The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Elliot
as read by Anthony Hopkins

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 etherized 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. . .                               10
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,                               20
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;                                30
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—                               40
[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 will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                       50
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?                    60
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              70
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?                  80
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,                                             90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward 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,                                           100
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 screen:
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.”                                          110
.     .     .     .     .

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 . . .                                              120
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 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               130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

64 responses to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

  1. After reading this poem i was unsure on how to describe this poem, so I visited sparknotes and they had this “It is an examination of the tortured psyche of the prototypical modern man—overeducated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally stilted. ” This encompasses the struggle that this man has.

  2. This poem is the ultimate depiction of the modern man. In the past, men were always shown as confident and decisive, but the modern man is different than that. The modern man lives inside his own head; he has feelings and emotions that interfere with his decision making.

  3. As one of T. S. Eliot earliest and most famous poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is characterized by typical modernism. It reveals the “modern man” in predicament represented by Prufrock who is trapped in a dilemma about whether to make a change of his life or not.

  4. Prufrock is like the dramatic version of a bump on a log. He doesn’t do anything even when he has the chance to. In this poem, actions are discussed as either future possibilities or something that has already been done.

  5. Like many modernist writers, I believe T.S. Eliot wanted his poetry to express the fragile psychological state of humanity in the twentieth century.

  6. i had to read this poem contless times and do research on the era it was written in to truly understand the meaning of this poem and give an honest interpretation. as i did research on the era it was a time where industrialization had taken over and the ability to stand out such as men like shakespeare and michalangelo was impossible. it is easy to be forgotten in a world where beauty and love had been muffled by a changing time period. the author expresses his deepest feelings and thoughts through this character who has missed opportunities and chances to shine but instead of accepting that fate he seperates himself and from this pessimistic character and chooses to believe that he can be a great, and life is much more then settling and that his time has not yet passed. his life will not be measured in “spoons of sugar” and missed opportunities. its starts sad but gives a feeling of hope in the end and truly is a love story of life in general.

  7. I went on this website called Shmoop, and it really gave some interesting interpretations of the poem. When I first read it, I thought “Aww poor Prufrock” he is just a lovelorn sap. It wasn’t until I really dissected the poem that I understood the demented tone it has in it. I mean hellooooo in the beginning Prufrock wanted to take his mystery lover to somewhere cheap and isolated where there is fog. This can only mean some downtown shabby hooker hotel. I don’t feel sorry for him anymore that he wont ever get his lady.

  8. This poem was kind of hard to grasp. I think this guy is just telling a story of things that have happened in his life.

  9. I love how the poem begins. It starts with a rhyme that gives a relaxed feeling. “Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky”. Then that next line comes. “Like a patient eternized upon a table.” It is completely unexpected! It has no rhyme and portrays an uncomfortable simile. It is just jarring.

  10. Very difficult to understand. And long…. Also the reader was not very captivating to me.

  11. This poem was difficult to understand at first. But after the third time reading it I was able to understand that the man was a self concision person with insecurities. His inability to build courage left him in isolation from people.

  12. This poem was difficult to understand at first. But after the third time reading it I was able to understand that the man was a self concision person with insecuritis. His inability to build courage left him in isolation from people.

  13. I actually wished we had talked about this poem in class because I did not understand this poem at all. I was very relieved that you Professor Kollitz allowed us to write about a different poem because there was no way I was going to write five pages on this poem.

  14. This poem makes me want to grab a hot cup of tea, sip on it, while listening to this. The funny thing is I don’t even like hot tea. This poem was very soothing. It is long but it isn’t too long. It hit just the right stop for me.

  15. This poem is about confusion about life and the negativity that is brought upon people. I think the thing I like most about poetry is that they all tell a story and all have a meaning in it and mostly everything does but the emotion in poems is more in such a short story. There are sad, happy, love, death, any type of poetry. And this poem is just about how life didn’t go well for this man and how he wasn’t able to have certain love that people look for.

  16. this poem was really confusing for me I had to re read it three times to understand, I mean re listen to the audio three times. once I understood the message of the poem it was a good poem and well worth being re read a couple more times. good poem in my opinion.

  17. opportunities come and go and whether you’re there to take them is up to you.

  18. Prufrock in this poem seems like a middle-aged man who manifests an indecisiveness nature. The poem brings its reader into the scene of a place of a social gathering of women. Through the man talking to himself, we can understand the fear and loneliness he experiences. It takes time to decipher what the poem is trying to depict.

  19. This poem to me is beautiful. Not the easiest or most liked poem on the list, but it is worth the read and understanding of it.

  20. This poem does have a degree of difficult understanding, but at the same time, its mesmerizing. After reading and listening to this poem a couple of times, i have a vague description of what the meaning of the poem could be. With some additional research about the poem, I am sure that i will come up with a adequate essay.

  21. This poem by Elliot was extremely difficult to understand. I listened to the audio three times over and read the poem twice. Each time I gained a little more insight to what the message was that Elliot was attempting to convey. After multiple attempts of trying to understand the poem I still did not fully get the concept. But thank God for the internet and the invention of Google.

  22. I think he starts of happy , saying prety much he has seen it all. Trying to explain he feels like the reader will be confused so he tells us we dont get the point. All the small things in life that mean so much, we dont realize till it all is gone . I enjoyed all the rhyming , but feel like i was lost with all his imagery .

  23. each time I read this poem I get a different idea. I read once more and listen to it read once more and i get another idea. I really like this poem and find myself rereading it, analyzing it. It has me thinking of many things at once and builds my admiration towards this poem. The many words to describe are enriching and inspiring.

  24. I would enjoy analyzing this poem line for line in group discussion. It is all over the place and many interpretations could be had about what it means. After being confused about how it all ties together, I think it’s about a man reflecting on his life. He’s a little older and is remembering being young and in his prime. Making mistakes, getting caught, getting away…and wondering if he had lived a full life. Does he have any regrets? Was it all really worth it? And should he never have that life again, would he be satisfied with the one he lives now?

  25. While I was reading this peom I found myself very confused. I had know idea what was going on. J. Alfred spoke of love, tea, peaches, wishing he were a crab, and had the enduring question of would it have been worth it? So I sat and thought and pondered – what does this all mean? Then I realized the reason I was so lost was because Prufrock was more confused about life and love than I was about this poem.

  26. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is very interesting. Prufrock is introducing us to his world in London,by talking about the “cheap hotels” and the “saw dust resturants”. And Prufrock explains how he is getting older, but he isn’t worried about making hard life decisions instead he’s more concern about “eating a peach” or “wearing white flannel trousers”. I just enjoyed how he decided to end the poem in a happy, joyful tone.

  27. This poem is really hard to understand.
    But it is beautiful in the same sense.
    Alfred is just like me…
    Not confident enough to pursue love, so he’d rather be alone.
    It’s better to be alone any way right? It is foolish to want love. it’s only an illusion and anyone who is smart knows that.
    It is better to love from a distance for love is better and lives longer when it is in a person’s head.
    But how can anyone truly live without ever experiencing love?
    Which is why I think in the end he compares himself to a mere crab.
    Life becomes an endless amount of sorrowful tears for him, which he can not drown in being that he is a crab. So he just lives in agony, having never loved, having never lived, and above all alone.

  28. First of all, I love anything done by Anthony Hopkins. I feel that his reading helps to bring the poem to life, adding needed dimensions necessary for understanding. I think it is about feeling that there is time. “Time to wonder”. “Till human voices wake us, and then we drown.” There is time but limited, the limit unknown.

  29. After writing the essay on this poem, it made me realize how deep this poem is. I feel bad for J. Alfred, his life is really miserable. He actually learned how to disassociate himself from society and that needs effort to do so. I thought it was charming of him to wish he was just a crab at the bottom of the ocean. It shows how little he wants in life and there’s some beauty to wanting little in life. Rather than being someone who wants money, fame, and success, Prufrock humbles me in that sense.

    • I had the same reaction with the whole crab part. If you ask most people would probably say they want money or a successful job, but there are those that are content with living life at the barest. Not to the point were they are struggling to live but at a level in which they have slightly more than they need. Also I have some friends that would like to escape from society and not have to deal with the corruption and greed of the world.

  30. This poem was very confusing and difficult for me to understand. I had to reread this poem numerous times as well as my fellow classmates point of view because it was not making any sense. I have a better understanding of this poem now, and I must say that it was a lovely one.

  31. What really stands out in this poem in the cowardice that Prudfrock has about facing love. It is disappointing when he states that he is going to have a lot of time to make the important decision to declare is love and that doing it right then and there will not be necessary. However, he gets his guts and starts thinking about the possibility of going towards her love but instead he decides to leave. Prudfrock also thinks really highly of himself. He assumes that he knows more and better than others. Nevertheless, this is only a justification of all his fears and insecurities that do not allow him to be declare his love. This poem makes us think about us and how are we facing the things that scare us the most. Are we acting cowardly like Alfred? Or are we facing our problems?

  32. I think the rhythms of the lines and chaotic imagery of the poem caused most of my troubles with understanding it. However, after reading it a few times through I finally noticed the theme. Prufrock is caught in a cyclical system of thinking and it causes him much frustration. He is insecure, so he thinks about everything he does, and because he thinks about everything does, he becomes insecure. This back-and-forth cycle causes him to do nothing at all about things in his life. Which then causes nothing to happen to him, be it good or bad. It was not until he reached his current age that he realized that his life is pretty much over and that he accomplished nothing.

  33. Prufrock is a cautionary tale about the price of inaction. He watches the world go by from the safety of his own mind, but once it all pasted him by he is left wondering where it all went and why he didn’t go with it. I think people can learn a lot from this poem like don’t let the moment pass you by cause it might be the only one you get.

  34. This poem has a very dark tone behind it and it was not what I was expecting going off of the title. With that being said, I’m kind of glad it wasn’t your ordinary love poem. This poem is inspiring for the people who get the meaning behind it, which is to not live in fear that you will fail because no one ever achieved at anything unless they have failed first. In J. Alfred Prufrock’s case, he is failing to live his life to the fullest because he is scared it won’t be as good as he see’s it in his mind. I thought it was inspiring because it is teaching people what not to do, and to take chances. Don’t get stuck in an everyday routine and make something of yourself!

  35. In an attempt to understand the poem a little better, I did some research on T.S Elliot. After reading the poem and learning a little about T.S Elliot, I came to an interesting conclusion. I truly believe that J. Alfred Prufrock was a reflection of Eliot himself. Prufrock is described as an older man who has never been intimate with a woman and a man whose whole life revolves around the idea of being in love. He is also described as an man full of insecurities due to his old age, grey hair, and decreasing hair line. Interesting enough, Eliot was a 26 year old virgin at the time he wrote The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Perhaps Eliot chose to describe an older man as a metaphorical expressing of his own troubles and sexual frustrations.

  36. This Poem had me absolutely lost, so I read it again and still nothing but a guy who was or is in love but to shy to do anything about it because he has zero confidence. Going to the comments I realized that this is probably partially true but also, Prufrock know a little to much about everything. I feel like the poem talks about how people are always to afraid to do things and end up losing their opportunities. So Prufrock does end up being to shy to do anything , i think as humans we are supposed to go out and take risks, it’s in our nature. Waking up and drinking coffee every morning isn’t really an accomplishment, if you ask me.

  37. This poem serves as a mirror to society. Not only does it reflect the daily american ritual but it signifies how all of us are running out of time to do what we love. The protagonist in this poem, Alfred, is constantly reminded how he has achieved success in his life. He was able to drink coffee and get up in the morning. that enough success for him. that basically means how most of us have no ambition. How many of us are content where we are. we shouldn’t be content, we should change the world, innovate, and change the future rather than just watch time pass by.

  38. Love song gives the reader a sense of regret in Elliot. I can see the hidden metaphor in the poem of relating revision to regret. Elliot also is insecure and has had trouble with them all, but dont let that fool you because he has “known them all”. Michael Angelo is a reference to a more popular man then himself. Be aware of present decisions because they will indeed effect one’s future.

  39. This poem is a poem i really enjoyed reading i didn’t quite get its message at first but after reading it a couple of times i came to the conclusion that Alfred was a man who was so self conscious that he never dared to go out of his comfort zone to find happiness and love. I felt like he was ashamed of the person he was and in a way wanted to be like “Michelangelo”, a man desired by women. I love how this poem was very detailed in showing us what Alfred was going through and felt about himself. Towards the end of the poem i felt that Alfred had realized that his time was over he let the time pass and never did anything to change his bad luck, at that point i felt like he died a little inside.

  40. This poem follows a man named J. Alfred Prufrock who is self cautious and unsure of himself. I think that T.S. Eliot is trying to show that it is harmful for humans to feel judged by those around them. This judgment can lead to people not truly being themselves, and possibly leading to regret later in life.

  41. Do I dare disturb the universe?
    Now here is a thinker, paralyzed by knowing too much.
    A hopeless romantic, so afraid of going with the flow and fitting with the ignorant in-crowd, he’d rather drown in the waves and die a beautiful, solitary death. I love this poem. It’s so ridiculous. It’s like he knows everything there is to know about his simple life. He’s measured everything, the whole universe it seems, in teaspoons, conscious of everything even in the simplest acts. What to do? Where to begin? Do I dare eat a peach?
    Peaches are so soft…

  42. Like many others, this poem was difficult for me to understand. I feel that Alfred Prufrock wanted to engage in a more than just emotional relationship, but a physical one with the woman he loved. However he is dissuaded and insecure about his image (due from the taunting of others around him i.e. – He has a bald spot, or He is thin) So this naturally scares him and he does not have the confidence in himself to please the woman, for fear that she will not love him back. Or so I think.

  43. I didn’t get it at first, but after i read it again, it finally make a lot of sense. It is a love poem form the main chacrter for his potential lover, however he was so indecisive to make a move. He know so much about a women that he would not dare to approach them. The poem gave the read a lot of imagery that was hard to understand at first.

  44. This poem was definitely a difficult one to understand. I think Elliot is portraying a man that is scared about the choices he has to make. He knows that everyone is judging him, and it affects the way he thinks and views the world. I think this is true for our time because sometimes it would seem that people are watching us and the things we do. We all represent our character through our actions.

  45. I like the style of this poetry how it rhymes but not completely throughout the poem. This poem has a deep meaning about his love life and how he is unable to find someone to love.

  46. I had to read this poem a few times over but I believe the message is about how this man lives in despair. He’s too timid to make decisions. We should never live in fear and take advantage of every opportunity that life throws at us.

  47. This was a great poem even though it was dull. It was very encouraging and it made me think about the decisions I’ve made in my life. It made me realize that I should not reminisce about old decisions I’ve made and focus on the ones I’m going to make.

  48. Priscilla K. Cornejo

    This was another poem i read at least 5 times and still probably will keep reading it however I do find the message behind it. People seem not to understand no one is perfect and making mistakes are only life lessons. You cant live in fear you have to get up take chances and take risks this is so powerful and I love poems like these.

  49. I guess he can call it A Love Song, becasue this was his own life. It was a pattern that he lived through, but wouldnt really have a bad name for it. Maybe he is in love with fear(but not really, lovers usually tend to crawl back to their exs even though they were unfair with them because they “love” them and are used to the pattern with them and maybe he is tired of this love). He is in love with fear(not literally) becasuse he keeps on talking about being old and having alot of questions.

  50. I am still trying to figure why this is entitled a love song?
    With that said it struck me that here is an older man contemplating hesitation and regret of living with fear. The repetition of being old and past his prime and seemingly out of time. In class it was mentioned that he may have walked into the ocean and drowned himself but may he actually be walking along the beach as he contemplates nearing the end of his life?

  51. I wrote my paper on this, and when I researched more about it I found out that its not really a poem based on love but instead it was about a man who was living in a moment of despair and negativism. The poem its self was really sad.

  52. When I was writing my paper about this, I mentioned that this poem was not really a love song, but it was about and individual having a hard time finding themselves.

  53. This poem is depressing to read, however it has a strong message which states that life is too short to live with fears of making mistakes. And that part of life is to make mistakes and learned from those experiences to improve ourselves.

  54. i enjoyed reading this essay because i was able to get a strong message out of it and that’s how you know its a good poem. I am going to live every day of my life not being afraid to take chances.

  55. This poem maybe is not for this time, but is a good poem by meaning. The title is a bit misleading as “The Love Song” however the poem is really sad and makes a point of not to live in fear and be confident in your choices even if you do make mistakes. I like that I read this poem to broaden my knowledge of poetry outside of Quincy Jones.

  56. great poem and a great narrator which makes this poem so much better and exciting, I’m glad i choose to watch and listen.

  57. I wrote my thematic analysis essay on this poem and in order to do it, I read this poem about twenty times and I still don’t think that I am able to understand the whole thing. It has a very depressing tone and it kind of scares me. This man believes that he is going to amount to nothing, yet he is too afraid of looking like a fool to do anything about it. Reading this poem really opened my eyes to living every day like it is my last, to avoid ever feeling this way.

  58. I thought this poem was very interesting. It shows how we need to grab hold of the oppurtunities given to us so that we can live our lives instead of dissapearing into mediocrity.

  59. This poem was one of the beautiful poem i read. This poem is a modernistic poem in the form of a dramatic monologue.

  60. It was very hard to understand this poem but reading it twice you get a grasp of what this poem is really trying to get to. Especially hearing the poem bring the poem to life.

  61. I can feel Prufrock’s fear in this poem. His fear to make change in his life. His fear to grow old… He does not dare to challenge and just drown. He is not like a guy who is passionate and see the positive side. Lonely and scared man can find things that are gloomy and dark easily. Prufrock is surrounded by smoky evening, cheap hotel, half-deserted streets, and pools that stand in drains. And he doesn’t dare to get out of these. I could see the result of the man who does not value himself and does not believe in himself.

  62. I could not think of a more fitting person to read this poem. Anthony Hopkins does a wonderful job of bringing this poem to life and helping to add the emotion and almost quizical tone to it.

  63. I choose this poem to write about my second thematic analysis essay, so after I first read it I ended up distressed because its main focus was about despair, fear, insecurity, mediocrity, sadness, ambiguity, bareness; almost anything that is related to negativism. I almost felt depress during and after reading it. It was not what I was expecting because judging by its title, “The Love Song,” I thought that it was going to be rather a romantic and cheerful type of poem. From start to end, this poem was sad and boring. However, its premise is powerful because it raises awareness about the consequences of living with fear of taking chances and making mistakes.

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