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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Discuss the concept of courtly love in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".

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If we interpret "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as about a man consumed with unrequited love and unable to declare himself, this could provide a connection to the unrequited desires in some courtly love poetry.

Courtly love is a type of love and love poetry developed in France in the Middle Ages in which a male lover faithfully served his beloved lady as a vassal might his lord. Courtly love was a merger of the platonic love of the medieval church, characterized by a chaste worship of the Virgin Mary and the erotic love of the classical world as might be described by Ovid. The courtly lover often worshipped his beloved from afar, putting her on a pedestal as he would the Virgin Mary, his erotic love unrequited.

"Prufrock" is a poem that leaves itself open to multiple interpretations, but Eliot called it a "love song." One reading is that Prufrock is unable—and has long been unable—to state his "overwhelming question" to his beloved. He wonders at the party if he now has the "strength to force the moment to its crisis?" But unlike in a courtly love poem, we don't know what the question or the crisis is. Is Prufrock too paralyzed to be able to declare his love? Given that the epitaph is spoken by a character in Dante's Inferno who only reveals himself to Dante because he believes nobody can return from the underworld, Prufrock seems to be confessing secrets to us about his own timidity that he believes we can't repeat.

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