The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock The poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an ironic love song, as the character Prufrock does not actually love. The irony comes from within the poem itself and what we know about Prufrock; it also comes from what we imagine about his contact with women based on his conversations with them in the poem (which are mostly dominated by him thinking, worrying and obsessing over what he should say).
Prufrock’s occupation as a “civil servant” is very telling as to what society expected of men at that time; that they should be prim and proper civil ‘servants’ of society and the women who lived there. The irony lies in how Prufrock is anything but this – he fails to be a civil servant of love. The irony helps the reader understand that Prufrock is unsure, introverted and has no self-confidence. The poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock begins with the following lines.
The patient becomes a body, with the ironic implication that love is not passion but an operation. The rhyme of “sky” and “table” emphasizes this irony, with its attention to objects rather than feelings, facts rather than dreams. The evening becomes another object in Prufrock’s world, where it is always “a custom… more agreeable… To meet in. The yellow fog… And yellow smoke… That rubs its muzzle on the window-pane” (20-25).
The images of evening are redefined in terms of things Prufrock can touch or smell or taste—the promise of sex thus replaced by the reality of physical sensation. The poem ends with Prufrock still asking if he dares to know for certain “whether [his] suit [is] worth a plucking,” but The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is not a love song but a meditation on the failure of romance. The figure in the poem would rather stay in his room and fill the evening with small objects, such as his tie:
“… do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (38-42). The title The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock suggests that Prufrock might be singing about what it means to live without love, just as T S Eliot has been known by his initials because he was embarrassed by his name. The ironic character of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is introduced in its title, because The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock isn’t really a love song, since it’s actually about the absence of love.
The article goes on to discuss irony as one characteristic that is apparent throughout the poem. The poem is too short for commentary–and you should not copy verbatim what I have already written here! And here are some additional websites that will give you more information about T S Eliot and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
The “interaction is not for Prufrock” (Harlan 265). The women are at a party; they were invited, and the invitation was extended to Prufrock as well. The ironic situation is that Prufrock does not attend the party, and it is apparent that he will never attend. The irony of life and death (“do I dare? / Do I dare disturb the universe? ”) permeates this poem. The irony in line one is that Eliot presents an urban-dweller who fears the city with its noise and bustle, even though he knows such noise better than anyone else: as a child he moved from his small town to the big city.
The deepens as the poem progresses. The irony of Prufrock’s constant musing is that he does not do anything, instead, allowing himself to be done to by the women who come and go. The irony of this debasement is underlined by the fact that Prufrock longs for “a chair” (37) in order “to sit down” (13), which has a double meaning: both to rest his tired feet after running around all day, and to find some company. The ironic situation then becomes one where there is much activity but no real action; Prufrock never does or says anything except talk about what might happen- if only he were brave enough.
The flowchart below illustrates the ironic situation. The flowchart does not represent the order of events or time elapsed; it is merely an illustration of the ironic nature of Prufrock’s experiences. The irony-ridden interactions with women mark The Love Song as modernist poetry, starting one of the first movements that lead to postmodern literature (Berryman 197). The irony that pervades The Love Song, particularly in its setting and action, also makes it one of Eliot’s more accessible poems (Harlan 267).
The modernist aspect of The Love Song begins with the title itself: “the title ‘Prufrock’ was probably suggested by Henry Longfellow’s poem ‘The Golden Legend,’ where the lover is called ‘Prufrock'” (Berryman 201). The name Prufrock is an allusion to Dante, and Dante’s The Divine Comedy functions as a major controlling image for the poem. The theme of The Divine Comedy- seeing beyond this life into the next- echoes through Prufrock (Harlan 267). The irony that lines the poem like notes in a song brings it closer to modernism: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is ironic because its title character does not love; he only longs, and his longing is never consummated (Harlan 265).
The irony within The Love Song extends from title to action. The first four lines indicate an ambiance which exists throughout large parts of The Love Song: “In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo” (1-2). The irony in these lines is that Prufrock hears only women talking, suggesting his inability to rise beyond a female or feminized perspective. The twofold character of this irony is apparent when the reader considers Prufrock’s interpretation of what they say.
He stresses an ironic disparity between their words and his understanding as he says, “that is not what I meant at all” (15). The situation becomes even more ironic as Prufrock claims that instead he said “‘exactly’ what I meant” (16) now that he has been corrected by one of those same women whom he does not know, and whom he now affects to understand, as if she were inside his mind. The irony here is twofold: The women speak of men (Michelangelo), thus indicating the presence of a male perspective from which they view themselves; and Prufrock believes that he understands them because he partially internalizes this masculine perspective.
The unspoken joke, then, is that what they “really” say is exactly what Prufrock says: something else entirely. The irony in line twelve marks another step in Prufrock’s progression toward modernism: “In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo”. The beauty of The Love Song lies partly in Eliot’s construction of this sentence. poem begins with an image of women talking; Prufrock observes them as they “come and go” (1). The poem then shifts to an image of these same women- only now the words “of Michelangelo” have been added.
The irony lies in that though the women come and go, what they talk about never changes: The unchangingness is heavily emphasized by Eliot’s repetition of the word ‘Michelangelo’, which takes on a metonymic quality: The name becomes representative for all men, despite the fact that it refers only to one specific man. The Love Song also contains many symbols. These symbols are generally understated or muted enough so as not to disrupt the poem, giving it a feeling of realism often associated with modernism.