The Love Song of J

‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’
T.S. Eliot
The following are notes on the structure of the poem and how they relate to the themes.
Use these notes as guidance when formulating your own views. Remember that they are
influenced by one person’s opinion and you should therefore question every assumption,
before forming your own.
The poem has no real discernable verse structure. This is because it is an interplay of
expressions and memories. We read as he thinks. Some of the poem is expression, some
memory, some pre-occupation, some fantasy. It seems fragmented but it is a journey. Can
you identify a clear beginning, middle and end?
Starts with an Italian extract from Dante’s ‘Inferno’. The response it refers to is in reply to a
question of identity. So this poem is a response. “Let us go then, You and I”. It provides a
reason for Prufrock to reveal himself. Also a possible example of Prufrock’s romantic
idealism, ‘When the evening is spread out against the sky’.
Who is the ‘you’?
An unknown woman : Prostitute – The only way he can have intimacy with a woman – he
describes to her what his life consists of – and talks about his inability to approach
romantic relationships. Compare the opening lines, “When the evening is spread out
against the sky” (Romantic) with the images of the streets described in the next few lines.
Similar to his two conceptions of relationships with women = (Romantic – unachievable /
Cheap – achievable). If you take this view, look at - “stretched on the floor, here beside
you and me.” as evidence.
The reader: He is taking you on a journey of discovery with him. Allowing you intimate
access – link back to Dante. The only reason he is doing this is because he thinks no one
ever comes out of the depths. The Dante quote explains why he feels he can address you.
His outward self : The public persona – taking the ‘outer’ man on a revealing journey,
maybe to kick-start him into action. He does this by revealing his failings and his fears.
Link to the last line of the poem, ‘and we drown’.
Middle – The Point of No Return
The turning point of the poem comes after he has told us that there will be time (put off the
action.), shown his distaste for the women (‘known them all already’) and admitted that he has
done nothing significant with his life. The point of no return comes when he admits that he
fears death, (the eternal footman). From that moment on there is a noticeable change in the
narrator (Prufrock). He stops saying, ‘should I?’ and starts saying, ‘would it have been worth
Repetition of, ‘That is not it at all, that is not what I meant at all,’ serves as a build up of
dramatic tension. These verses begin with rhetorical questions, which gives a sense of rising
desperation. These verses also use a lot of punctuation, which also adds to the build up of
tension. You can feel him working up to something and you feel anticipation.
End – The Climax
The climax comes in the verse where he exclaims, ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet.’ The very fact
that it is an exclamation is amazing. It’s a sign of life, of emotion, of energy, of reaction, of
anger. But all that deliberation only results in this one exclamation. That is the only ‘action’ he
can summon up, and in that respect he is a failure. This is where he gives up. He resigns
himself to the fact that he is not a hero, he knows now that he is a failure. His indecision has
become final and any sense of optimism or good intention is lost. Action becomes impossible
and unachievable. You get the impression that this was his last chance. Now all he has is his
old age (I grow old) and his unfulfilling fantasies (I do not think they will sing to me).
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ copyright © T S Eliot