I first read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” a little over a month ago. It had me at “hello”. It was so enchanting, full of imagery, unique and deep that I immediately re-read it a few times. Since then, I’ve read it countless times. In fact, I like it so much I’ve started to memorize it. Yes, I’m somewhat obsessed. 🙂
It’s such a deep poem. I feel like I have just barely scratched the surface in understanding it’s meaning. It would probably take me years to properly unpack.
On the surface, it seems like it’s a poem about an insecure middle-aged man named J. Alfred Prufrock who sets out one evening to ask an overwhelming question to someone. What does he want to say and to whom? It is not clear, because (spoiler alert) he asks all kinds of questions–ranging from the deeper, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” to the superficial, “Shall I part my hair behind?” to the ambiguous, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” (Is he actually talking about a real peach, or is he implying something else, or both?)—everything, except the darn question. (At first, I thought, perhaps Prufrock wanted to propose to a woman, but after reading it several times, I think it’s something a lot less daring than that, i.e., perhaps he wanted to let a woman know he liked her or he wanted to ask her out.)
As you read on, you realize the poem is about fear, insecurity, comparison, procrastination, paralyzation, regret and the endless What if…? Prufrock seems to be chronically insecure, obsessed with and afraid of what others think of him. Thus, he talks himself out of taking any kind of risks by saying he already knows what the outcome will be or he procrastinates saying that he still has time. In the end he is left completely alone, wondering what might have been, and still as insecure as ever.
Aside from T. S. Eliot’s splendid word usage and vivid imagery, what keeps me coming back to this poem is its profoundness and ambiguousness. I could probably read it a thousand times and still find some new meaning or way of interpreting it. That, and the fact that there are times that I see myself in Prufrock. In fact, I think there is a little bit of Prufrock in all of us.
There are times we all wonder, Do I dare? And times that doing something as simple as walking up some stairs to talk to someone can feel like taking a HUGE risk, possibly along the same scope as “disturbing the universe”. And then the times we don’t take those risks we wonder, Would it have been worth it, after all? or we rationalize, and talk ourselves out of it, or tell ourselves we knew what the outcome would be and it was for the best that we didn’t act.
But, usually, what it really boils down to is what Prufrock says:
And in short, I was afraid.
“Prufrock” paints a picture of what happens when fear–in its many forms–dictates your life. It leaves you paralyzed.
If you are an adult who enjoys literature, I highly recommend you read, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, at least once. (Likely, you won’t want to read it as many times as I have. :))
Nothing really beats reading poetry from a book (except perhaps hearing it spoken by someone who is able to verbally convey the essence of the poem), but if you want to read a soft copy, here is a hyperlinked annotated version I just came across. I haven’t checked it out yet, but it looks interesting and I think the annotations could be helpful. I will also be perusing it when I have more time. 🙂
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- Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon #1–Spoiler Free Review and Initial Thoughts
- Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling #2–the Underground Man, Prufrock and Other Thoughts.
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