Breaking Routine in Love Song: A Terrifying Idea

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Many people experience a moment when they begin to feel as if their lives are too boring, too routine, or like they are missing out on something more exciting. This idea may be exciting for some, it may even inspire them to go out and do something spontaneous. But for others, the idea of breaking routine can be terrifying. The speaker of "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot is aware of his boring life, but is too afraid to do anything about it.

“The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” contains many repeated phrases and ideas. Prufrock frequently states daily actions in order to emphasis the routineness of their lives. "In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo" is repeated twice in the poem; the repetition of this phrase is to show how their lives are unchanging, the women he mentions are evening talking about the same thing. For three stanzas in a row Prufrock ends with a variation on the question "So how should I presume?” which shows his hesitation over time.

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One of the more notable repeated ideas is the concept of time. Prufrock frequently says that there is time “Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions." His indecision pertains to a life altering question that he is considering asking, but believes he still has time to think about. As time progresses through the poem Prufrock becomes older “I grow old...I grow old...” yet he never asks his question.

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It is clear that the progression of time, and the prevalence of the idea of time in the poem affects the meaning of the work as a whole. Without this concept being repeatedly mentioned throughout the poem the sense of regret that Prufrock has would not be as significant. As he becomes older, and after he admits he was too afraid to ask his question, Prufrock shows his regret for remaining within the confounds of his predictable life "And it would have been worth it, after all...” which leads him to die an old man filled with regret. Eliot's frequent use of allusion in his poem adds to the story as well by adding depth to the meaning.

The epigraph to this poem is a quote from Dante's Inferno. Eliot chose to quote that book in the epigraph in order to show that Prufrock's love song is not superficial; Eliot is telling the reader that it is possibly set in hell, or that Prufrock is telling us these things because he is concerned with his reputation and may never have the chance to tell anyone else these things. There is also an allusion to Lazarus, a biblical figure "I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.” Lazarus is frequently used as a reference to restoration to life, in his biblical story Lazarus returns from heaven to warn his brother about sin. In the context of the story, Prufrock is comparing asking a question to returning from the dead. Ironically, Dante is also known for being the man to return from hell to warn others about sin. Eliot is comparing Prufrock to Dante, but Prufrock is comparing himself to Lazarus. Prufrock alludes to Shakespeare's Hamlet as well, a character who is very indecisive.

However, he says that he is “not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be...” in his mind he is not an indecisive individual. He also mentions that he is “Almost, at times, the Fool.” which is one of the more accurate and honest descriptions of himself he has given throughout the poem. All of these allusions all further understanding about Prufrock's personality through more than his own eyes. He is clearly not like Dante, but also not like Lazarus, he is also similar to Hamlet although he believes he is not, and he is very foolish. Eliot's use of repetition and allusion in "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" allows the reader to understand the emphasis of the passing of time and the routinity of Prufrock's life, and more indepthly understand who Prufrock is. Prufrock was so afraid of asking a question that would have changed his usual life that he did not ask the question and lived the rest of his life regretful.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Breaking Routine in Love Song: A Terrifying Idea. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

Breaking Routine in Love Song: A Terrifying Idea essay
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