Tag Archive | The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling #2–the Underground Man, Prufrock and Other Thoughts.

I’d been wanting to make my next “Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling” post a post about the connection between a story in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Kierkegaard’s pseudonym, Johannes de Silentio, in Fear and Trembling, but it’s been a stressful and busy month and I haven’t yet been able to afford the time. So instead, I thought I’d blog about this quote that made me laugh out loud:

IMG_0788“The slaves of misery, the frogs in life’s swamp naturally exclaim: ‘Such love is foolishness: the rich brewer’s widow is just as good and sound a match.’ Let them croak away undisturbed in the swamp. “
—Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

It’s been a very pleasant surprise discovering Kierkegaard’s sense of humour, especially, his way of addressing and countering those he’s opposing. The above quote is a perfect example. It reminds me a lot of the way Dostoevsky has the Underground Man address and dismiss his naysayers in Notes From Underground. The Underground Man is, of course, far more acerbic and arrogant; Johanne de Silentio is definitely more humble and benign. Nonetheless, I can’t help but see similarities between them when it comes to addressing the opposition. 🙂

Something else I’ve been surprised to discover (though it may be too early for me to really judge properly, as I am still only a bit over halfway through) is how Fear and Trembling seems to be just as much about Kierkegaard’s regret regarding his lack of faith for, and the resulting loss of, his relationship with Regine as it is about the faith of Abraham in being willing to sacrifice Isaac. Going into it, I knew there was going to be a knight of faith and a knight of infinite resignation (hopefully, more on them another time), but I had no idea they were both hopeless romantics.

IMG_0791[1]And yet it must be glorious to get the princess…”
—Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling     

Footnote “50”  (in the above, second to last, paragraph) says:

“Kierkegaard writes in his journals (Papirer IV, A 107): ‘If I had had faith I would have stayed with Regine’ The entry is dated 17 May 1843.”
—Alastair Hannay, Fear and Trembling

I might expand on this further at some point, but reading this section I was reminded a lot of T. S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” and John Greenleaf Whittier’s saddest of all sad words:

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!'”
—John Greenleaf Whittier, “Maud Muller

Sad stuff. 😦 But it’s definitely not all heartbreak and “What if?” There’s been plenty about faith and sacrifice (though mostly faith) that I’ve been reevaluating and pondering, and an equal amount of stuff I’ve been perplexed with, and a whole lot of other unexpected stuff that Kierkegaard’s surprised me with. I’m looking forward to what’s to come. 🙂

This is another one of those books that I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of in my understanding of it. It’s definitely a book I’m going to have to keep coming back to in order to really understand. Luckily, Kierkegaard is a brilliant writer and thinker; he’s one of those minds you can visit over and over again and never tire of.


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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. 🙂

ISBN 0571057063

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. 🙂