The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate,
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin-
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute win reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all-
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all-
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all-
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in
upon a platter,
I am no prophet-and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”-
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along
the floor-
And this, and so much more?-
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


  1. TRACIE says:

    this poem really expresses his love…………. his fellings

  2. Tori says:

    I agree with Alicia from the U.K. about Prufrock being one who is indeed very separate and isolated from society. He is afraid to take part, and before he will ever work up the guts to take part, he will grow old. It’s very sad; he wants to go “through certain half deserted streets” and just sort of wonder and be romantically content, but he is not one to take part in life. These mermaids will not sing to him because he is not worthy.
    ” there will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; there will be atime to murder and create..time for you and time for me”
    I think that Prufrock is taking the time that there really is for granted;he is telling himself he has more time than he really does have as if to comfort himself in a way. Although there is time, that time passes but because he is scared to be apart of the world and to make a difference, Prufrock lets that time pass him by.

  3. Luthi says:

    Do you know if there are any critical essay o Prufrock available on-line? I need some material for my paper on metaphors and metonymies of the poem. I have actually nearly finished writing, but I do not have any relevant source for supporting my arguments…:o/

  4. Casey says:

    Yes it’s about growing old, insecurity, loneliness, but it also speaks to his enormous vanity.

    To Prufrock, revealing his feelings is akin to ‘squeezing the universe into a ball’, or like ‘Lazarus, come from the dead’. He has ‘wept and fasted, wept and prayed’ over what? Telling someone he is interested in her??? ‘Shall I part my hair behind?’, so he has ‘a bald spot in the middle’ of his hair? Come on, man! Prufrock is so consumed with himself that we learn nothing about the woman he can’t reveal himself to.

    The love song of Prufrock is a song to himself.

  5. keith says:

    I think this poem is directly affected by the events of the time. You have to remember that this was written during World War one. As a result I think Eliot is questioning society and mortality through the poem as a result of what must have seemed at the time the destruction of humanity. It seems like he alludes to this idea when talking about the yellow smoke rubbing along the window panes. This represents the gas being used in the trenches. It is a physical manifestation of the figurative way war is creeping into everyday life. I agree with other peoples interpretations, but I just thought this could be a cause to why Eliot is writting the poem.

  6. Linana says:

    T.S. Eliot came from a very prim and propper society. There was no “free-thought” when and where he grew up. This “song” tells us of his desire for that free love. At the beginning he talks about he and his lover going out and doing what they want (cheap hotels, sawdust restarunts)something unheard of in his strict society. This society he grew up with isn’t exactly evil. He doesn’t hate it, he just wants out. Yet he see’s himself on the outside looking in. His life is counted out by the polite conversations which are not offensive and aren’t productive to the human reace. (They only thing they talk of is whats “talk of the time”. Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons/I have measured out my life with coffee spoons). He wants to break free but constantly wonders if he dares(And indeed there will be time/To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”). Does he dare? (No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be/Am an attendant lord, one that will do/To swell a progress, start a scene or two/Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool/) He doesn’t believe he can because he does not want to take that leadership position. He will be the man in the background giving “advice” not making the difference. Yet he desires passion, and free. The mermaids will not sing to him, they do not call him to be free. Because as he watches them “they” call him back to reality, and all his dreams drown.

  7. Justyna says:

    After the first reading of this poem, I was under impression that Prufrock is a very shy person who is afraid of speaking even among the people he knows. Before saying anything he makes “hundred indecisions,” “hundred visions and revisions,” because he worries what others would think about him. He is very self-aware and prefers to rehearse his owns thoughts, no to look like a fool when he actually express them aloud (“how should I begin,” “[a]nd how should I presume?”).
    When I read the poem one more time, I realized that Prufrock’s fear has a different source. He knows that he has wasted most of his life (“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”), but he is too scared to do anything about it. He passed his moment of the “greatness flicker”, did not achieve anything. Now, he is trapped in a silly society, which he calls his “universe.” Prufrock knows he should do something to stop the insignificant “arty” discussions. The world is undergoing dramatic changes, and the artist should do more valuable things than “talking of Michelangelo.” He asks himself: “Should I (…) / [h]ave a strength to force the moment to its crisis?”, but unfortunately he does not find the strength. That is why he is a “modern (anti-)hero”, “no prophet,” who is afraid and lost in the chaotic 20th century.
    Prufrock is “modern” in his isolation. He keeps his monologue to himself, indicating that he is not even a part of that ‘group’. He feels he doesn’t belong anywhere, and this may be related to the feeling of alienation characteristic for the Modern period.

  8. Tess Young says:

    This poem has so much into it, it makes it Amazing. I am writing an essay on this poem. It is suppose to be only 400-600 words, I think I have now laped it a second time. I have so much to say and write about. MMM think professor would mind? Eliot is the King of moderism!!

  9. Elise says:

    I think an essential element is that he is making the decision to continue to live a solitary life at that very moment. He is imagining the rest of his life. Not only is he afraid to make any move, but that he is consciously choosing not to. He is choosing to live life alone.

    In the beginning, I feel he is imagining his invitation to this “woman”, and telling himself he has plenty of time for a proposal to “drop a question on your plate”.

    He wonders if he should disturb the status quo.

    He clearly is uncomfortable at social gatherings, and is imagining himself becoming more and more self-conscious as he ages. His life measured in coffe spoons is all of these parties he has known. He hates the social events, where he is imagining his head upon a platter, and himslef wriggling on the end of a pin.

    He already knows all of the women that are available, although he is tempted by the bare arms downed with light hair. He imagines them cozied together and wonders whether to take a chance. He is afraid of aging and dying.

    But would it be worth it, all the endless teas and talking, if in the end he is with someone, who “should say: That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.” This line is so important he repeats it twice, so I don’t think it is a casual comment at a party. I think he is imagining life with someone with whom he cannot communicate.

    He is not Prince Hamlet…he is not the leading man, he is a sidekick, his character is only in the play as a “Rosencrantz” to further the plotline.

    He then imagines life alone, daring even to eat a peach.

    Perhaps the mermaids are not the sirens of death. Perhaps the mermaids sing of love, and that is the love song J. Alfred Prufrock has decided he does not think he will ever hear. Perhaps we have lingered, in the false limerance of love, but in the end, we would awaken from that dream and drown in the misery of an unhappy life.

    But that is just my interpretation, and that is the beauty of poetry.

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