Select the one modernist poem or text that you found spoke to you most directly, analyse it and explain how the text moved you.
T.S Eliot’s poem The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock addresses the ideas of alienation and the inadequacy of language to explain existence. Eliot’s use of language to highlight these ideas is tragically beautiful. He is able to masterfully reflect the mundane activities of life through his use of vivid and uncomfortable language such as “like a patient etherised upon a table”. Though this line makes me feel rather uneasy, it also makes me appreciate the array of colorful language that Eliot was able to conjure up.
Though Eliot’s poetry is often nihilistic, it resonates with readers because it represents the internal struggle that all human beings face. Every person has questioned their purpose and their religious or spiritual beliefs. Every person knows what it feels like to be alone at some point or another. And every person has been in a situation where they weren’t able to find the words to articulate how they feel. Eliot’s poetry moves me because he touches upon what many tend to shy away from. He explains how life can often become clouded with questions and emotions while also highlighting the fragility of the soul. Through his masterful language and open and honest approach to writing, Eliot’s poetry has the power to move even mountains.
Please find an analysis of the main ideas from The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock below:
The metaphor of paralysis ‘like a patient etherised upon a table’ is closely aligned with other patterns of imagery that operate in the poem. Throughout the poem, there are images of restriction and entrapment which encompass more specific metaphors like the insect metaphor. All these reveal the persona’s own sense of entrapment and his inability to escape social mores and routines. The insect metaphor ‘And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,/When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall’ reveals the persona’s state of anguish. He sees himself as being painfully pinned by convention, controlled by external factors.
In the closing scenes of the poem, Prufrock lists out the pathetic questions that life now has to offer. Instead of the dramatic and dynamic ‘Do I dare disturb the universe’, which encompasses the great metaphysical questions of life ‘What is the meaning of life and how should I live fulfilled?’, it is replaced with ‘Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?’ The mermaids he hears singing are part of the closing sea imagery and represent all the sensual and instinctive longings that he desired in his life, but now states ‘I do not think they will sing to me’. Accepting his inability to act upon his desires he metaphorically drowns amongst the ‘human voices’ that he had criticised earlier in the poem, accepting the social roles that are comfortable yet alienating.
Inadequacy of language to explain existence:
If the title suggests a potential happiness and involvement in life, it is immediately undercut by the epigraph from Dante’s Inferno. The imagery of hell parallels Prufrock’s own inner hell of isolation and lovelessness. Just as Guido is imprisoned in a flame, Prufrock’s inner self is imprisoned in a world where he cannot tell of his feelings and desires.
The form of the poem is fragmented in the sense that different scenes of his life are juxtaposed with no sequential fluidity. The opening stanza is set in the back streets of the irrefutable part of town and then is juxtaposed with an upper-middle-class cocktail set, ‘In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’. The persona is actively engaged in the first stanza, walking the streets and is a part of the action. The second and third stanzas do not have his active presence but are rather his meditation on the world around him. There are certainly keywords and images that link the poem and form a narrative, but the effect is cinematic, with readers given juxtaposed scenes like in a film rather than a flowing conventional narrative. Many of the scenes are from everyday life, but his repression by social conventions are conveyed predominantly through metaphor and imagery. The journey promised in the opening line ‘Let us go then, you and I’ is not a physical journey to make ‘his visit’, but a journey into Prufrock’s mind, following his stream of thought as he agonizes over what he desires and of his inability to carry out any decisive action to achieve these desires.