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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Questions and Answers

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Questions and Answers 10

 

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Questions and Answers 10

1. What kind of a character Prufrock makes himself out to be in T. S. Eliot’s poem? Give your answer with illustrative references to the text. 

Ans. T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’s is a poem that reveals various aspects of the protagonist’s character. The interest of the poem centres round this point, and it is fascinating to observe that this character represents an individual as well as a universal type. Prufrock is a case of split personality, one in whom a division between head and heart has occurred. He is a specimen in whom the power of the will has been paralysed by over-speculation. Shy, nervous, and unenterprising, he is a fine example of the introvert. Hesitant by nature, he . loves to be off from duty, responsibility, and action. His experiences of reality is other than pleasant and therefore likes to take shelter in a heaven sealed from human problems. Women seem to alternately facinate and repulse him. An anti-hero, he is still no less attractive and complicated than a heroic personality.

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Like Count Guido of the epigraph, Prufrock is a sufferer imprisoned in a hell which is partly a thing of his own making and partly what industrial pollution and overcrowding can make of a modern metropolis. Again, like his account, Prufrock’s love song will perhaps not be sung to anyone except to his own mind because of its secret intention and fear of infamy.

The evening has an unusual character, for it is ‘spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table’. Seen through the eyes of the speaker, the evening derives its character from the speaker. The ‘etherised’ patient suggests Prufrock’s earnest desire for inactivity, a release from the pain that is associated with action. But go he must if he were to get rid of an overwhelming question’ that persecutes him. However, he will not disclose even to his self what it is which shows his

secretive and uncommunicative nature. He only tells that the object of his journey is a room where women talk which is sometimes drowned by the sound of music. To reach there he has to go through some streets which echo with the sound of restless lodgers in one-night cheap hotels. *streets that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent’. This description tells, on the one hand, about the winding nature of the streets. and on the other, about the speaker’s intricate and tortuous thought processes at the end of which lies his fear about the unseen but deadly results of the overwhelming question. It also hints about the vague troubles and unease of the speaker.

The city fog, compared to a cat, which, after some initial frolicking, ‘curled about the house and fell asleep’ suggest possibly to Prufrock’s sexual and social failure’ but certainly to his ‘greater desire of inactivity’. It stresses that he is more inclined to sleep than to be up and doing. The much-used phrase ‘there will be time’ establishes him no doubt as a carefree spendthrift of time, but it more appositely points to the monotony and triviality of his hollow existence. His violence of expression in “‘There will be time to murder and create’ is tamely associated with the making or unmaking of his decision regarding the overwhelming question. Whereas the ancient Greek poet Hesiod advocated hard and honest labour for peasants, the refined labour of Prufrock remains confined to, like a butler’s, lift and drop a question’ on the plate of the woman he likes, and after this labour there waits for him ‘a toast and tea’ in a social gathering. That he suffers from irresolution and inaction is clear when he mechanically utters that there will be

……..time yet for a hundred indecisions.

And for a hundred visions and revisions.

As he approaches the room he hears the women ‘talking of Michelangelo’. Whereas the Italian sculptor says the last word about male virility, Prufrock stands in their eyes no better than a figure sharply opposed to it. His cowardice is clear when he turns back and descends the stair without entering into the room. His distress, defeat, and despair heighten as he thinks of their likely remarks like ‘How his hair is growing thin!’ or ………..how his arms and legs are thin!’ This reveals his oversensitive and speculative nature together with his worry and tension. He seems to suffer from an inferiority complex so far as the women are concerned. His lament-‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons-shows his over-dramatization as well as his dull and futile life measured not by achievements but by spoonfuls of coffee drunk in empty social parties.

The expression ‘I have known them all already, known them all’ or its variations ‘I have known the eyes already, known them all’ and ‘I have known the arms already, known them all’ stresses his disintegrated personality once again but more probably his sexual affairs with them, though without any truly satisfying, fruitful, and permanent relationship with one particular woman. He is really afraid of thern and of their habit of identifying someone ‘in a formulated phrase’. No sooner does he think of it than his sharp and quick-acting imagination leads him to fancy that he looks no better than an insignificant and repulsive worm in their estimate. The next moment he finds himself pinned on the wall, sprawling and wriggling in pain. This shows that at times he feels quite disspirited. and takes a very low view of himself. Mortified at such identification with an insect, Prufrock does not know how to spit out all the buttends’ of his ‘days and ways’. This violent and indecorous expression shows his extreme disgust at his empty and monotonous life and reveals at the same time his tragic inability to change his futile and meaningless way of life.

 The thought of women’s arms that are braceleted and white and bare’ and of the perfume from a dress’ lead him once again to the overwhelming question though this time he gives attention mainly to the problem of how to began it. He supposes that if he stresses on the distressful condition of bachelors in general (in which class he automatically includes himself), the woman of his choice may be persuaded to look at it with due sympathy. This makes him state that he has gone at dusk through narrow streets and watched lonely men in shirt-sleeves (which presupposes their coming from workplaces just then) leaning out of windows and smoking pipes to express their boredom as they have no companions at home whom they can talk with. Sensing at once that this has failed to touch the right chord in her, Prufrock promptly declares:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws across the floors of silent seas.

Scuttling The extract shows the plurality of Prufrock’s nature. First, it shows his pathetic condition- his acute self-disgust and panic, and his desire to get release from a distressing consciousness. Secondly, his fragmentation of the whole crab into mere ‘claws’ powerfully conveys his won disintegrated nature. Thirdly, the ‘scuttling’ of the crab (like his hesitant approach to women) is contrasted with the smooth and assured movement of the women. Fourthly, it suggests Prufrock’s longing for an uncomplicated animal existence, his secret wish ‘to regress to a safe haven where his inner universe is no longer disturbed by any tormenting human problems’. Finally, it shows his cowardice, for instead of confronting the situation, Prufrock retreats from it.

After the animal imagery and longing for a safe haven Prufrock’s tension decreases to some extent. The evening now sleeps catlike, Prufrock again thinks of the overwhelming question (related to his marriage proposal) and considers: tea and cakes and ices,

Should I, after

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? In addition to his timidity we now find him suspicious about his won strength. His confusion about values is seen in the mixture of levity (‘tea and cakes’) and seriousness (‘to force the moment to its crisis’ i.e., to declare the marriage proposal).

Prufrock draws a parallel between himself and John the Baptist, though its justifiability is mocked thereby. His statement-‘I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed’-may be an elaborate preparation to assume the role of a martyr, but undoubtedly there is some amount of acting hidden in it. His over-sensitivity and acute social discomfiture lead him to fancy his head, like prophet John’s, ‘brought in upon a platter’, yet he realizes he has no claim to be likened to John, for whereas the latter had the courage to declare an unpleasant truth (that Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife was nothing but adultery). Prufrock lacks the courage to make his marriage proposal to the women concerned. We also see that he is highly conscious about the ugliness of his features (such as the fear of dying before his time, for he has seen the eternal footman’ (ie, Death) caught him by the coat when he tried to join the party of martyrs, laughed disrespectfully at him, and dismissed him from the scene (i.e., let him survive). Here is a case where he has experienced defeat together with the shame of inferiority.

His habit of considering an issue too much comes to the fore when he thinks whether saying the marriage proposal was worth the effort. He

says that even if he had adopted a superheroic stance such as squeezing the universe into a ball in order to pronounce the highly difficult overwhelming question, his endeavour might not have succeeded. He feels had he told her that like Lazarus he had come from the dead to make her aware of the tremendous suffering waiting for those who cause others’ suffering, she might not have been convinced and would perhaps have said:

‘That is not what I meant at all, That is not it at all.’

This once again shows his unwillingness to expose himself to a rebuff, and his capacity to rationalize.

Then he thinks that after the teacups’ and the social dancing, had he bared his heart to her, he might have faced a shocking experience: .as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in Pattern on a screen.

The magic lantern image ‘puts his great dread, public revelation of his sensitivity, into its most vivid form’. To shy and over-sensitive Prufrock declaration of love seems to be a shameless exposure of his heart in all its nakedness………before the pitiless gaze of the woman concerned.’

His procrastination and indecision tempt him to find a parallel of his self in Hamlet, but he soon finds that whereas the Prince of Denmark took upon his shoulders the hard task of setting the world right, he is miserably unfit for doing the same. Hence he distances himself from him by stating ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet’, for he was not meant for a heroic role. Consequently he takes refuge in self-mockery and assigns to himself certain subordinate roles, such as the role of the garrulous, moralizing, and cautions Polonius or the ridiculous Yorick, the court Fool.

Like the baldness and the thinness of his arms and legs Prufrock is acutely conscious of and worried for his growing old. Hence he thinks smartness of fashion, such as the wearing of trousers with their bottoms rolled up or the parting of the hair behind instead of in the front is the surest antidote to his unwelcome ageing. For fashion’s sake and to appear as a youngman he decides to ‘wear white flannel trousers’ and to ‘walk upon the beach’.

The word ‘beach’ brings to his mind the picture of the mermaidsthose whom he has imagined to be singing, each to each’. Tragically he

realizes they will not sing to him for they sing only to heroic souls like Ulysses. Then he has a daydream a release from mundane reality, a dip in true romantic beauty instead of the accustomed city ugliness and dirt, / when he sees the mermaids ‘riding seaward on the waves’

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black. Denied though their vital energy and mastery, their spontaneity and sportiveness, Prufrock undoubtedly gets some delight by gaining admission and lingering in the chambers of the sea’ a remote place of safety sealed from harsh realities, and sits close by them and watches spellbound at the beauty of these ‘sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown’. However this glorious vision of the mermaids, far, far soothing than the view of real women, brings only a temporary respite and relaxation to him, for soon ‘human voices’, presumably of those talking of Michelangelo, wake him from his sweet reverie, and he has no option but to drown once again in the world of harsh realities. Like Count Guido, we find him imprisoned as usual in his personal hell which is partly constituted by the city atmosphere both physical and social, and partly by his own traits and weaknesses.

David Green rightly remarks: ‘Prufrock appreciates the virtues that he cannot attain and therefore he is not merely grotesque or absurd. Sensitive understanding rather than satire is Eliot’s intention.

2. ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean?’–What is the problem implied in the statement? Who is the persona in the poem, and in what mood does the persona utter it? Explain with relevant illustrations. 

Ans. The problem implied in the statement is the speaker’s shyness and fear about the announcement of his love and marriage proposal to the women he loves, his repeated and nervous speculation whether such announcement would have been worth the effort needed for it, and his apprehension that the woman might reject his offer and give him a suitable rebuff for it.

The Persona, the speaker whose voice we hear in this poem, is J. Alfred Prufrock.

The persona utters the line ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean’ in a mood of utter exhaustion and despair. Prior to this utterance he

considers as usual whether his declaration of love and marriage proposal to his beloved would have been worthwhile. Prufrock then recalls his activities during the day and in the evening after which he gets the chance of such declaration to the woman he loves. One of his daytime activities is the reading of loves. Then follow his evening activities, such as to wait for the sunset, to cross dooryards and wet streets sprinkled with sawdust, to drink tea from cups, to dance with women whose skirts ‘trail along the floor’ and to perform this or that. Though these are trivial social activities and trifling formalities, yet they appear a hard task to Prufrock. They seem to drain out all his physical strength and mental energy. As if he has no more will force left in his. It is in such a mood of helplessness and despair that Prufrock utters: ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean!’

He poses that he feels to tired that it is impossible for him to say to his beloved what he means. But there are some deeper causes that make him not to utter his love or marriage proposal to her. Apart from his anxiety for thinness of hair, arms, and legs, and his worry for growing old, Prufrock suffers from an inferiority complex that convinces him of the women’s taking him no better than a worm–one ‘sprawling on a pin’ and ‘wriggling on the wall’. The next cause is his disgust with his meaningless routine-bound life which makes him try desperately to spit out all the butt-ends’ of his dull days and empty ways of life. Thirdly, his loneliness, his lack of female company at home, is aptly described through the smoking of pipes in a vacant and weary way, though it is unlikely to strike a kind chord in her heart. Fourthly, his self-defeat, and pain become so acute that even an animal existence, one away from human cares, responsibilities and problems, appears to be far better for him:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. Fifthly, though love of dramatization and role-playing tempt him to find his parallel in two heroic characters, such as John the Baptist and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, on some superficial grounds, he soon finds he can never fit in their roles mainly for his cowardice. Sixthly, his will power being paralysed by over-speculation, even a lover’s spontaneous declaration of love to his sweetheart seems as superhuman and enormously difficult a task as the squeezing of ‘the universe into a ball’.

Seventhly, he realizes that the report of his sufferings to her (like Lazarus’s tales of punishment in hell to those engrossed in sensual pleasures) is unlikely to raise any sympathy; it may rather lead to his rejection, as she may say:

‘That is not what I meant at all, all’.

That is not it, at Finally, he believes to reveal his inner private feelings to her by way of declaring his love to her is nothing but a shameless exposure of his heart in all its nakedness–a sort of an obscene act: ……as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in

patterns on a screen.

From the above discussion it is clear that Prufrock suppresses the real reasons lying behind his hesitation in declaring his love and marriage proposal to the woman of his choice and pretends that it is exhaustion, both physical and mental, that makes it impossible for him to say to her what he means. This shows his pretence and hypocrisy at the same time. We realize now that behind his mood of tiredness lie a number of tragic and painful reasons he is unwilling to bring to public view.

3. Consider Eliot’s Prufrock as an anti-hero tragicomically trapped in a modern hell. 

Ans. An anti-hero is a term which is commonly used in a modern play or novel. There is, however, no restriction for such a person to find entrance in a modern poem. An antihero is a person who lacks traditional heroic qualities. He is one who, instead of manifesting largeness, dignity, power, courage, idealism, fortitude, and heroism in the face of fate, is ‘petty, ignominious, ineffectual, or passive’. An ordinary and insignificant person, an anti-hero looks inwards: ‘the emphasis is on the disorder of the mind as much as on the disorder of the wider world’. As many of the qualities and traits described above will fit Prufrock, he may rightly be regarded as an anti-hero.

Like count Guido of the epigraph, Prufrock is imprisoned, in a hall constituted by an empty and ugly society is made of two parts. One is ‘refined beyond the point of civilization’, set in drawing-rooms among the teacups, the cakes, and the coffee-spoons. The other is plebeian set in an urban scene full of ugliness and squalor, of filth of drains and soot of chimneys.

The outward scene never exists for its own sake; it exists to represent a set of symbols and to reflect a world of emotional realities. Elizabeth Drew comments: “The music, ‘dying with a dying fall’, is no longer the food of love, but of death. That evening which is ‘spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table’, is no placid city sunset. It fills the imagination with thoughts of disease and helplessness; of the ether which is not the breath of spirit, but the deadener of consciousness and volition; of the contrast between the wide stretches of the sky and the vigour and vitality of man reduced to the living death of anesthesia’. The ‘yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes’ the sa e that ‘let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys’ are ‘the creeping, choking atmosphere of a spiritual miasma’ (= a poisonous mist). Similarly, the ‘one-night cheap hotels’ are not a reminder of the transient life of a great city, but of the homelessness of the human soul’.

The men and women of this social hell are to better. ‘A common blight’, remarks Elizabeth Drew, ‘afflicts them, a common impoverishment of vitality, a common lack of meaning. These people either live by the formulated phrases’, or their lives are purely materialistic; or they are conscious to a lesser or greater degree of their isolation and rootlessness, their insecurity and sterility. The ‘lonely men in shirtsleeves leaning out of windows’ are all expressions of their negative helplessness enveloping this world. Those more conscious or more sensitive are the victims of a more positive torment. They agonize, like Mr. Prufrock, over their

own vacillations, timidities and frustrations’.

‘My Prufrock’, Elizabeth Drew rightly asserts, ‘as an unromantic and unprincely Hamlet in a ‘tragical-comical-historical’ urban drama where ‘Denmark is a prison’–the prison of a divided self in the tortures of neurotic conflict. His love song’, as the epigraph implies, will never be uttered outside the inferno of his own mind, and the ‘you’ and ‘I’ of his soliloquy are the impulses within him to murder or create’ or ‘to be or not to be’, concluding neither is suicide nor in the release of chosen action, but in the death in life of the abdication of the will’.

Prufrock utters the phrase ‘There will be time’ many times but lacks the moral and mental strength of force the moment of telling the overwhelming question to its crisis. He has no time for reaching a conclusion, although he has plenty of

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. This last establishes him as an inveterate party-goer. No wonder his life is measured, not with achievements, but with coffee spoons. expresses merely the emptiness and futility of his life as well as self disgust at it.

His cowardice is revealed when instead of meeting and telling her his love and marriage proposal to the woman he loves, he turns back and descends the stair thereby exposing himself to their caustic remark: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’ His resolve to conceal his weakness by dressing himself smartly does not succeed, for they again remark: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’

His pathetic situation comes to the fore when he recalls the habit of the women to identify one ‘in a formulated phrase’. His lack of selfconfidence and poor view of self lead him to imagine that he will appear no better than a despicable worm before their eyes. His morbid fancy makes him at once visualize his helpless position an insect pinned on the wall, sprawling and wriggling in pain. This reveals his poor and ignominious situation clearly. So disgusted does he feel with a meaningless and empty existence that he does not know how ‘to spit out all the butt-ends of his days and ways’-how to get rid of all his dull and tasteless days and his meaningless ways of life.

The arms of the women, ‘braceleted and white and bare’, excite his erotic desires. So he asks how he should begin his marriage proposal. Thinking that the sad state of bachelors may enkindle her sympathy, he

says:

I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from their pipes Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows. Unfortunately the distress of the bachelors, in whom his own case is also drowned, fails to soften the attitude of the woman. This causes such a shock and suffering that he does not want to have human existence full of responsibilities and problems, and prefers the state of a crab: I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

As the evening ‘sleeps so peacefully’, his tension sub-sides to some extent, and he considers whether conveying the proposal of marriage to her would be worthwhile. He remembers he has experienced utmost

pain and humiliation for it. Yet his weeping and fasting, weeping and praying are all in vain. His social discomfiture is full, yet his purpose has not been fulfilled. He believes, like John’s head brought in upon a platter for his announcement of King Herod’s marriage to the wife of his dead brother as illegal, he too has undergone utmost embarrassment and suffering at the hands to women in particular.

His intention of joining the party of martyrs also could not succeed, for Death (Described as ‘eternal footman’ in order to be socially acceptable), caught him by the coat, laughed disrespectfully at him, and dismissed him from there. This is no doubt a picture of intense suffering and self-disgust, and he is thereby made a laughing stock even before himself.

Prufrock, a prototype of the ordinary man, suffers from his own mind-made and exaggerated fears. That is why even a normal work for a lover appears too difficult for him. He thinks, to have told her the marriage proposal (‘to have bitten off the matter with a smile’) is as difficult as squeezing the universe into a ball. Again, after the teacups and after dancing with the women, his energy is so drained out that he has no strength left to say her that he really wants to say (it is impossible to say just what I mean!’). Besides he believes declaration of love to her is like exposing his heart to its utmost nakedness. It is as shameless an act as it.

………a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen. He assumes that the woman he loves is so hardened in heart that even if he had told her that like Lazarus he has risen from the dead and come to tell her of the punishment waiting for those who become the cause of suffering to others, her attitude would not have softened. He simply would have been turned into a laughing stock if, settling a pillow or throwing of a shawl, she had said: ‘That is not it at all, / That is no what I mean, at all’.

Though his habit of hesitation and delay tempt him to find a parallel of himself in Hamlet, he soon finds he has no claim to such a character on account of his timidity. Therefore he thinks that a Polonius-like character, talkative, timid, moralizing and prudent, would suit him well. When his estimate of himself becomes very low, he thinks he is at times fit only for the role of the Fool (i.e.. the court jester).

His baldness and thinness of arms and legs are as much a cause of concern to him as his growing old. Though with wreckless carelessness he wants to counter these by dressing himself smartly (I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled’) or parting his hair behind like a dandy, there is nothing that can bring peace to his mind or apply salve to his wounded feelings. So at last he makes a dip into some romantic vision where mermaids sing (‘I do not think that they will sing to me’) or ride seawards on the waves. As he is a mere passive spectator, he cannot participate in such sportive adventures. Even his stay in the chambers of the sea’ in his reverie, and he has no option but to drown once again into the humdrum routine of his daily life. It is, thus, clear that no escape is possible for him. He is a timid, hesitant, over speculative and selfdisparaging man who is trapped in a hell from where he can never come out, however he may try, for his hell is partly created by external atmosphere and social men but mainly by his own weakness, imagination, paralysis of will, and overspeculation. His case, thus, is as much comic as it is tragic in taste.

4. Write critically about the use of imagery and symbols in T. S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Ans. Before we answer this question we should have some idea about ‘imagery’ and ‘symbol’. Imagery is images taken collectively. An image, capable of making an impression on our senses, is something reproduced in our minds by words used literally or figuratively. Popularly an image is visual but it can be non-visual too. Imagery, in its broad sense, signifies all the objects and qualities of sense perception used in a poem or other literary work. In its narrow sense, imagery signifies only objects and scenes described in a vivid way, ‘Most commonly in recent usage, imagery signifies figurative language, especially the vehicles of metaphors and similies’. The purpose of imagery is to make poetry concrete and to give vividness and immediacy to thought. When imagery combines a literal and sensuous quality with an abstract and suggestive aspect it becomes a symbol. Symbol is an object which stands for something else (a dove, for example, symbolizes peace). In metaphor also an object stands for something else (a rose, for example, stands for a beautiful woman). Every metaphor has at least two meanings: the meaning it literally conveys and the other meaning it stands for or

suggests (i.e., its figurative meaning). The symbol, on the other hand. has only one fixed meaning: its literal one. Its other meaning are far too elusive for us to be able to fix. We are free to suggest a range of reference The key word is ‘suggest’. Patrick Murray comments: ‘Symbolism may be described as the art of expressing ernotions not by describing them directly nor by defining them through overt comparisons with concrete images, but by suggesting what these ideas and emotions are by recreating them in the mind of the reader through the use of unexplained symbols. These symbols help to convey a mood to the subconscious mind rather than an appeal to the rational faculties’

T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is noted for its use of imagery and symbols. In respect of imagery the poet has been influenced by such metaphysical poets as Donne and Marvell, and in respect of symbols by such French poets as Baudelaire and Laforgue.

We shall first discuss about the symbols. ‘the overwhelming question’ is an instance of a symbol. It is difficult to pinpoint what it really is, for the speaker never mentions it overtly. What we can gather about it is that it not only suggests a proposal of marriage but also a larger question as to the meaning of life. The ‘fog’ is another symbol used in the poem, Its curling about the house and then falling asleep suggests sexual failure on the part of the speaker as well as his inertia and somnolence. The phrase ‘There will be time’ is another example of a symbol. While it outwardly speaks of an abundance of time, it actually suggests the speaker’s paucity of time–he must make the marriage proposal at once or his time is gone for ever, there having no alternative for him but to lead the life of an old bachelor. Michelangelo’, again, is a symbol of virility in sharp contrast to which stands Prufrock’, a symbol of sexual feebleness and timidity. ‘Descending the stair’ stands as a symbol of defeat and cowardice. ‘Coffee spoons,’ symbolically suggest doing insignificant things and passing the time in a futile way. ‘Arms’ of the women that are braceleted and white and bare’ may also be regarded as a symbol since in addition to their literal meaning the arms serve as objects of sexual attraction and encourage Prufrock to ask: ‘And should I then presume?’ The lonely men’ suggests unhappiness at home for many in the city, while their ‘smoke stands for attempts at futile enjoyment The words ‘I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed’ outwardly speak of an elaborate preparation for a trial of strength, they actually suggest numerous insults and embarrassments that the speaker had to experience at the hands of the women of his social status. The “head brought in upon a platter’ may stand as a castration symbol. The ‘eternal footmen’ is symbol of Death made as a socially acceptable person. The phrase ‘would it have been worth it after all’ represents Prufrock’s over-introspection, procrastination, and rationalization. The following words :

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-may be taken as a symbol of a little man being too much occupied with various important things whereas in reality they are petty and insignificant matters. The words ‘I grow old’ represents Prufrock’s anxiety at going past marriageable age (particularly when they are read together with his baldness and thinness of arms and legs) and becoming unattractive to the opposite sex (to counter which he plans of dressing himself in the ultra-modern way). Finally, the ‘mermaids’ stand to him as an erotic symbol, one of relief and romanticism, while the chambers of the sea’ may be looked upon as remote place of escape far away from human worries. responsibilities, and problems.

Now we shall discuss the imagery used in the poem, Like Guido of the epigraph, Prufrock is imprisoned in a city-hall. A startling and memorable simile is used when the evening is compared to a patient etherised upon a table’. Since Prufrock has an affinity with the evening, the simile also refers to his listless mental condition. Another image is found in the streets that follow like a tedious argument’. It simultaneously refers to the winding streets of the city, the unending stages of a wearisome argument, and the tortuous mental processes of Prufrock. The fog is likened to a lazing cat. The ‘hands that lift and drop a question on your plate’ are compared to butlers who lift bottles of wine from shelves and place them on plates. The small section of the society in which Prufrock mixes is exaggeratedly compared to the vast universe when the speaker questions: ‘Do I dare / Disturb the universe?’ The pathetic and helpless state of Prufrock is indicated when he is likened to a worm ‘sprawling on a pin’ and ‘pinned and wriggling on the wall. The unhappy parts of his dull days are compared to ‘butt-ends’ of smoked

cigarettes where getting rid of such days is described as ‘spitting them out. The smoke that rises from the pipes / Of lonely men in shirtsleeves, leaning out of windows’ is one of the finest examples of descriptive imagery. Prufrock’s desire of escape from the hard realities of life had been aptly described through the image of a crab–a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas’. The evening that ‘sleeps so peacefully’ is compared to a cat, a dog, or a baby ‘smoothed by long fingers’, ‘stretched on the floor, here beside you and me’. To force the moment to its crisis’ is to compel Prufrock to say the overwhelming question (i.e., the marriage proposal).

There are certain images of personalities in the poem. One such is John the Baptist. Like him, Prufrock also had seen his head ‘brought in upon a platter’ which points to his numerous bitter social experiences and humiliations. The other is Lazarus like whom Prufrock felt himself spiritually dead and unable to cause any change by his warnings in those who cause sufferings to others and who stand to suffer from punishment in hell after death. The third is Hamlet with whom Prufrock finds his parallelism in respect of hesitation has more claims to be compared to Polonius, ‘politic, cautious, and meticulous’ but ‘a bit obtuse’.

‘To have bitten off the matter’ raises before us the image of tearing away a part from a cake or a piece of meat (ultimately associated with Prufrock’s announcement of the marriage proposal to the woman he loves) and ‘to have squeezed the universe into a ball’ of doing a heroic act (which to Prufrock is similar to the saying of the marriage proposal to her). Finally, a wonderful purely descriptive image is reproduced when Prufrock sees the mermaids riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black. The expression ‘We drown’ signifies Prufrock’s complete absorption in the insignificant and humdrum social activities once again.

The symbols and imagery as used in Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ are quite fresh, varied, and interesting, and doubtlessly they contribute much to the understanding of the many-sided personality of the protagonist, and to the intellectual quality and imaginative depth of the poem.

5. Comment on the element of irony as employed by T. S. Eliot in his poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Ans. Irony is a king of literary device that purports to convey a latent meaning different from—indeed, usually opposite to–the ostensible one’. A most effective weapon of satire, irony stresses on the contrast between what is expressed and what is implied.

There is some irony embedded in the very title of the poem. The title suggests that the lover is very eager to express his love to his beloved However, in the poem there is hardly a scene where Prufrock is seen declaring his love to the woman he prefers; rather the lover invents one reason after another to postpone his marriage proposal. It is true that there are some obstacles (such as his old age, his loss of vigour and health, and his reluctance to give up his single state) to his making the proposal. But instead of accepting these and coming to a decision accordingly, Prufrock pretends it is as it were other matters (such as whether it is worthwhile to make the proposal or whether she is likely to reject it) that prevent him from divulging his intention to the woman he loves. The irony of the situation is that he wants to love yet hesitates in making the proposal known to her which brings his timidity to the fore. Instead of acting as a bold and aggressive lover and happily winning his beloved, he feels as miserable as a worm ‘pinned and wriggling on the wall’. Consequently his love song ironically turns into a song of sorrow and suffering.

In the poem there are many instances where strange juxtaposition of contrasting things helps to intensify the ironic tone. There is a mingling in it of the high and the low, the seriousness and the levity. In the first line Prufrock says to his two selves: Let us go then, you and I’, but utters its opposite in the last line: ‘(We have lingered in the chambers of the sea) Till human voices wake us, and we drown’. Unlike the peasants of Hesiod’s Works and Days who kept themselves busy in useful agricultural works. Prufrock’s works and days will be spent by his hands ‘that lift and drop a question on your plate’. He utters the serious a hundred visions and revisions’ and the light toast and tea’ in the same breath. He says he has given a quantity of his life which can be measured not with achievements or honourable acts but with coffee spoons. This sharply focuses on the futility of his life. To compare his case with that of John the Baptist he says he has seen his ‘head brought in upon a platter’ but the seriousness of the tone is completely shattered when he adds the information in brackets that his head has ‘grown slightly bald’. Again, he has full intention of thinking himself like Prince Hamlet because of his hesitation and delay but soon finds that the role of Polonius will be more fitting to him on account of his being ‘politic, cautious, and meticulous’ and ‘a bit obtuse’ at the same time. His selfdisparagement grows so high that he feels the ridiculous role of the fool (i.e., a court jester) would suit him best. The irony of the situation becomes evident at this anticlimax-his fall from the role of Prince Hamlet to that of the fool.

In ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ the trivial and the personal is raised to the level of the universal. It is for this that the simple declaration of the marriage proposal is compared to an earthquake disturbing the universe. Prufrock’s nervousness and inner tension leads him to think that the declaration of the proposal is as difficult as squeezing the universe into a ball. For the same reason the proposal becomes as momentous as ‘to murder and create’. His lack of stability and paralysis of the will power are evident when he says that in a minute’ he can come to ‘decisions and revisions’ which a minute can ‘reverse’. Emptied of all mental energy he asks ironically: ‘Should I, after tea and cakes and ices.

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?’ Though he has ‘wept’ and ‘fasted’ and ‘prayed’, yet he cannot muster sufficient courage to declare his love. Thus his soul’s timidity and sickness are the real cause of his cowardice and hesitation.

Again, there is a bit of irony in his assumption that his beloved might reject him. Actually she wants to reject him as a lover, yet may like to cover it with a veneer of politeness and courtesy. His anticipations about her possible reactions are, however, nothing but excuses for his inaction and delay. There is irony, again, in his wish to dress himself smartly by wearing trousers with their bottoms turned up or by parting his hair behind only to solve his nagging sense of growing old. Finally, a sense of irony comes out when in his vision he pictures himself sitting close by mermaids ‘wreathed with seaweed red and brown’; though he has heard them ‘singing, each to each’, for they sing only to heroic and adventurous souls like Ulysses and his companions to which he offers a sharp contrast in respect of courage and enterprise.

 

The above discussion clearly shows that T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is an outstanding example of verbal and situational irony.

6. How does Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ represent a complete break with the 19th century tradition of English poetry and a new start?

Ans. The poetry of the nineteenth century was mostly romantic in tradition. Towards the end of the century the romantic poets wanted to escape from the realities of life and sought shelter in the world of nature and art. During the first two decades of the twentieth century there came Georgian poetry which was principally concerned with ‘Nature and love and leisure and old age and childhood and animals and sleep and similar uncontroversial subjects. Then came the Imagists who wanted to borrow something from the late nineteenth century French Symbolists who reacted against the descriptive precision and objectivity of realism and the scientific determinism of naturalism T. S. Eliot was much influenced by Symbolism which emphasized ‘the primary importance of suggestion and evocation in the expression of a private mood or reverie’. Like the Imagists he also believed in the free choice of subject matter (often focusing on concentrated moments of experience), concreteness of imagery, and rhythm composed in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome. Eliot broke away from the romantic tradition of poetry by adopting certain elements from the French Symbolist poets (particularly from Baudelaire and Laforgue) who depended largely for poetic effect on suggestion rather than direct presentation and on allusiveness of words and phrases that called up various associations in the reader’s mind.

The Romantic, the Victorian, and the Georgian poets sought beauty and freedom from tension in Nature, Eliot, however, searched for poetic element in the sordidness and ugliness of modern urban life. Instead of reflecting joy and cheers the poet used his poetry as a means of expression the ‘boredom and horror’ of the contemporary world. He conveys the ugliness and sordidness of present-day life by mentioning of ‘restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants’, and the long and tedious argument’. Expressions like ‘pools that stand in drains’ and ‘the soot that falls from chimneys’ also refer to the insanitary conditions and the industrial pollution of modern cities.

Another break of ‘The Love Song’ from the nineteenth century is its treatment of love. While Romantic poetry dealt with love with all its glamour and magnificence and considered it a refuge from the stresses and strains of life, The Love Song’ treats it as an object of fear and anxiety for which we see the lover unable to pronounce his love, to decide whom to select as his life partner, and to say the overwhelming question. Announcement of love proves so difficult and burdensome that it becomes similar to causing disturbance to his little universe. To avoid the derision and rebuff involved in love he considers even a submarine existence in the dark ‘floors of silent seas’ to be much better than a human one with duties and responsibilities. The lover’s timidity and irresolution actually turn his love song into an anti-romantic song against love.

As a lover Prufrock has no claim to be called a hero as lovers in traditional Romantic poetry can justly be so called. His indecision and procrastination, his nervousness and self-belting decidedly put the stamp of the anti-hero upon him. His incapability of coming to a conclusion or reaching a decision is clear when he says: ‘In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse’. He spends his time by uttering ‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?” but has not the courage to declare his love. He wastes his time thinking whether such demonstration of courage would have been worth the labour, for his self-defeating impulse tells his beforehand what she should reply: ‘That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all’. He is, unlike the hero of Romantic poetry, oversensitive about himself. His baldness of head and thinness of arms and legs lead him to think of parting his hair behind or wearing the bottoms of his trousers rolled up, but he cannot escape from the unpleasant thought: ‘I grow old…….. I grow old. His petty and meaningless life stands out sharply when he says: ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’. Besides being a split personality, he is one to whom baring of the heart to a woman seems to be a sort of an obscene experience: had he declared his love to her, it would have been ‘as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen’. This, unlike a romantic hero shows his over sensitiveness, cowardice, and perversion.

The wornen depicted in the poem are also different from those delineated in the Romantic poems. Outwardly they are as beautiful as those of latter poetry which is suggested by the description of the arms

that are braceleted and white and bare’, but their difference is emphasized by their cultural pretence (their talk of Michelangelo), their habit of fixing someone in a formulated phrase’ (that Prufrock, for example, is no better than a worm), and their way of killing someone with smile throwing (their cold rejection of a would be lover by settling a pillow or off a shawl, / And turning toward the window’). Again, a man like Prufrock is both attracted and rebuffed by them.

The poem makes liberal use of colloquial expressions. It begins with the following: ‘Let us go then, you and I’; then we find: ‘Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” / Let us go and make our visit’. Other examples of colloquial style are: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’; And should I then presume? / And how should I begin? It is impossible to say just what I mean! Rarely do we find such uses, of colloquial expression in the Romantic poetry of the nineteenth century.

In respect of technique ‘The Love Song is, again, different from the important Romantic poems of the last century. Eliot uses no fixed stanza pattern. His line-lengths and total number of lines vary from stanza to stanza. The lines become long or short according to the mood of the protagonist. The poet uses free verse known for its flexibility and for its not being lied to any fixed metre or rhythm. The tone undergoes a number of changes, one of which is suitable for bitter irony. The serious and the trivial are also freely mixed. There is one respect in which Eliot’s poem is completely different from the Romantic ones. Romantic poetry can never think of the use of such images as the insect ‘pinned and wriggling on the wall’ or the crab ‘scuttling across the floors of silent seas’ or the ‘smoke that rises from the pipes / Of lonely men in shirt sleeves, leaning out of windows’ or the ‘fog that rubs its back upon the window panes”, or the evening spread out like a patient etherized upon a table¹. Sometimes the images appear to be complex and without a link but they are not without a purpose. Regarding this Eliot remarks: The reader has to allow the images to fall into the memory successively without questioning the reasonableness of each at the moment; so that a total effect is produced’. The images help to reveal the sordid, trivial, and materialistic modern life full of fashion and pretence but from which worth, solidity, and spiritual significance have disappeared. They also highlight the horrors, frustration and negative aspects of modern life.

Another distinct feature of the poem is its allusiveness. It is through such a device that Eliot fulfills the purpose of suggestiveness which is

essential for the poem since the poet wants to develop it sometimes through direct statement and sometimes through suggestion. There is hardly any Romantic poetry that is so rich in respect of literary allusions. In the poem we find references to Dante (in the epigraph), to Marvell (‘And indeed there will be time…….. there will be time’ and ‘To have squeezed the universe into a ball’), to Hesiod (‘works and day’), to Shakespeare (‘a dying fall’), to Donne (‘arms that are braceleted’), and to Chaucer (‘full of high sentence’). In addition we find in it allusions taken from the Bible (e.g., John the Baptist and Lazarus). This type of allusiveness is no doubt a new thing for the reader who has not found it in such abundance in Romantic poetry.

The above elements show that Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is a definite departure from the traditional Romantic poems of the nineteenth century and a trend-setter for modernist poetry.

7. Write a critical appreciation of T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Ans. Consult ‘The Critical Analysis’ in the Introduction.

SHORT QUESTIONS WITH ANSWERS

1. ‘Let us to then, you and I’-Who are you and ‘I’ referred to here?

Ans. Here ‘you’ and ‘I refer to two selves of Prufrock. ‘You’ is his buried self, and ‘I’ is the public self.

The ‘you’ is the amorous self of Prufrock, the sex instinct, direct and forthright. It is suppressed and deluded by ‘I’, the timid self of Prufrock which is always in fear of the carnal.

2. With which is the evening compared? Does it have any significance?

Ans. The evening is compared with a patient etherized upon a table. It is a type of metaphysical conceit because here the comparison is not only between two different objects (i.e., ‘evening’ and ‘patient’) but it is also far-fetched.

It signifies that Prufrock has a desire of leading a volitionless, workless, sleepy and semiconscious life like that of a patient put chloroform.

 

3. How are the streets described in the poem?

Ans. The streets resound with muffled sounds (because of brawly and violence, of sleeplessness and restlessness) that come out of one night cheap hotels and shabby restaurants (whose wet floors remain covered with sawdust) selling oyster-shells. The winding streets, again, are like the stages in some wearisome argument with an unseen but deadly purpose behind it (such as Prufrock’s tortuous mental processes regarding the utility of making the marriage proposal whose ultimate object is to settle to a way of life which may or may not be suitable to him).

 

4. What is the overwhelming question about?

Ans. The overwhelming question remains unstated and we can only guess about it. It mainly refers to Prufrock’s intended marriage proposal to the woman of his choice, but it may also be about the meaning of Prufrock’s life, social and existential.

It may, again, be an ironic allusion to the medieval Grail legend in which a knight could restore the fertility of the land (now turned waste) and heal its impotent and ailing ruler by asking the right question: ‘What ails thee, king?’

5. ‘Let us go and make our visit’-Explain.

Ans. Here the two selves of Prufrock intend to go and visit a room in which have gathered a number of women, one of which is she to whom he intends to make the marriage proposal.

6. Who talk about Michelangelo? What does the talk signify?

Ans. The women who have gathered in a room in the evening for a social party talk of Michelangelo, a great Italian sculptor, painter, and poet.

The women talk of Michelangelo for thereby they can make pretence about their familiarity in art and cultural matters.

Another reason why the women talk of Michelangelo, the unchallenged authority on masculine virility, is that thereby the timidity of Prufrock, particularly in sexual matters, is highlighted in sharp contrast.

7. With whom is the yellow fog and smoke compared and what do they point to?

Ans. The yellow fog and smoke (when mixed together, they take the name smog) are compared to a cat.

They point to the industrial pollution of a modern city (like Boston).

8. There will be time to murder and create’. What does it mean?

Ans. There is some ambiguity in the line quoted above. It may mean that Prufrock will get time to decide what he should do regarding the marriage proposal (it may be likened to the process of creation) and there will also be time for him to change that decision (comparable) to spoiling or murder). Besides a violence of similitude, the line produces an ironic overtone by the inclusion of two sharply contradictory words.

9. And indeed there will be time / To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’-What appears daring to the speaker? What did he ultimately do?

Ans. To utter the proposal of marriage appears a daring thing to Prufrock.

He did not ultimately succeed in showing his daring (=bravery) for he turns back and descends the stair without meeting the woman and making the proposal.

10. What does Prufrock think the women will remark seeing a bald spot in the middle of his hair?

Ans. Prufrock thinks the women will remark the following seeing a bald spot in the middle of his hair: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’ Their remark suggests that Prufrock is speedily surpassing his marriageable age.

11. What does Prufrock mean when he says: ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’?

Ans. Here Prufrock makes an attempt to make a trivial idea look serious. His life has been spent in such a useless and vain manner that he thinks that his life has been measured not by actions but by small doses of coffee that he has put into his mouth with the help of small spoons. This ironic picture, therefore, reveals Prufrock’s whole futile way of existence. [In an extended sense this refers to the vain and sterile existence of the superficial and sophisticated set with whom Prufrock’s ·lot has been cast.]

12. What is Prufrock’s position .

Ans. Prufrock’s position is quite helpless before the women. Their cold eyes have a tendency to identify and fix somebody with a formulated phrase. To their probing eyes he fails to have any glorious position; on the other hand, he is classified as an insect. Prufrock has no courage to disengage himself from their stare. Hence he feels to have been stuck with a pin on the wall from where his whole body stretches out in pain.

 

14. ‘I should have been a pair of raged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.’-What do the lines signify?

Ans. Prufrock is so much disgusted with his life of loneliness and boredom that he feels the life of an animal will be far better than that of a human being. His fear of snubbing women makes him to quickly take shelter in the dark floors of silent seas and to move there with quick short steps like a crab that wants to escape from some danger. The fragmentation of the whole crab into a pair of claws powerfully conveys that Prufrock in a disintegrated personality. The lines express his acute self-disgust and panic and his strong desire for an escape from unpleasant memories. They further suggest his secret with to regress to a safe haven where his inner universe is no longer disturbed by any tormenting human problems.’

15. Though I have seen my head……….brought in upon a platter,’In which poem does the line occur? Which biblical figures and incidents are referred to here? 

Ans. The line occurs in T. S. Eliot’s famous poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

The biblical figures to here are John the Baptist and Herod, ruler of Judea. They have been mentioned in the Books of St. Mark and St. Matthew.

The incidents referred to here are John the Baptist’s condemnation of Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife Herodias (which he considered nothing but adultery) and Salome’s demand for John’s head as a reward for pleasing Herod with her dancing. According, a soldier cut off John head and brought it on a platter (=a flat disk) before the assembled company.

16. ‘I am no prophet-and here’s no great matter’.-What does the line signify?

Ans. Prufrock prepared well (and elaborately) to play in the role of the prophet John. He even imagined his head brought in upon a platter. But ultimately he has to admit that he is no prophet, for while the prophet boldly declared Herod’s marriage to be unlawful and faced beheading for it, Prufrock does not have the courage to declare his marriage proposal to the woman he loves. Then he turns himself into an object of mockery by stating that his matter is not so great as John’s which was a question of life and death.

17. ‘And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker’, What does it allude to?

Ans. The eternal Footman alludes to the Heavenly Footman of Bunyan’s allegorical work The Pilgrim’s Progress. In the original work the Heavenly Footman strips Christian of his rags and gives him a coat.

Here, the Heavenly Footman is changed into the eternal Footman in order that he may appear socially suggestive and more acceptable, although he stands as a personification of Death. Prufrock means to state that whenever he has thought of courting death for humiliation and wished to join the party of martyrs, Death in the form of a footman (=a uniformed manservant), noticing his cowardice, has caught him by the

coat, laughed disrespectfully at him and expelled him from the party. with the shame of inferiority added to defeat’.

It may also mean that Prufrock has seen many occasions in his life when he has played the coward and imagined himself to be in the grip of Death (‘the eternal footman’). But Death only mocked at his cowardice and let him survive.

18. ‘And would it have been worth it, after all,’-What makes Prufrock say in the above way?

Ans. Prufrock considers whether making the proposal of marriage to the woman concerned would have been worth his effort, after all, for he has the apprehension that she would have rejected his offer. The repetition of the words indicates his inner tension, hesitation, and indecision.

19. ‘To have squeezed the universe into a ball’-What would have appeared to the speaker like the squeezing of the universe? Do you hear any echo here from any other source?

Ans. To ask the overwhelming question (concerning the marriage proposal) to has beloved would have been as difficult to Prufrock as the squeezing of the entire universe into a little ball needing superhuman strength, courage, and skill. This, shows on the one hand, Prufrock’s tendency to overdramatize and, on the other, his excessive nervousness that leads him to think a normal human act as stupendously difficult and tremendously heroic.

We hear in the above an echo of the following lines used in ‘To His Coy Mistress‘ by Andrew Marvell: Let us roll all our strength, and all Our sweetness up into one ball, And tear our pleasure with a rough strife. Through the iron gates of life.

20. ……I am Lazarus, come from the dead, come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.-Which Lazarus is referred to here? How does the poet use the allusion in this context?

Ans. There are two Lazaruses mentioned in the Bible. One was the brother of Mary and Martha at whose imploration Jesus brought him back to life from death. The other Lazarus was a poor beggar who went to Heaven after death while Dives, his rich neighbour, was transported to Hell after death. Dives asked Abraham to send Lazarus to earth to warn his five brothers, rolling in luxury and sin, about the sufferings that wait for them in Hell. But Abraham said if his brothers did not listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not be convinced even if someone rising from death were to warm them. The second Lazarus is referred to here.

In the Bible, Lazarus did not actually suffer from Hell-fire nor did he come back to earth from Heaven. Here the poet uses the allusion by slightly altering it to suit his purpose. He made Lazarus to come back to earth and to tell and about his tremendous sufferings. This change is done to make Prufrock apparently believe that the tales of his harrowing pain would lead his ladylove to soften her attitude towards him and to refrain her from giving him any more pain [That such belief is ineffectual is learnt soon from her response when she says that her being pleasant and polite to him does not mean her acceptance of his love and marriage proposal at all.]

21. ‘It is impossible to say just what I mean!’-Who is the speaker

of the above line? What is impossible for him to say and why’? Ans. Prufrock in the speaker of the above line. What he intends to say to the woman he loves is a question whether she is willing to accept his proposal of marriage. Yet he finds it impossible to say it to her for the reasons mentioned below:

As a social man he has to perform some formalities such as drinking tea or dancing with longskirted women to social gatherings in the evening. Observance of these social etiquettes makes him so tired that he has hardly any strength left in him to say to her in suitable words what he really means that he wants to marry her. But there is a deeper reason why he finds it impossible to say to her what he really means-it is his fear of her cold and outright rejection or rebuff. There is another lying behind his failure-it is his feeling of confusion.

22. ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;-Why does the speaker feel himself unfit for the role of Hamlet? Which role does he prefer for himself?

Ans. Though his indecision and dilatoriness (=tendency to delay) tempt Prufrock to assume the role of Prince Hamlet, he soon finds that he is not fit for the Prince’s tragic role since he is not prepared to sacrifice life to set his world night. He is essentially a timid person.

Prufrock prefers for himself either the role of a talkative and moralizing old courtier like Polonius or that of Yorick the Fool (=court jester). His preference for the last role indicates how lowly his position has become before his own eyes.

23. ‘But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen’. What does it signify?

Ans. To a shy and oversensitive men like Prufrock to declare his love and offer his proposal of marriage to the woman he likes is terribly painful, humiliating, and even obscene. A frank confession of his love to her and baring of his heart is like the projection of his inner nerves in patterns on a screen by a magnifying instrument like the magic lantern. Indeed ‘the magic lantern image puts his great dread, public revelation of his sensitivity, into its most vivid form’.

2.4. What does Prufrock propose to do to counterbalance his feeling of growing old?

Ans. ‘Prufrock terribly suffers from the anxiety of growing old. He believes that it is by dressing himself smartly that he can present himself like a youngman before others. So he thinks of wearing a pair of trousers the bottoms of which would be rolled-up. Hlle also wants to copy an ultramodern fashion like parting his hair behind instead of the usual mode of parting it in the front. Another thing which he wants to follow is to walk on the back by wearing white flannel trousers.

25. ‘I do not think they will sing to me’.–Who are they’? Why does the speaker think they will not sing to him?

Ans. ‘They’ are the mermaids, kinds of sea-creature, half-human and half-fish in form.

The mermaids (such as sirens), as Greek mythologies tell us, sang only to brave and heroic persons like Ulysses and his companions. Prufrock is convinced that the mermaids will not sing to him because of his timid and nervous nature.

26. How does Prufrock describe the mermaids? Do they serve any purpose?

Ans. Prufrock, released at last from the anxiety of pronouncing the overwhelming question, joyfully describes the sportive life of the mermaids. He watches them riding towards the sea by sitting astride on horse-like waves and combing the white hair of their necks (i.e., foam) blown back by the wind. He also sees them wreathed with red and brown seaweed that heightens their beauty enormously.

The mermaids with their active and adventurous life full of spontaneity and delight offer a sharp contrast to the inactive, sleepish, and escapist way of life led by Prufrock.

27. ‘We have lingered in the chambers of the sea’,-Who are ‘we’? Why have they lingered? What makes them come out of the chambers of the sea?

Ans. ‘We’ refer to the two aspects of Prufrock’s personality-one is his public self and the other is his private and buried self. This shows that Prufrock is a split or divided.personality.

With the help of his imagination Prufrock is able to reach the sea caves where the mermaids dwell. He sits there close by them and watch them garlanded with red and brown seaweed. They look so beautiful and satisfying, unlike the women with whom he has mixed for a long time, that he decides to wait there for long.

However, Prufrock could not stay long in the fanciful and romantic world of his daydreams for noisy and distasteful human voices soon rouse him from his reverie and take him back to a world of harsh reality where he had no option but to drown.

28. What image and state of life are suggested by the movement of the yellow fog / smoke’ in Eliot’s poem? 

Ans. The moverment of the yellow fog or smoke suggests the image of a moving cat that, after rubbing its back and muzzle on the windowpanes, licked its tongue into the converse of the evening, waited for some time on the pools that have formed in drains, allowed the chimneysoot to fall on its back, passed by the terrace-roofs noiselessly, then made a sudden jump on the ground, and seeing that it was a soft October night, circled once around the house, and fell asleep.

 

The fog as used here is more than a decor. It gives a reflection of Prufrock’s mental state: desire that ends in inertia-‘If the cat image suggests sex, it also suggests the greater desire of inactivity. The fog further suggests that Prufrock has reached middle age, a state of life when the mind gets foggy and the body grows so lethargic that action often lapses into inaction. According to Elizabeth Drew ‘the yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes’ is the creeping, choking atmosphere of a spiritual miasma’ (= a thick poisonous mist), and it expresses Prufrock’s state of ‘mingled self-pity and self-disgust’.

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