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T.S. Eliot: Discovering J.

Alfred Prufrock
So, Let us go then, you and I (1), and explore the emotions that beat within a young and pedantic Eliots young breast, and poised him at the brink of this questionto love or to not.


Due to the very private nature of Thomas Stearns Eliot, the poet of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, little connection has been made between him and the protagonist of the poem, Prufrock.
However, the insightful biographical detail from Valerie Eliots The Letters of T. S. Eliot Vol. 1: 1898-1922, as well as the numerous biographies on Eliot published after its release in 1988 helps us surmise the motivations that led Eliot to create the character of Prufrock. In addition, the compilation of Eliots original manuscripts, Inventions of the March Hare edited by Christopher Ricks, give us new insight to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Despite what we may presume with the title The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, far from being a love song, the poem more closely resembles a lament a lament of a man who is doomed to fail.
Prufrock is poised at the brink of sexual indulgence and does not know whether to plunge headlong into the women who come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo (13-14).

Prufrock never reaches that critical stage of confessing his love song as he sees the moment of his greatness flicker (84)

How should I presume?(54),

Prufrocks continual reverie, I should have, is as far as his actions will take him because he will never physically act upon his thoughts. Due to his weak character he is constricted in an emotional paralysis, which leaves him unable to act upon his thoughts and force the moment to its crisis (80).

Considering that Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, and Eliot began writing the poem around 1910, we can surmise that Eliot was twenty-two years old at the time he wrote the poem.

Unlike the young Eliot, who would have no reason to be troubled by balding at the time the poem was written, Prufrock is described With a bald spot in the middle of [his] hair (44).

Prufrock is hypersensitive about aging: I grow old I grow old (120), which resembles the thought process of a middle-aged man, not a twenty-two year old university student.

J. Alfred Prufrock and T.S. Eliot

Prufrock is never comfortable in polite society:

And I have known the eyes, known them all The eyes that fix you in a formulate phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways And how should I presume? (55-61)

Eliot, the scion of a wealthy and elite Missouri family would never have had reason to feel the nervousness in society that Prufrock did


For Eliot being a poet meant to be always incorporating the past into a present self. And not merely his own past life, but that of his ancestors and of the race. The mind in his poetry is composed of all that memory could recover and imagination order: the mind of one man, but a man extraordinarily mindful of the whole reach of his history back to its remotest origins
(Moody, A. D. Thomas Stearns Eliot.
2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 1.).

Instead, we may view The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as a medium for Eliot to convey his feelings in light of the message found in the epigraph of the poem, which is taken from a scene from Dantes Inferno:
Guido da Montefeltro, consumed in flame as punishment for giving false counsel, confesses his shame without fear of its being reported since he believes Dante cannot return to earth.

By using the character of Prufrock, Eliot may confess the madness, that grips him while he is consumed by his fledgling love for Emily Hale

By using a dramatic monologue, Eliot is expressing his feelings through the character of Prufrock. His inability to act upon his thoughts that surround an overwhelming question, or love confession, is the paralysis that Prufrock suffers under.

Eliots madness, or inability to confess his love for Emily Hale, arises from his inability to understand his love in terms of his Christian upbringing. Eliots Christian upbringing exacerbates his view that sex is evil as his father believes syphilis was Gods punishment.

Sex is Evil


Like Eliot, Prufrock is afraid: And in short, I was afraid (86).

As an inquisitive child with a nervous temperament, Eliot grew up in a wealthy Anglo-Saxon Protestant household. we discover Eliot developed a fear of the distractions of the flesh from his parents, which enhanced his own private and ascetic nature.

In the room the women come and go / Talking about Michelangelo.

In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, we see the pejorative language against women comes to life through the influence of the great French poet Jules Laforgue

He is uneasily aware that the woman points up his pallid appetite but at the same time, defensively scornful of her taste conversation, and brains.
(Gordon, Lyndall. T. S. Eliot : An Imperfect Life. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated, 1999. 37.)

Song, which was written in 1907, evokes a style from a generation before Eliot, with words such as thee and ere, and has a consistent rhyme structure:

These lines in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,

I grow old I grow old I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled (120-121), are not beautiful, nor is the couplet perfect in rhyme structure, but it conveys the passage of time that Eliot tried to show in the previous lines from Song.

The flowers I sent thee when the

dew Was trembling on the vine, Were withered ere the wild bee flower To suck the eglantine (9-12).

The language of this poem is representative of Henry James as it is flowery and elite, and uses romantic images of nature that is noticeably missing in Eliots poetry after 1908

Before 1908 we see Eliots poetry clearly reflects a Henry Jamesian romantic style.

Laforgue is almost omnipresent in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Looking back at his poetry, Eliot himself realizes a change in his earlier poetry after reading Laforgue in 1909:
I do feel more grateful to him than anyone to else,
and I do not think that I have come across any other writer since who has meant so much to me as he did at that particular momentum or that particular year.
(Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T. S. Eliot Vol. 1 : 1898-1922. Ed. Valerie Eliot. Vol. 1. Danbury: Faber & Faber, Incorporated, 1988. 191.)

Adopted Laforguian tecniques:

the undercutting contrast of sublime and banal phrases language of ordinary conversation control the drift of interior monologue through an ironic dialogue between rival aspects of self


Eliot composed most of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock between the years 19101911 while studying abroad in France. Tired of the women and 1 Boston high-society life, Eliot niceties of decided to run away to Paris and study at the Sorbonne he is squeeze[ing] the universe into a ball / To roll it toward some overwhelming question (92-93).

before the first magazine publication in 1915, the poem was entitled Prufrock among the Women in the Inventions of the March Hare original manuscript.

Thewomen of the original title, Prufrock among the Women, are what plagued him into writing the poem, and are also the catalyst that sent him to France.

However, we find that instead of finding relief, Eliot finds the same society of women in Boston languish in the highsociety waiting rooms of Paris.

And with his growing distrust of family Look at hers, so touching and nude, norms, Harvard clichs, and Boston In a dcor of birds and roses; manners, coupled with his already Ingenuous reflexes, its tics, solitary habits and the alienated voices of nineteenth-century French Attitudes copied from worldly poses; poets, Eliot writes most of the original On a green background, jaundice-hued manuscript of The Love Song of J. (15-19). Alfred Prufrock. The line Arms that are braceleted and white and bare (63) seems like a compliment; however, the next lines but (64) negates the statement. In addition, this line calls attention to a distasteful aspect of the women: But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!

Emily Hale: Eliots Madness The original manuscript Inventions of the March Hare shows that Prufrocks Pervigilium begins after line 69s And how should I begin? (69), in the original draft of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In the 1917 published version of the poem, this question, And how should Ibegin? (69), is ignored: And how should I presume? / And I have known the arms already, known them all (62) In Prufrocks Pervigilium, Eliot addresses the question And how should I begin? (69): Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets And seen the smoke which rises from the pipes Of lonely men in shirtsleeves, leaning out of windows (1-3)
(Eliot, T. S., Christopher Ricks, and Charles Boyle. Inventions of the March Hare : Poems, 1909-1917. Danbury: Faber & Faber, Incorporated, 1996. 44,).

Although we do not know the exact date Prufrocks Pervigilium was written, because it was written in a later hand than the rest of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, we can surmise it was written in 1912, the same year Eliot meets and falls in love with Emily Hale.
(Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T. S. Eliot Vol. 1 : 1898-1922. Ed. Valerie Eliot. Vol. 1. Danbury: Faber &

I fumbled to the window to experience the world And to hear my Madness singing, sitting on the kerbstone [A blind old drunken man who sings and mutters, With broken boot heels stained in many gutters] And as he sang the world began to fall apart (2832).
(Eliot, T. S., Christopher Ricks, and Charles Boyle. Inventions of the March Hare : Poems, 1909-1917. Danbury: Faber & Faber, Incorporated, 1996. 44.)

fall apart



In Prufrock, we see Eliots own anxiety in matters of sex and women: Eliot exploited his inhibition in Prufrock-the-prophets stifling fears: his head brought in, like John the Baptists, upon a platter. He imagines his persecution. He sees his greatness flicker, and is afraid. (Gordon, Lyndall. T. S. Eliot :
An Imperfect Life. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated, 1999. 68.)

Eliot, through the medium of Prufrock, is asking his Madness if he dares plunge himself into what his father considered the sin of indulging in the feminine charms of the opposite sex.

We must consider that after falling in love with Hale, Eliot names the nameless you in the poem in order to confront his fears of women.

Eliot, by his own admission, was immature and inexperienced. He was trying to appease his Christian upbringing and familys views of sex with his budding infatuation.
In addition, by giving a name to what troubled him, [Eliot] fully enunciates (instead of merely mimicking or parodying) the fatigue repetitiveness of his doubt and desire. (Vendler, Helen H.
"T.S. Eliot: Inventing Prufrock." Coming of Age as a Poet : Milton, Keats, Eliot, Plath. New York: Harvard UP, 2003. 108.)

We see Eliots turmoil with love as a young virgin man from an upper-class Protestant upbringing reflected in the Madness of J. Alfred Prufrock as he wonders, Do I dare / disturb the universe (45-46). And in the end of the poem he finds he cannot. Prufrock is not only afraid to confess his love but fears the high-society women who talk of Michelangelo will ignore him, as he believes the mermaids will refuse to sing to him: I do not think that they will sing to me (125).

Similar to Prufrocks fears, Eliot is afraid of being rejected by Hale who was from the same society as the women who talk of Michelangelo: She was born into the same Boston Brahmin milieu as Eliots family. (Gordon, Lyndall. T. S. Eliot : An Imperfect Life.
Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated, 1999. 79.)

The image of Prufrock standing on the beach while the mermaids are riding seaward on the waves (126), shows how Eliot is incapable of reaching the mermaids, or the high society women, because of his cowardly character and Christian upbringing.

Conclusion: Not a hero or a king, J. Alfred Prufrock is

a mere attendant lord (112) who is used to swell a progress, start a scene or two (113).

Like Eliot, Prufrock is unsure of professing his love because he believes it will disturb the universe (45).

In the case of Eliot, it is the world of Bostonian society, which boxed and enclosed a daily ritual of social niceties: In the room the women come and go/ Taking of Michelangelo (13-14). It is also the world his parents cultivated, of Puritan standards where the pleasures of the sex were considered debased.

The scholarship of Laforgue allowed these thoughts to traverse onto paper and roll it toward some overwhelming question (93); only to find, in short, [he] was [too] afraid (86) to sing his madness, his love song for Emily Hale. Through Prufrock, Eliot finds he cannot have the Puritan upbringing and beliefs on society women which make up his world fall apart (32).
(Eliot, T. S., Christopher Ricks, and Charles Boyle. Inventions of the March Hare : Poems, 1909-1917. Danbury: