NAME: Laura Murray
COURSE: Culture, Media and Society
MODULE: Cities: Real and Imagined
ASSIGNMENT TITLE: Critical response: T.S. Eliot – ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’
At first glance of the five and a half page long ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, I felt slightly disconcerted. I had never really analysed a poem of such significance before and was uncertain of my ability to do so. The hyperlinked webpage given on WebCT to assist the reading of the poem and point out Eliot’s numerous allusions to other literary works had its uses; however, I found myself using alternate web-based resources to further enhance my understanding of the text. Out of all of the readings for this module that I have encountered thus far, I can honestly say that I found the poetry of T.S. Eliot the most difficult to analyse. It was not that I found the language unfamiliar; I was not constantly flicking through my dictionary. The problem arose in deconstructing and analysing the poem and trying to identify the connotations, metaphors and similes associated with the city.
Despite there being a few clearly visible metaphors and similes throughout the poem which helped enhance the description and imagery of the street scenes and atmosphere – ‘the yellow fog’ and ‘the yellow smoke’ making obvious allusions to the impact of consumption and pollution in such a concentrated urban environment – I was at first a little confused by the odd mention of the sea. Upon reflection of the poem as a whole however, I now believe that these seafaring references – ‘scuttling across the floors of silent seas’ and ‘I have heard the mermaids singing’ – are intended as a comparison of tranquillity and purity against the corruption and industrialised nature of the city. I also think that within these seaside metaphors we can see the romantic side of T.S. Eliot, which brings to life the ‘Love Song’ of the title, whilst the rest of the poem leaves the title to be questioned.
On a more pessimistic note, the overall impression of the city in the poem brings to mind thoughts of nocturnal depression and revulsion: an ominous, lifeless, ‘etherised’ place. Eliot’s city strikes me as a very dirty, corrupt and polluted landscape. He successfully turns a typical dark, October night into something which reminds me of a scene from a sinister Hieronymus Bosch painting, which helps us to understand Eliot’s citation of Dante’s The Inferno in the introduction to the poem. Eliot carries this off effectively by using metaphors and similes throughout the poem, which indicate the menacing perception of the city: ‘streets that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent’. Again, we can see the connotations of the city with hell: it cannot be escaped from once entered. Dead-end meandering narrow streets leave us more lost than when we began, trapping us in a grungy hold which we cannot hope to escape. Although I can sympathise with Eliot’s perception of the city, his own positioning has led him to present this substantially negative approach to the city, ignoring all the beauty which it also holds.