The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
Irony in Elliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Purfrock
T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock begins with a sense of irony in its title. First, Basler notes Mathiessen’s observation that “the point of calling the poem a “Love Song” lies in the irony that it will never be sung; that Prufrock will never dare to voice what he feels”. While another ironic consideration is the poem’s actually being a love song that Prufrock “sings” to himself. The title’s irony is enhanced by the epigram from Dante’s Inferno, which precedes the first lines of poem. The epigram’s speaker is in the depths of hell, and certain that no one who hears his words could return to the world, so he answers “without fear of infamy”. The irony here lies in the speech actually being read in the world by millions of people.
Another instance of irony comes much later in the poem, in when Prufrock shows his fear of death. This passage combines the drama of fear with Eliot’s comic description of death as “the eternal Footman” who held Prufrock’s coat and snickered. Toward the end of the poem, when Prufrock laments his growing old, he ironically becomes concerned with superficial aspects of old age. He announces that he will “wear the bottoms of his trousers rolled” and wonders if he dare eat a peach. This is ironic and darkly humorous, considering Prufrock is an introspective man with a keen awareness of death.
Symbolism in the Poem Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock
The poem’s symbolism is powerful from it’s immediately after the opening line: “when with the evening spread is out against the sky/like a patient etherized upon a table”. The evening is the end of the day, which is inevitably consumed by night, just as old age must give way to death. However, the evening is metaphorically transformed into a patient who is drugged on a table and incapable of action, as if prepared for symbolic surgery. Images that symbolize old age and inactivity permeate the poem.
- Elliot uses the imagery of a sleeping cat on a “soft October night” to symbolize the “evening” of the year
- The ritual of “toast and tea” and old women speaking of Michelangelo to symbolize the activities of the elderly
- The “music from a farther room,” to symbolize Prufrock’s distance from current culture.