Imagination, literary conventions, and recognition of specific poetic devices can introduce even the most novices of poetic readers to a level of comprehension that might have been overlooked in casual reading. Most tend to read through a poem without putting much thought into the details and the purpose of those details being placed as they are. Although not always intentional; authors use certain literary conventions and poetic devices to draw the reader in so that they too may envision what was in the author’s mind at the time they wrote the poem. The rest is up to the reader.
How much imagination one contributes to the poem is infinitely unrestricted. The study of poetry has and will always be a valuable part of history; especially when dealing with an emotion as universal as love. Interpretation “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot takes the reader on a depressing, timid, overcautious, middle-aged man. It could be said that he is afraid of his own shadow. Eliot begins the poem with a short excerpt from Dante’s epic poem; “Divine Comedy;” to suggest that Prufrock, like Count Guido is in hell. This is an example of allusion.
While Count Guido is in the Eighth Circle of Hell; Prufrock is in a hell on earth. Like Count Guido; Prufrock can present his feelings “without fear of infamy. ” This comparison is how Eliot uses literary allusion to put the text in a new context under which it assumes new meanings and denotations. They are both in hell because they have both committed sins; however Prufrock’s sins are errors of omission, inaction, hesitation, inadequacy, and lack of self-assertiveness. Eliot shows us how truly unhappy he is with himself; to the point that he believes he deserves a spot in hell.
This opening already paints a bleak view on what’s to come. The tone is heavy with melancholy and great uncertainty. There are several themes that can be deduced from this reading. There is definitely a sense of loneliness and alienation. Prufrock is depicted as a pathetic man whose anxieties and obsessions have isolated him from the rest of the world. One can also say the theme is indecision; because of how Prufrock shys away from decisions for fear of a negative outcome. Prufrock also shows his inadequacies while constantly worrying that he will be perceived as a fool and people will ridicule him for his clothing.
Pessimism is his worst downfall. He can only see the negative in his own life and the world around him; and with that we are lead further into Prufrock’s torturous moment in time. Literary Devices and Poetic Devices The setting takes place in the evening. Prufrock is in a desolate part of a polluted city walking alone. The buildings are decrepit and full of discards of happier times. Everyone is gone and the businesses that were once alive and thriving now seem to be haunted. The haunted businesses can be thought of a symbol of Prufrock’s life.
Although he never was able to attend a happy affair at one of these businesses; he speaks as if he is haunted as well; which gives of the imagery of a ghost town. Perhaps it is because he never had the courage to try and be a part of the festive times? The pollution and trash in the city gives insight on how Prufrock feels about himself. He thinks he is left over trash and unwanted. We are also able to feel what it is he is experiencing as he is walking. He is headed to a social gathering where he would like to meet a woman but he is afraid he will be looked down upon.
Prufrock is the narrator in this poem and begins by saying, “Let us go then, you and I. ” (Eliot, 1915/2011 p. 199) Then in the following two lines we see how Eliot uses simile to compare the evening to a patient. “When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table. ” (Eliot, 1915/2011 p. 199) Eliot also makes extensive use of metaphors throughout the poem. “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. ” (Eliot, 1915/2011 p. 00)
In lines 15-22, the yellow fog and smoke are both being compared to a cat; it licks its tongue, leaps, and rubs against things. Then again in line 51; Prufrock says, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. ” Prufrock is comparing his life to coffee. Another metaphor used in line 58 says, “When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall. ” He is comparing himself to an insect preserved and placed on display for all to see. (Eliot, 1915/2011 p. 201) Repetition is also used numerous times throughout this poem. Eliot begins lines with the word, “And,” twenty times.
This is exemplifies Prufrock’s monotonous life. He also says “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,” and “Would it have been worth it;” repeatedly. (Eliot, 1915/2011 pp. 199-202) There are several variations in line length and meter as well. There are some lines with only three words, whereas others have as many as fourteen. The meters seem to end with the shifting of thoughts. Prufrock’s train of thought shifts several times as if to imitate how the human mind works when responding to external stimulus.
There are also several shifts in topics. Prufrock goes from petty matters; such as his bald spot and the length of his pants; to time and the universe. He also goes between abstract and concrete language. For instance in line 5 he says, “muttering retreats;” then in line 8-9 he says, “tedious argument of insidious intent. ” (Eliot, 1915/2011 p. 199) Some concrete examples are from lines 7 and 19; “oyster-shells,” “soot. ” (Eliot, 1915/2011 p. 199, 200) Conclusion To read a poem with no imagery would not do either the poet or the reader justice.
Imagery is essential in conveying what the author sees in his/her mind. Poetry in itself is already a condensed form of literature requiring detailed scrutiny. The ability to “see” with our minds is a learned skill. We must evaluate and analyze the words and how the author arranged them so that one can put the mental image together. These images will always be different for each individual reading. Words on paper are processed into pictures in our minds which create a whole stage in which to watch the events of the poem unfold before us. It is a play on the set of our minds…
Courtney from Study Moose
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