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Eliot The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock Essay

Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Essay: Stream of Consciousness

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Stream of Consciousness in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a uniquely styled piece of literature. In this poem Eliot employs a literary method of writing called "stream of consciousness." This is a difficult method to grasp outside of the literary genre to attempt to understand it within the context of the higher language of poetry can further confuse readers.

Stream of consciousness is simply how our brain thinks. Perhaps as the teacher reads through this poem we hear the word "Mermaid". Our minds see the singing mermaids on the rocks in "Jason and the Argonauts" and then jump to Peter Pan and from Peter Pan to Mary Poppins. The idea of stream of consciousness…show more content…

His pen wanders and jumps from place to place with no apparent pattern.

I think this style of writing is also a reflection of Eliot's feelings about the time. Eliot was more of a Modernist than Victorian poet and as such held to beliefs like: there is no higher power in the universe, man is alone on this planet to govern his own affairs, everyone is truly alone, there is no unity, no support, for we live in a godless heartless world (Stacey Donohue). The floating, confusing, jumbled mix of emotions and directions in this poem mirrors the modernist image of society.

Though he was a modernist I believe this poem is a reflection of what he saw during the Victorian period. He says, "Do I dare/Disturb the universe?" (Eliot, Longman 2419 ll. 45-46). He speaks here, not of the universe as you and I think -- a celestial body -- but of the universe in the sense of the Victorian period itself. The world where everything is a mask of propriety, manners, and tradition; this can be seen in his reference to the popular Victorian custom of afternoon tea, "Before the taking of tea and toast." (Eliot, Longman 2419 l. 34). A word or simple action could topple a system as balanced as this one and Prufrock struggles with the question, "Do I dare?" (Eliot, Longman 2419 l. 38). Does he dare to disturb the Victorian culture with what he has seen? His struggle is represented by the yellow smoke/fog. This represents

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SOURCE: "Prufrock and the Fool Son," in Ball State University Forum, Vol. VIII, Winter, 1967, pp. 51-54.

[In the following essay, Fortenberry explores the influence of Jules Laforgue on "Prufrock" and considers the role of the fool.]

How much or how little the title of a poem means is, of course, left to the whim or decision of the poet. Upon occasion, however, a title will furnish the best clue to the meaning and significance of a poem. It is quite possible that the title, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," could furnish us with meaning we have not found before. This title has received very little attention considering the great attention which the poem itself has received. The following remarks focus upon the title of the poem, especially its use of the term "song."

In spite of the fact that "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" has fostered many articles, enough, in fact, to make it one of the best understood works in our language, the poem is not well read by—not well explained to—thousands of college freshmen each year who find it in the section of their readers devoted to the latest poetry to be anthologized. Often they are rather shocked to learn that the poem is vintage 1915, which, although a good year, seems long ago to a freshman. They are also shocked to learn that it has been in print longer than some Thomas Hardy and a great deal of Housman and Hopkins. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is no longer young. It is of such an age that coming to terms with it becomes very important.

Those who have long used the Brooks and Warren explanation of the Prufrock poem and are satisfied need go no further. It is a reasonable and sound explanation and one of the few attempts to deal with the whole poem by bringing some semblance of unity to it. Unfortunately for those who seek further than Brooks and Warren, most articles on the poem deal almost entirely with fragments, with single lines or single words, with Mermaids, rolled trousers, or gastric problems caused by peaches. This line-by-line approach is entirely natural because lines of the poem, especially those in the last section, seem to lack unity. Other essays are concerned with the sources of various lines in the poem. This approach is also a natural development which grew out of Eliot's own precedent of publishing notes on "The Wasteland." One of the best articles of this type, John C. Pope's "Prufrock and Raskalnikov," was provocative enough to merit a reply by Eliot in which he claimed the source for the Hamlet in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to be the work of Jules Laforgue, not Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, as Pope had contended.

Explanation of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" should begin with attention to the work of Jules Laforgue where Eliot has directed us. Not only that, but attention should be given to Laforgue's Hamlet, a character not too much like Shakespeare's Hamlet. Critics have known for a long time of Laforgue's influence. They have not, however, paid much attention to his Hamlet in trying to interpret the poem.

To return to the title, we observe that Eliot's poem is about a love song. As we read, however, we are soon aware that this is not the regular boy-girl love song but is an attempt to communicate a message of importance to the world, a message Prufrock wants to deliver but has great difficulty expressing. In spite of the difficulty, the love song is finally sung. It is sung by the Fool, and it is within the Fool Song that we may find the comment that Prufrock wants to make, one which Eliot himself continued to make in later poetry. The song of the Fool begins in much the same way that any ditty of a Fool in Shakespearian or other seventeenth-century drama might begin. But this resemblance does not mean that Eliot got his Fool from these sources, even though no smaller Fool than Falstaff admits, "I am old, I am old." (2 Henry IV. II. iv. 294) Much more likely it is that Eliot got his Fool, along with his Hamlet, from the work of Jules Laforgue, for both "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "Portrait of a Lady" are Laforguian poems. Eliot has indicated his indebtedness to Laforgue for his method. Tindall comments upon this method at length:...

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