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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What are the themes and images in T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?

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Themes in "Prufrock" include paralysis and alienation. The theme of paralysis is supported by an image in the very first stanza of the poem, in which the night sky of London is likened to a patient etherized on a table. This sense of being drugged and passive will follow Prufrock throughout the poem.

When he gets to the party, Prufrock again feels paralyzed. He feels he has gone through these moves a thousand times before and yet is helpless to do anything about his situation. He describes himself with imagery of having measured out his life in coffee spoons at countless similar parties. He envisions himself as a sprawling insect, pinned to a board. There is a sense of dull repetition and paralysis too in the image of the women as they come and go, speaking of Michelangelo.

Prufrock shows his sense of alienation in the imagery of wishing he could be a pair of claws, scuttling along the floor of the ocean, rather than at the party. He also longs for what he perceives as the richer, more imaginative world of mermaids and myth but fears he would not have a place there either.

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There are many themes explored in this iconic poem. Perhaps the most prominent ones are of regret and a sense of lost youth. There is also a sense of lost or unrequited love, as when the narrator frequently speaks to an unknown "you" as a companion. The idea of lost youth and regret over the past is repeated throughout the poem: for example in the segment which repeats "there will be time", "for a hundred indecisions" and the idea of "a hundred visions and revisions" there is a sense of having unlimited time to relive the past wishing to have a different outcome.

The theme of lost youth is evident in many descriptions of physical aging (his thinning hair, bald spot and thin arms) and the yearning for imaginative and romantic visions ("I have heard the mermaids singing...I do not think that they will sing to me") that seem to be a fragment of memory from a lost past.

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