The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is the dramatic monologue of a very self-conscious and insecure man who can’t assert himself. Prufrock frequently asks questions such as “Do I dare?” and “How should I presume?” His anxiety and neuroses are very clear from these questions. The line “How should I presume?” is repeated in variation four different times. The biggest mystery of the poem is what exactly it is that he is so anxious to talk to these people about.

The title of the poem gives the ironic hint to what he is so anxious to discuss with the women: love. The title makes it seem as though the poem will be about a love song, when it reality it is about the obsessive contemplation of how to say anything to a woman about love. One of his imagined versions of this love song or of this attempt to woe a woman is, “And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!/Smoothed by long fingers,/Asleep…tired…or it malingers,/Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.” This actually is quite elegant and beautiful and it is ironic that he is able to compose this in his head, yet debates so long over whether or not to say it that he misses his opportunity. He keeps thinking there is so much time but then eventually time runs out and he missed his chance. He then contemplates what would have happened had he said what he wanted to say. He wonders whether it would have been worth it to say what he wanted to say at the risk of the woman misunderstanding him or rejecting him.

Eventually, he seems to decide that it would not have been worth it and contemplates his lonely decent into old age. He rejects his own romantic dreams and settles with the grim reality of his future. He says, “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea/By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown/Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” This might refer to his desire to live in his own dreams of romance or his tendency to let these things stay in his head, as he has done throughout the poem through obsessively thinking about love instead of actually doing something about it. He lingers in the chambers of the sea in the same way that he lingers in the chambers of his mind until he is forcibly brought back to reality by the human voices around him and he drowns. Though he is capable of thinking these beautiful love songs in his head, he ends up lingering there too long and drowns in his own thoughts rather than taking action. The reference at the beginning of the poem to Dante and the fact that this is a dramatic monologue reinforces this because he is happy to say all of these things so long as no one will hear them. He says all of these personal thoughts about himself and about love because he assumes that no one will listen to them. It is essential that this poem be structured in a dramatic monologue because otherwise the character of Prufrock and the meaning of the poem, which emphasizes the lost opportunities due to Prufrock’s internal struggles and internal monologue, would be lost.  His “love song” ends up being sung only to himself because of his insecurity and hesitance.

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