic achiever was over. That was ... the truth [this] love song pinned down in a startlingly new and creative way for an entire generation." Indeed, American poet John Berryman declares that "Modernist poetry begins" in the simile "like a patient etherised upon a table." He recognizes, however, that even the title manifests a decidedly Modernist "split" in its juxtaposition of the full romance of the term "love song" against such a highly formalized name as J. Alfred Prufrock. This is a technique Eliot discovered in reading the French Symbolist poets Jules Laforgue and Charles Baudelaire. He declared that his early free verse was "more 'verse' than 'free,'" adopting Laforgue's practice of "regularly rhyming lines of irregular length, with the rhyme coming in irregular places." This creates the music of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and inspired American poet Delmore Schwartz to theorize that "[t]here is [a mode of] poetry whose chief aim is that of incantation, of inducing a certain state of emotion." It is clearly the intent of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to involve the reader at an emotional level, and Eliot's use of the second person "you" in the opening line is an expert strategy toward this. But whether the "you" Prufrock is speaking to begins as the poet Eliot or as some imaginary companion, it is evident that, as Northrop Frye maintains, Prufrock ultimately is talking to himself, and...

(The entire section is 534 words.)