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. Artemiis says:

    This poem is so sad in that it chronicles the life of a man on his quest for love. A man who has been on so many dates he can “measure out my life in coffee spoons”. A man forever dissected by the eyes of society so that he can never change of even be himself. A man on the fringes of life fearing he will die alone or unhappy. I feel immensly for Mr. Prufrock

  2. Guillermo says:

    I think that he is not necessarily speaking to himself, Prufrock could be speaking to other men like him.
    At the mermaids part, Prufrock hears them (singing each to each not to him), then he sees them, then he swims with them, then he wakes up, and THEN, after waking up, he drowns. I think that he drowns into some kind of depression because when he wakes up from his dream he realizes that he will never be with the mermaids.

  3. Edith says:

    I think Stephen from USA has it right. It’s about a man who thinks he has wasted most of his life, but he’s still too scared to do anything to change it. He’s talking about how lots of people now (or back in 1915…) live fake lives not doing what they want, because they’re worried about what others think. “Till Human Voices Wake Us/And We Drown” is saying that if you listen to what people think of you and if you take it to heart, you’ll, well, drown.

  4. Amy says:

    I do agree with “Faith” . I think Eliot criticizes the illegale relationship between man and woman.

  5. Faith says:

    I have read about this poem and foud that its original title is (Prufrock among women).Prufock weasted his youth illegaly with women and when he became old he started looking for a partener.
    I realy wonder why men & women donot think about marriage untel they lost their youth. They make illegal relationship when they are young and once they become old they look for legal relationship .i think those who live like this donot deserve to have happy family.

  6. Clayton R. says:

    This poem is simply amazing. I can’t get over how much deep meaning there is, waiting to be uncovered.

    Really, I agree with Amber from Canada. I think that this poem is not about love, but about the possibility, or missed opportunity to find love. It’s about lost time, and the “what ifs” that accompany misplaced intent. I think that this piece is a lighthouse to those who think they have all the time in the world. It points instead to the rocky shoals, and reminds us that although we may live for a hundred years, it is our actions and not our intents that make us who we are.

  7. waed says:

    i have never been taken to any poem as i have been taken to the love song yy Eliot..
    The more i read it, the deep i love it..
    The deeo i love it, the more i understand the human life..
    Eliot draws our detailed thin lines in the deep side of our internal understandings of what is going around…

  8. NO,LAdy says:

    I have a friend who read this poem to me allowed. The weight of his words make it clear that he thinks of Prufrock as a hero! I had never seen him in this light before; I always thought that Eliot was using Prufrock to show how weak men are, and specifically how weak our society makes us. The night- “the etherised patient” -seems v. much like the people in the poem — they’re drugged into sleep, waiting for surgery.
    As for the Mermaids, they’re signing “each to each”; to no one else. I think it’s easy to get from singing mermaids to the sirens in the Odyssey or to Lorelei. So these females — all interchangeable in the poem — are here being linked to sirens, who sing to Odysseus of his GLORY. Odysseus’ vanity would keep him there, entranced, till he died. Prufroc isn’t worthy of the sirens’ songs. What would they have to sign about? His “kleos”? he has none. How he measures his life out in coffee spoons?… so they sing “each to each,” b/c NO MEN have any glory worthy of their song.
    When Prufrock imagines a life where he could ask the Question, what does he mean by asking it like this: “‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’–“?
    Finally, is there any hope for Alfie? Is there anyone who can show me that Eliot didn’t so condescend to write this foolish, cowardly character? I would really like to think he was redeeming qualities. Where are they?
    Our shameANDguilt-based culture turns us into Prufrock, as we go about our daily or nightly routine.
    Does the view of this poem condemn us to live tedious lives? Does Eliot offer any counter-examples? Is Prufrock a counter-example? I don’t think so, but like I said, the way this guy read it to me, it sounded like P. changed into a capable, courageous person at the end.

  9. Kelli says:

    I have read this poem about a million and one times and I still can’t get enough of it. The more I read through it the more I find and the more I begin to wonder. You can read it and take on so many different approaches to analyzing it. I just love it! T.S. Eliot is an amazing writer and will always mesmorize me!!!

  10. Alicia says:

    I think that the use of mermaids and the fact that ‘they will never sing to [him]’ suggests that he feels very seperate from society. He can’t gain that ‘magical’ love and freedom, which ‘mermaids’ have. Possibly the mermaids relate to those who aren’t afraid to love. The fact that they can sing to eachother suggests an ability to communicate with others. It is said, “I do not think they will sing to me” indicating a lack of trying on this, thus suggesting that Prufrock gives up before he tries.

    The idea that he’s not at one with society does seem to exist within the poem, though. For another example he only ‘watches’ the lonely men smoking, indicating that he’s not even a part of that ‘group’. He feels he doesn’t belong anywhere.

  11. Tabez says:

    The is indeed a mater piece by the genius of Eliot which represent the true features and psychology of modren man.His confusion and bilwilderment.

  12. FaReeDa says:

    poetry for me is a huge world and T.S Eliot is one of my greatest poets, this poem has a wonderful interior meaning.

  13. Patrick says:

    Alright, well I finally read this today, a bit late in life. I immediately read it a second and third time and I keep coming back to the end with the mermaids. The mermaids he has seen riding seaward, as free spirits. Beyond the control of those on the land. He lingers dreaming of them, and being envious of their freedom and courage. In the end though, when we listen to those around us and take the words to heart, we drown. Simply awesome.

  14. aftab says:

    i have read this poem a lot of time and enjoyed it every time.It is a wonderful poem………..

  15. Patrick says:

    Yup, Amber from Canada has got something. Hamlet is mentioned in this poem, and he was a procrasinator.
    At the end, he hears the mermaids: perhaps his true desires? But the human voices wake him, which could be criticism from society, and he no longer hears the mermaids.

  16. Stephen Hyduke says:

    Ok, lots of enthusiasm- lots of missing the boat, here. Prufrock is a man that is letting life pass him by. He doesn’t have the nerve to speak to the One he loves (If One…). He’s getting on in years, he’s balding, and he’s facing the prospect of a life alone… The eternal footman, people, is DEATH! The preface means he’s in a hell, and won’t be getting out! He’s going to die without asking the apple of his eye on a date. He just can’t summon the guts, doesn’t want to be humiliated… Very sad, really. Prufrock was narcissitic, but so was Eliot himself, I believe.

  17. Ann Lerew says:

    I think Eliot is saying life is ridiculous, “full of high intent but a bit obtuse.” The path of life is “tedious” and full of “insidious intent”. But if we dare to presume upon life and love, we can “disturb the universe” and it insidious and obtuse nature. The “eternal footman” awaits us all and all are afraid but it is of no great matter. We continue to “prepare a face for the faces that we meet”, “measure our lives in coffeespoons” and realize as we grow “old and thin” that we have known it all and love is the best of what we know. We murder time but create through love. If we don’t love we might as well be “ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

  18. m.snow says:

    I think Prufrock has been a detached observer of life in the upper socio-economic circles. “I hear the mermaids singing each to each,I do not think they will sing to me”. He is discussing his aging and the effect it has on his place in this world of society inwhich he is an observer. For those of you who are young and loving this poem, fair warning, it will stay with you all of your life!

  19. Britta says:

    I am swallowed in the inadvertant intensity of this poem. Eliot attests through his defining character, Prufrock, the broken, illicit, and scarred thoughts of a man seeking an answer from the ever deep abyss of “love.” Prufrock silences the reader in the eleventh line and invites us to hear his story and we are confronted with a personal journey through societies emotional pitfalls and bitter hindrances. We see a man writhing against apparent odds to reach a place in mind and spirit in which he can breach the tremulous tides of stigmas and ask the question that lies in the swarthy mist between men and women in quest of the truth that is between them.

  20. Toby says:

    The poem ‘Love song of J Alfred Prufrock’ is indeed the most amazing poem ever read, as Eliot uses assonance and repetition throughout it to reinforce the fact that Prufock is , yes, alone and that, yes, he is afraid of action, however Prufrock justifies his inaction on the fact that he believes(and he is probably right) that he will not be accepted and will on the other hand be mocked, in it’s context which was the early 20th Century it is understandable as society was based and divided among socio economic status hence references to porcelain and women(upper class) talking of michelangelo. Prufrock is basically a figure tortured by his own neurosis that happen to be a bi-prduct of the discriminant society in which he lives. PS i am only in 10th grade so don’t hate on me if you don’t think my analysis is valid.

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