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

Start Free Trial

What is the significance of the translated passage from Dante's Inferno in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

The six Italian lines from Dante's Inferno in the poem translate as follows: "If I thought that my reply would be / to one who would ever return to the world, / this flame would stay without further movement; / but since none has ever returned alive from this depth, / if what I hear is true, / I answer you without fear of infamy."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The epigraph from Dante's Inferno consists of lines spoken by Guido da Montefeltro, Lord of Urbino, who is being punished for fraud, and in it, he mistakenly assumes that Dante, like him, is dead and that he may therefore confess his misdeeds without fear that his confession will ever reach the world of the living.

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" may also be seen as a confession. Prufrock is timid and ineffectual rather than evil. However, like Montefeltro, he has spent his life being dishonest and, also like Montefeltro, he believes that his confession will never have any influence in the world, since he seems to be talking to himself about feelings he never shares with anyone else.

Prufrock's dishonesty is less serious than Montefeltro's. Most, if not all, of the harm he inflicts is on himself. However, this fraud still has the power to keep him trapped in a hell of his own making. In Prufrock's case, the punishment is not merely imposed to be apposite for the crime, like the punishments in the Inferno. It is actually an organic part of the crime, as he is forever trapped in silence and loneliness by his own inauthenticity.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial