In our last classic poetry spotlight, we talked about Walt Whitman’s poetry collection entitled Leaves of Grass. In Leaves of Grass, we learned to celebrate ourselves and sing ourselves, and to appreciate the human body. Today, we will discuss a poem with quite a different tone: “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. “Prufrock” was first published in 1915 in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Most critics at the time found it to be outlandish, but over time, “Prufrock” came to be widely known as the poem that sparked Eliot’s career as an influential poet.
What is “Prufrock” About Anyway?
This is a question that has puzzled critics and readers for decades. It’s important to remember when reading poetry that you shouldn’t aim to uncover what the author intended the meaning to be, but in fact, you should be reading poetry to decide what meaning you take away from it. “Prufrock” is one of those poems that can be read in multiple, almost infinite ways. Overall, it can be said that Prufrock seems to be addressing his own feelings of inadequacy when it comes to speaking to a potential lover. The poem itself takes the form of a dramatic inner monologue, similar to the soliloquy in a play. It does not seem to be directed to anyone; Prufrock is merely arguing with himself over his worthiness as a person. Although it resembles free verse, there is a set rhyme scheme with frequent refrains (In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.) and reoccurring questioning (How should I presume?).
Read this short excerpt from “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” and decide for yourself what it means to you!
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 …
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.
Take a stab at writing a unique poem like “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” If you like what you write, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!