The Love Song
Of J. Alfred Prufrock
A Poem by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Study Guide
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Explanation of Title
Type of Work
The Speaker/Narrator
Translation of the Epigraph
Text With Explanations
Use of Repetition
Figures of Speech
Year of Publication
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Explanation of the Title

.......T. S. Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) originally entitled this poem "Prufrock Among the Women." He changed the title to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" before publishing the poem in Poetry magazine in 1915. 

Love Song
.......The words "Love Song" seem apt, for one of the definitions of love song is narrative poem. And, of course, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a narrative, presenting a moment in the life of the title character. It is also a poem. In addition, the work has characteristics of most love songs, such as repetition (or refrain), rhyme, and rhythm. It also focuses on the womanly love that eludes Prufrock.
Origin of the Name Prufrock
.......Eliot took the last name of the title character from a sign advertising the William Prufrock furniture company, a business in Eliot's hometown, St. Louis, while he was growing up. The initial J. and name Alfred are inventions, probably mimicking the way Eliot occasionally signed his name as a young adult: T. Stearns Eliot
Type of Work: Dramatic Monologue

......."The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a modernistic poem in the form of a dramatic monologue. A dramatic monologue presents a moment in which a narrator/speaker discusses a topic and, in so doing, reveals his personal feelings to a listener. Only the narrator, talkshence the term monologue, meaning "single (mono) discourse (logue)." During his discourse, the speaker intentionally and unintentionally reveals information about himself. The main focus of a dramatic monologue is this personal information, not the speaker's topic. Therefore, a dramatic monologue is a type of character study.


.......Eliot published "Prufrock" in Poetry magazine in 1915 and then in a collection of his poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917.

The Speaker/Narrator

.......The poem centers on a balding, insecure middle-aged man. He expresses his thoughts about the dull, uneventful, mediocre life he leads as a result of his feelings of inadequacy and his fear of making decisions. Unable to seize opportunities or take risks (especially with women), he lives in a world that is the same today as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow as it is today. He does try to make progress, but his timidity and fear of failure inhibit him from taking action. 


.......The action takes place in the evening in a bleak section of a smoky city. This city is probably St. Louis, where Eliot (1888-1965) grew up. But it could also be London, to which Eliot moved in 1914. However, Eliot probably intended the setting to be any city anywhere. 


J. Alfred Prufrock: The speaker/narrator, a timid, overcautious middle-aged man. He escorts his silent listener through streets in a shabby part of a city, past cheap hotels and restaurants, to a social gathering where women he would like to meet are conversing. However, he is hesitant to take part in the activity for fear of making a fool of himself. 
The Listener: An unidentified companion of Prufrock. The listener could also be Prufrock's inner self, one that prods him but fails to move him to action. 
The Women: Women at a social gathering. Prufrock would like to meet one of them but worries that she will look down on him. 
The Lonely Men in Shirtsleeves: Leaning out of their windows, they smoke pipes. They are like Prufrock in that they look upon a scene but do not become part of it. The smoke from their pipes helps form the haze over the city, the haze that serves as a metaphor for a timid catwhich is Prufrock.


Loneliness and Alienation: Prufrock is a pathetic man whose anxieties and obsessions have isolated him. 
Indecision: Prufrock resists making decisions for fear that their outcomes will turn out wrong. 
Inadequacy: Prufrock continually worries that he will make a fool of himself and that people will ridicule him for his clothes, his bald spot, and his overall physical appearance. 
Pessimism: Prufrock sees only the negative side of his own life and the lives of others.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
By T. S. Eliot

With Stanza Summaries, Annotations, and Explanations of Allusions

S'io credesse che mia riposta 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.
Translation: If I thought my answer were to one who could return to the world, I would not reply, but as none ever did return alive from this depth, without fear of infamy I answer thee. The words are spoken by Count Guido da Montefeltro, a damned soul in the Eighth Circle of Hell in Dante's Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto 27, lines 61-66.) 
Translator and Quotation Source: G.B. Harrison et al., eds. Major British Writers. Shorter ed. New York: Harcourt. 1967, page 1015.
Comment: Eliot opens "The Love Song" with this quotation from Dante's epic poem to suggest that Prufrock, like Count Guido, is in hell. But Prufrock is in a hell on earth—a hell in the form of a modern, impersonal city with smoky skies. The quotation also points out that Prufrock, again like Count Guido, can present his feelings "without fear of infamy."
Let us go then, you and I, 
When the evening is spread out against the sky 
Like a patient etherised upon a table; 
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, 
The muttering retreats         5 
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.
Summary, Interpretation: The speaker invites the listener to walk with him into the streets on an evening that resembles a patient, anesthetized with ether, lying on the table of a hospital operating room. (Until recent times, physicians used ethera liquid obtained by combining sulfuric acid and ethyl alcohol—to render patients unconscious before an operation.) The imagery suggests that the evening is lifeless and listless. The speaker and the listener will walk through lonely streets—the business day has ended—past cheap hotels and restaurants with sawdust on the floors. (Sawdust was used to absorb spilled beverages and food, making it easy to sweep up at the end of the day.) The shabby establishments will remind the speaker of his own shortcomings, their images remaining in his mind as he walks on. They will then prod the listener to ask the speaker a question about the speaker's lifeperhaps why he visits these seedy haunts, which are symbols of his life, and why he has not acted to better himself or to take a wife. 
Allusion, overwhelming question (line 10): Eliot appears to have borrowed this phrase from James Fenimore Cooper's 1823 novel, The Pioneers, one of five novels that make up The Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841), about life on the frontier in early America. When he was a youth, Eliot read and enjoyed The Pioneers. In the novel, one of the characters, Benjamin, asks a series of questions ending with the "overwhelming question."  Following is the passage:
    .......“Did’ee ever see a British ship, Master Kirby? an English line-of-battle ship, boy? Where did’ee ever fall in with a regular built vessel, with starn-post and cutwater, gar board-streak and plank-shear, gangways, and hatchways, and waterways, quarter-deck, and forecastle, ay, and flush-deck?—tell me that, man, if you can; where away did’ee ever fall in with a full-rigged, regular-built, necked vessel?” 
    .......The whole company were a good deal astounded with this overwhelming question, and even Richard afterward remarked that it “was a thousand pities that Benjamin could not read, or he must have made a valuable officer to the British marine.
In the room the women come and go 
Talking of Michelangelo.
Summary, Interpretation: At a social gathering in a room, women discuss the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo. Prufrock may wonder how they could possibly be interested in him when they are discussing someone as illustrious as Michelango.
Allusion, The Women . . . Michelangelo (lines 13-14): Eliot borrowed most of this line from the Uruguayan-born French poet Jules LaForgue (1860-1887). In one of his works, LaForgue wrote (in French): Dans la piece les femmes vont et viennent / En parlant des maîtresde Sienne. Here is the loose translation: In the room the women go and come while speaking of the Siennese (painting) masters.
Michelangelo: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), Renaissance sculptor, painter, and architect and one of the greatest artists in history. He sculpted the famous David for the Duomo Cathedral in Florence, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, and designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, also in Vatican City. 
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,         15 
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.
Summary, Interpretation: Smoky haze spreads across the city. The haze is like a quiet, timid cat padding to and fro, rubbing its head on objects, licking its tongue, and curling up to sleep after allowing soot to fall upon it. The speaker resembles the cat as he looks into windows or into "the room," trying to decide whether to enter and become part of the activity. Eventually, he curls up in the safety and security of his own soft armsalone, separate. What this stanza means is that Prufrock feels inferior and is unable to act decisively. He consigns himself to corners, as a timid person might at a dance; stands idly by doing nothing, as does a stagnant pool; and becomes the brunt of ridicule or condescension (the soot that falls on him). 
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, 
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;         25 
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.
Summary, Interpretation: There's no hurry, though, the speaker tells himself. There will be time to decide and then to acttime to put on the right face and demeanor to meet people. There will be time to kill and time to act; in fact, there will be time to do many things. There will even be time to think about doing thingstime to dream and then revise those dreamsbefore sitting down with a woman to take toast and tea. 
Allusion, there will be time (line 23): This phrase alludes to the opening line of "To His Coy Mistress," by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678): "Had we but world enough, and time." In Marvell's poem, the speaker/persona urges his beloved not to be coy but instead to seize the momentto take advantage of youth and "sport us while we may." Prufrock, of course, continually postpones even meeting a woman, saying "There will be time." 
face (line 27): affectation; façade.
Allusion, works and days (line 29): Works and Days is a long poem by Hesiod, a Greek writer who lived in the 700's B.C. "Works" refers to farm labor and "Days" to periods of the year for performing certain agricultural chores. The poem, addressed to Hesiod's brother, was intended to instruct readers, stressing the importance of hard work and right living and condemning moral decay.
In the room the women come and go         35 
Talking of Michelangelo.
Summary, Interpretation: The women are still coming and going, still talking of Michelangelo, suggesting that life is repetitive and dull.
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         45 
Disturb the universe? 
In a minute there is time 
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. 
Summary, Interpretation: Prufrock says there will be time to wonder whether he dares to approach a woman. He feels like turning back. After all, he has a bald spot, thinning hair, and thin arms and legs. Moreover, he has doubts about the acceptability of his clothing. What will people think of him? Does he dare to approach a woman? He will think about it and make a decision, then reverse the decision. 
simple pin (line 43): Pin inserted through the tie and shirt to hold the tie in place.
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?
Summary, Interpretation: Prufrock realizes that the people here are the same as the people he has met many times beforethe same, uninteresting people in the same uninteresting world. They all even sound the same. So why should he do anything? 
Evenings, Mornings, Afternoons: This phrase, as well as others focusing on time, refers obliquely to the philosophy of Henri Bergson (1859-1941), author of a revolutionary and highly influential work, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. In this work, he argued that the mind perceives time as a continuous process, a continuous flow, rather than as a series of measurable units as tracked by a clock or a calendar or by scientific calculation. It is not a succession, with one unit following another, but a duration in which present and past are equally real. Ordinarily, we think of a day as consisting of morning, evening, and afternoonin that order. But, since time is a continuous flow to Prufrock, it is just as correct to think of a day as consisting of morning, afternoon, and evening as a single unit. 
Allusion, dying fall (line 52): Phrase borrowed from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Duke Orsino speaks it in line 4 of Act I, Scene I. Here is the passage in which the phrase appears:
    If music be the food of love, play on;
    Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
    The appetite may sicken, and so die.
    That strain again! it had a dying fall:
    O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
    That breathes upon a bank of violets,
    Stealing and giving odour!
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—         55 
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?
Summary, Interpretation: He has seen their gazes before, many timesgazes that form an opinion of him, treating him like a butterfly or another insect pinned into place in a display. How will he be able to explain himself to themthe ordinariness, the mediocrity, of his life? 
fix (line 56): Evaluate.
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!] 
It is perfume from a dress         65 
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?
Summary, Interpretation: Yes, he has known women like these before, wearing jewelry but really bare, lacking substance. Why is he thinking about them? Perhaps it is the smell of a woman's perfume. 
Arms that lie along table (line 67): This phrase echoes line 3.
should I then presume? (line 68): This clause repeats words in lines 54 and 68.
how should I begin? (line 69): This clause repeats words in line 59.
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.
Summary, Interpretation: Will he tell a woman that he came through narrow streets, where lonely men (like Prufrock) lean out of windows watching life go by but not taking part in it? He should have been nothing more than crab claws in the depths of the silent ocean. 
smoke that rises from the pipes (line 71): The smoke becomes part of the haze.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!       75
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 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,         85 
And in short, I was afraid.
Summary, Interpretation: The time passes peacefully. It is as if the afternoon/evening is sleeping or simply wasting time, stretched out on the floor. Should the speaker sit down with someone and have dessertshould he take a chance, make an acquaintance, live? Oh, he has suffered; he has even imagined his head being brought in on a platter, like the head of John the Baptist. Of course, unlike John, he is no prophet. He has seen his opportunities pass and even seen death up close, holding his coat, snickering. He has been afraid. 
evening . . . floor (lines 75-78): This metaphor/personification echoes the simile in lines 2 and 3.
cakes (line 79): Cakes or cookies.
ices (line 79): Ice cream.
Allusion, head brought in upon a platter (line 82): Phrase associated with John the Baptist, Jewish prophet of the First Century AD who urged people to reform their lives and who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. John denounced Herod Antipas (4 BC-AD 39), the Roman-appointed ruler of Galilee and Perea, for violating the law of Moses by marrying Herodias, the divorced wife of his half-brother, Philip. (Herod Antipas and Philip were sons of Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea.) In retaliation, Herod Antipas imprisoned John but was afraid to kill him because of his popularity with the people. Salome, the daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, danced at a birthday party for Herod Antipas. Her performance was so enthralling that Herod said she could have any reward of her choice. Prompted by Herodias, who was outraged by John the Baptist's condemnation of her marriage, Salome asked for the head of the Baptist on a platter. Because he did not want to go back on his word, Herod fulfilled her request. John was a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Accounts of his activities appear in the Bible in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and in the Acts of the Apostles.
prophet (line 83): Another allusion to John the Baptist.
Footman (line 85): Servant in a uniform who opens doors, waits on tables, helps people into carriages. The footman is a symbol of death; he helps a person into the afterlife.
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”—         95 
If one, settling a pillow by her head, 
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all. 
  That is not it, at all.”
Summary, Interpretation: Would it have been worth it for the speaker while drinking tea to try to make a connection with one of the women? Would it have been worth it to arise from his lifeless life and dare to engage in conversation with a woman, only to have her criticize him or reject him. 
porcelain (line 89): glassware or hard, brittle people 
Allusion, To have squeezed the universe into a ball (line 92): This phrase is another allusion to Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress." (Click here to see the previous comment on Marvell's poem.) In the last stanza of that poem, the speaker/persona says, " Let us roll all our strength and all / Our sweetness up into one ball." In Eliot's poem, the speaker asks whether it would have been worth it to do the same thing with a woman of his choosing.
Allusion, Lazarus (line 94): Name of two New Testament figures: (1) Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Martha and Mary. Jesus raised him from the dead (Gospel of John, Chapter 11: Verses 18, 30, 32, 38); (2) Lazarus, a leprous beggar (Gospel of Luke, Chapter 16: Verses 19-31). When Lazarus died, he was taken into heaven. When a rich man named Dives died, he went to hell. He requested that Lazarus be returned to earth to warn his brothers about the horror of hell, but his request was denied.
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:         105 
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.”
Summary, Interpretation: Would it have been worth it, considering all the times he would be with the woman at sunset or with her in a dooryard? Would it have been worth it after all the mornings or evenings when workmen sprinkled the streets (see sprinkled streets, below), after all the novels he would discuss with her over tea, after all the times he heard the drag of her skirt along the floor, after so many other occasions? Would it have been worth it if, after plumping a pillow or throwing off her shawl, she turned casually toward a window and told him that he was mistaken about her intentions toward him? 
sprinkled streets (line 101): This may be a reference to the practice of wetting dirt streets with oil or water to control dust.
magic lantern (line 105): Early type of slide projector. The magic lantern (also called sciopticon) projected an image from a glass plate.
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,         115 
Politic, cautious, and meticulous; 
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; 
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— 
Almost, at times, the Fool.
Summary, Interpretation: Prufrock and Hamlet (the protagonist of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark) are both indecisive. But Prufrock lacks the majesty and charisma of Hamlet. Therefore, he fancies himself as Polonius, the busybody lord chamberlain in Shakespeare's play.
Allusion, Prince Hamlet (line 112): Hamlet, the protagonist of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, famous for his hesitancy and indecision while plotting to avenge the murder of his father, King Hamlet, by the king's brother, Claudius. Prufrock is like young Hamlet in that the latter is also indecisive. However, Prufrock decides not to compare himself with Hamlet, who is charismatic and even majestic in spite of his shortcomings. Instead, Prufrock compares himself with an unimpressive character in the Shakespeare play, an attendant lord, Polonius. (See next entry.) 
Allusion, attendant lord (line 113): Polonius, the lord chamberlain in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Polonius, a bootlicking advisor to the new king, Claudius, sometimes uses a whole paragraph of important-sounding words to say what most other people could say in a simple declarative sentence. His pedantry makes him look foolish at times. Prufrock, of course, is worried that the words he speaks will make him look foolish, too. 
Allusion, progress (line 114): In the time of a Shakespeare, a journey that a king or queen of England made with his or her entourage,
Allusion, high sentence: The high-flown, pretentious language of Polonius (See Allusion, attendant lord, just above.)
Allusion, Fool (line 119): Eliot capitalizes this word, suggesting that it refers to a court jester (also called a fool) in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. There is no living fool in Hamlet, but there is a dead one, Yorick. In a famous scene in the play, two men are digging the grave of Ophelia when they unearth the skull of Yorick while Hamlet is present. Picking it up, Hamlet says, 
    Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
    of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
    borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
    abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
    it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
    not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
    gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
    that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
    now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
In the courts of England in Shakespeare's time, a fool was a comic figure with a quick tongue who entertained the king, the queen, and their guests. He was allowed to—and even expected to—criticize anyone at court. Many fools were dwarfs or cripples, their odd appearance enhancing their appeal and, according to prevailing beliefs, bringing good luck to the court.
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 that they will sing to me.         125 
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.
Summary, Interpretation: The speaker realizes that time is passing and that he is growing old. However, like other men going through a middle-age crisis, he considers changing his hairstyle and clothes. Like Odysseus in the Odyssey, he has heard the song of the sirens. However, they are not singing to him. 
wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled (line 121): look youthful and jaunty.
Allusion, mermaids (line 124): In Homer's Odyssey, sea nymphs who sit on a shore and sing a song so alluring that it attracts all passing sailors who hear it. Then the sailors sit on the shore, transfixed by the song, until they die. But Odysseus plugs the ears of his men with wax, so that they are unable to hear, after ordering them to tie him to a mast. Thus, as they pass the island, Odysseus himself hears the song but cannot go ashore, though he wants to, because he cannot break free of his bonds.
......."The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a modernistic poem that expresses the thoughts of the title character via the following:
Conversational Language Combined With the Stylized Language of Poetry. For example, the poem opens straightforwardly with "Let us go then, you and I." It then presents a bizarre personification/simile with end rhyme (lines 2 and 3), comparing the evening to an anesthetized hospital patient. End rhyme continues throughout most of the poem, as does the use of striking figures of speech. The figures of speech generally refer in some way to Prufrock. The anesthetized hospital patient, for example, represents the indecisiveness of Prufrock. The yellow fog and yellow smoke of lines 15 and 16 are compared in succeeding lines to a timid cat, which represents the timidity of Prufrock. 
Variations in Line Length and Meter. Some lines contain only three words. Others contain as many as fourteen. The meter also varies.
Shifts in the Train of Thought: The train of thought sometimes shifts abruptly, without transition, apparently in imitation of the way the human mind works when it dreams or daydreams or reacts to an external stimulus. 
Shifts in Topics Under Discussion: The subject under discussion sometimes shifts abruptly, from trifling matters one momentPrufrock's bald spot, for example, or the length of his trousersto time and the universe the next. 
Shifts From Abstract to Concrete (and Universal to Particular): The poem frequently toggles between (1) the abstract or universal and (2) the concrete or specific. Examples of abstract language are muttering retreats (line 5) and tedious argument of insidious intent (lines 8-9). Examples of phrases or clauses with universal nouns are the muttering retreats and the women come and go. Examples of concrete language are oyster-shells (line 7) and soot (line 19). Examples of particular (specific) language are Michelangelo (line 14) and October (line 21).
Shifts From Obvious Allusions or References to Oblique Allusions or References: Prufrock quotes, paraphrases, or cites historical or fictional persons, places, things, or ideas. Some of his references are easy to fathom. For example, everyone with a modicum of education knows who Michelangelo was (line 14). Other references are difficult to fathom. For example, few readers realize that To Have Squeezed the Universe into a Ball (line 92) is a variation of a line written by poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). In his use of allusions, Eliot apparently wanted to show that Prufrock was well read and retained bits and pieces of what he read in his memory, like all of us. .
Use of Repetition 

.......Eliot repeats certain words and phrases several or many times, apparently to suggest the repetition and monotony in Prufrock's life. Notice, for example, how often he begins a line with And20 times. He also repeats other words as well as phrases and clauses, including the following: 

    Let us go
    In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo
    There will be time
    Do I dare
    Should I presume
    I have known
    Would it have been worth it
Figures of Speech: Examples From the Poem

Simile: Lines 2-3

    When the evening is spread out against the sky 
    Like a patient etherised upon a table
    (Prufrock uses like to compare the evening to a patient)
Personifications, Simile: Lines 8-9
    Streets that follow like a tedious argument 
    Of insidious intent
    (Personification 1: Streets become persons because they follow. Personification 2: An argument becomes a person because it has insidious intent. Simile: Use of like to compare streets to an argument) 
Metaphor: Lines 15-22
    Yellow fog and yellow smoke are both compared to a living creature. It is obvious that the creature is a cat. (It licks its tongue, leaps, and curls up.) /
Metaphor: Line 51
    I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
    (Life is compared to coffee.) 
    Lines 20-21: Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, 
    And seeing that it was a soft October night, 

    Line 34: Before the taking of a toast and tea 
    Line 56: fix you in a formulated phrase) 
    Line 58: When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall 

Metaphor: Line 58
    When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall
    (Prufrock compares himself to an insect preserved for display in a collection)
Personification/Metaphor: Line 75
    And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
    (Personification: The evening is a sleeping person; Metaphor: The evening is compared to a person.) 
Anaphora (Lines 91-94)
    Tohave 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
    (For a definition of anaphora, see Literary Terms.)
Hyperbole and Metaphor: Lines 92-93
    To have squeezed the universe into a ball 
    To roll it toward some overwhelming question
    (Hyperbole and Metaphor: The universe becomes a ball that is rolled.) 
Study Questions and Essay Topics
  • Are such vapors as yellow fog and yellow smoke (lines 15-16) apt metaphors for a cat? 
  • Does the month of the year, October (line 21), mean that the speaker is running out of time to make something of his life or to find the right woman? 
  • Prufrock says he sees lonely men leaning out of windows? How does Prufrock know they are lonely? Is it possible that he misinterprets their state of mind?
  • T.S. Eliot believed that readers should interpret a poem without attempting to link it to the life of the author or to cultural or social conditions at the time the author wrote the poem. In other words, a poem should stand on its own. Write an argumentative essay that defends or opposes Eliot's position. Include in your essay opinions of other authors, as well as literary critics, on this subject. 
  • Do you believe Prufrock suffers from a psychological affliction, such as paranoia, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder? Explain your answer. 
  • Write an essay that attempts to fathom Prufrock's psyche.