The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock does not contain the glorification of the beloved, the rapture of the power of feeling expected from a love song. We can’t even be sure that this song is dedicated to a particular lady. There is no portrait of a “certain person” in the poem, all the signs of femininity (hands, bracelets, skirts, shawls) are given in the plural, so we cannot say with complete certainty that they belong to Prufrok’s beloved. Instead, they create the impression of a hero revolving in female society, surrounded by women, and in this society, he feels himself a stranger. The Love Song seems to be a complaint of a middle-aged, lonely, hypersensitive person about the impossibility of love and simple mutual understanding. The protagonist does not dare to speak to a woman, but he confesses to the reader.
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Prufrock’s monologue is permeated with colloquial intonations, saturated with images that were considered impermissibly rude for poetry at the beginning of the century. It opens with a description of a city walk:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Evening spread out “like a patient etherized upon a table” is not just an unusual metaphor. The author immediately introduces us into the world, as if under anesthesia, into the world of Prufrock, where the sensations of real-time and space are anesthetized and frozen. After this reduced sketch of the ugly, poor streets, the images of the real city disappear from the poem forever. Even quite real, unsightly streets become a way to move not in physical space, but in spiritual space. This spiritual space is the hero’s consciousness and subconsciousness, where fragments of his inner drama are played out, and the repetitive refrains set the form for the intermittent space of the poem.
Relation to Dante’s Epigraph
These are the words of Count Guido da Montefeltro, who is punished for the sly advice he gave to Pope Boniface VIII. The count agrees to tell his story, confident that his listener will never return to the world of the living, and they will not know about his (the count’s) shameful act on earth. A superficial parallel to Prufrock’s intent is obvious. Prufrock also hesitates to sing his song, fearing that others will find out about his secret desires. But the epigraph from Dante carries another idea that is important for understanding the Eliot text. Before committing a sin, Guido repented. However, salvation did not come, and he ended up in Hell. This is where Eliot’s principled motive of inauthentic repentance arises: Prufrok’s confession is just as false as Guido’s repentance. The image of the romantic hero whom he sees in himself is just a conventional mask, a stamp of the 19th-century culture.