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Prufrock's Room

Prufrock's Room

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Published by blap
My TS Eliot essay on Prufrock.
My TS Eliot essay on Prufrock.

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Published by: blap on Mar 11, 2007
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05/08/2014

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Prufrock's Room
Upon reading many critiques of TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” none of them have had the impact of what images were cemented within me upon my initial vetting. I feelmost critical deconstructions to be the views of stuffy intellectuals that know little of the seedy underbelly of sawdusted bars and one-nighter rooms. But odds are, neither did Eliot, apart from hisfantastic imagination. TS Eliot was a student of 22 when he first drafted “Prufrock” and it was four years before he could reach a final draft. Around this age he was probably already being called on todefend his work, and—though probably not, judging by his photographs—he may have even beengoing bald; but still, I do not see this landmark poem as being a present-written portrait of himself;indeed, the character of J. Alfred Prufrock seems middle-aged and lifeworn, bemoaning of growingold when Eliot himself was actually young and writing a thing of terrible ferocity that was rebukingly progressive to the then literary form. “Prufrock” hailed from the left field of accepted structure of metaphor and simile, and yet not so far out as to be denied as the ravings of a madman—at least, notunto further examination. In this essay, I shall attempt to show that while “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a poem of metaphorical irony, the tenors of the vehicles, and even the meaningsof certain key lines, are not set in stone and are still open to interpretation, for in many ways, “TheLove Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” could be a fictional vision of TS Eliot’s possible future and notnecessarily based upon his 22 year old life, a time when he had complained in a letter to Conrad Aiken of still being a virgin.Before discussing the metaphors of irony, we must establish a meaning in my interpretationof “Prufrock.” One of the most widely-accepted line implications is that of the repeating chorus: “Inthe room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo.” For whatever reason, reviewers havesolidified in their analyses of these two lines as of the being at a tea party, or some other high socialfunction where pedants would be discussing craftwork, like say at an art-house or museum. Butreally, what within those two simple lines could possibly relay so much detail? At the easy mention of a classical painter we suddenly shift from a drunken night of walking empty streets and cruising
James BarelaBenjamin - Eng 201
 
cheap hotels to being at an upscale gallery opening? And then right back into the frowzy, yellow city that smells of dog urine? I think not. Far too much is unsaid here. And likely, purposely so. I wouldsay, here, in this stunted repeating stanza, once you assume to what it refers, the rest of the poemfleshes out around that notion, and personally, I can never see even an inkling of tea and crumpetsand women in funny hats voicing pooh-poohs at an exhibition no matter how many times I read itsfirst appearance. Only at its second appearance is there but one line before it suggesting tea-time, butfor me, the first appearance defines its purpose, and it falls right into place with the stanzas that lie yore and beyond it. The “room” is most easily translated as being just that, a room, a room in thecheap hotel of which he spoke of in the first stanza that comes right before this two-line ‘chorus’, andthe women are bourgeois strumpets vying to impress him, the great poet. How one can reason‘museum’ from “room” in the context these lines, is problematic to reckon. Poetic guesswork is adoubly difficult duty to decode because it has everything to do with the decoder’s personality, atleast, before he or she learns what other decoders have guessed. A circumstance that probably adds to the confusing, often contradictory interpretations of this poem is that it was written over so long a period and on two different continents, leaving Eliottime to cram in many convolutions. This is evident in the lines that immediately follow the ‘chorus’,lines fifteen and sixteen: “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes/The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes.” Many commentators call this out as his metaphorfor the London fog, as of London itself being seen as a place of filth. But why two lines? Because Eliothimself said the smoke was the smoke wafting from the factories in St Louis [a little-known fact] sothese two lines could easily be seen as a comparison of the two cities [a perspective rarely noticed].He likens the fog to the smoke while simultaneously likening the fog/smoke to a stray dog, addinglines of it licking its nether regions and brimming the drains with its urine. Eliot’s mind is clearly nota place for very genteel thoughts, and in fact, many considered this poem obscene from the beginning with its inconceivable metaphor of comparing the night sky to an etherized body, so I amleft to wonder: why does no one assume the obviously suggestive, “In the room the women come andgo,” as just that, merely suggestive?
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I propose that the once-repeated lines are not frumps at a societal shindig, and not TS Eliot’sreality, but they are an illustration of a 22-year-old-Eliot’s augural fantasy, just as the entire poem issuchwise. In “Prufrock,” he sees a path that his life could take, that of the tortured, tavern-hauntingpoet being doted upon by drunken pseudo-intellectual dames (showing his infamous misogyny),exploring how inferior they will be to him and how they will try to impress him with theircomprehension of the arts (though the character’s worth of worship is doubted in the poem). He usesthem to gratify himself, becoming bored with their adorations and horrified by their explorationsinto the meaning of his work, just as the Eliot of 22. In my interpretation, the “You” in “Prufrock,” isnot directed towards the reader, as so many speculate, but to one of the many fantasized sycophanticlovers he takes. “Let us go then, you and I,/When evening is spread out against the sky” and “Let usgo and make our visit” (have sex), and he speaks of the women in his room: (the afternoon andevening are) “Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me”, “settling a pillow by her head” and“the skirts that trail along the floor.” These lines are clearly not directed at party-goers at a museum,and why should these women be different than the women who come and go? He sees them gatheredround him in his room as he addresses them like a prophet returned from death, for such will be thedue power of his poetry, he imagines.
 
If this besotted, sexual, contemptuous concept is accepted asthe theme of the poem, it will bring us to our first little bit of irony: the title.“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” as a title in and of itself is ironic. Firstly, the humorlies in how one with such an austere name could come to show such passion as to compose a lovesong. Secondly, no interpretation of this poem could ever suggest that the character Prufrock is inlove; indeed, he is an exploiter of the concept. Even the name ‘Prufrock’ sounds like ‘defrock’,suggesting the desired loss of his virginity, or perhaps the opposite. The poem seems to have acertain void in it, caused by doubt and bitterness, a reluctance to state what he really wants to say, sothat whenever we read phrases of grandeur about disturbing the universe with his tremendous poeticlicense, we feel irony; when he expresses doubt of his prophet-like status amongst the drunken womanly rabble, we feel irony because the entire poem is an expression of desire, and, apparently:
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