These lines present an image of calmness or stillness. “Spread out” is used to give a feeling of openness. The word etherised gives a feeling of stillness, as a patient under anesthesia, which flow’s along with the feeling of calmness that was presented in the previous line. The simile can also be connected to the later phrase :” When I am formulated, sprawling on a pin…” (line 57) which signifies Prufrock’s vulnerability.
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
This sentence creates images of shady deserted alleys. The word “certain” shows that Prufrock is aware of his destination, and he is urging his lover to follow him.
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one night cheap hotels.
In this context, retreat can mean a sanctuary or a place of hiding for Prufrock. He is perhaps running away from the harsh realities of his life. In these lines, he seeks retreat in the one night cheap hotels. The word “muttering” is used in place of e.g. “murmur” because muttering creates a feeling of shadiness and suspicion. It creates an image of spies whispering to one another in secret. This word is used in order to show how Prufrock is hiding from his outside life. The phrase “one night cheap hotels” represent a one-night stand, and it is a place where he would take a prostitute and not a respectable lady. Thus, Prufrock is currently in the company of someone of lower stature, like a prostitute.
And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells;
The conjunction “and” used in the beginning signifies that the restaurants are part of his retreat. The term “sawdust” indicates that it is a cheap and shoddy restaurant, where perhaps none of the upper class would visit. The oyster shells can be seen as an aphrodisiac. It fits into the entire notion of his retreat, as an image of a shady cheap restaurant under a deserted hotel. He could have been feeding his lover the oyster shells (aphrodisiac) in order to set her into the mood of the night ahead.
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
This phrase brings to mind the image of a long, winding, indirect road. The term “tedious argument” creates a feeling of never ending conflict and confusion. This could represent Prufrock’s path in life. The term “insidious intent” creates the sense that the streets lead to a bad or sly purpose. Thus, he is using his lady merely for his own intent.
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
Within this context, the overwhelming question is “What is it?” Prufrock’s lover is questioning his current mood. Perhaps she knows that he is being very reserved, and is not revealing everything to him. And she suspects that he is merely using her for his own reasons (sex). Prufrock does not answer her, which could signify that she had hit the truth right on the dot. Prufrock merely brushes her question away and urges her to go to the hotel with him.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo
In the beginning, the above lines do not seem to fit in with the preceding stanzas. However, upon closer interpretation, the first appearance of this stanza could be demonstrating the erotic and darker side of Michelangelo, as opposed to the next mention of it which later represents the more professional and respected side of Michelangelo. So now, instead of the women talking of someone besides Prufrock, Michelangelo is Prufrock. The room in which the women are in could be a brothel room or the cheap hotel room that he is currently in. The room could represent the place and all the women whom he have slept with before. They are talking about Michelangelo because like Prufrock, he was unmarried and had no children. T.S.Eliot used the mention of Michelangelo as he was a famous painter, and thus the reader would be able to recognize who he is.
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,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls on chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
T.S.Eliot uses the mention of a yellow fog in this stanza to represent a cat, which in this context, represents a sensual and erotic animal in its movements. Thus, this entire stanza is a sensual connotation. The yellow fog creates a sense of disgust and dirtiness, and can also be used in the context of a coward, as a coward can often be called “yellow-bellied”. Thus, in a way, Prufrock is the fog, as he is cowardly enough to use his lady through insidious intent. The corners of the evening creates an image of dark shady places, and it is the certain half-deserted streets that Prufrock led his lover through. Thus, in a way, this entire stanza represents what has just happened before in the previous few stanzas. The soot could represent the prostitute, as soot is unclean and trash like. The last lines “slipped by a terrace, made a sudden leap…” represents the act of lovemaking itself. The last line “curled once about the house, and fell asleep” represents the resolution of sex.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
In these lines, Prufrock changes his attitude into a more restrained manner. He is stating that there will be enough time for him to have sex now, and that he need not rush. It is as if he has developed a more reluctant and hesitant behaviour towards the events in his life.
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
In this line, he states that there will be a time to prepare a mask in order to meet people. This could be placed in context with Prince Hamlet, as in Hamlet, the prince had to pretend to mask himself in insanity in order to fool the people around him. Thus, Prufrock can be attempting to hide his true self ( that of vulnerability, of indecisiveness) to the people around him. And the statement of “faces that you meet” suggests that everyone else he meets also wears a mask to hide who they are.
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;
These three lines give a sense that Pufrock feels he has control over when he wants to do things. “There will be time” gives a relaxed feeling, in which nothing is rushed. The mention of the works and days of hands convey an image of the hands of a clock; thus, Prufrock is basically saying that there will be time in order to e.g. ask the question, etc.
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 toast and tea.
This stanza continues the feeling of limitless time. And here he says that there is time for him to make visions of his decisions, before the “taking of toast and tea”. That is, the final decision is made. However he actually does not possess this much control over time as he so confidently stated in this stanza and the previous three lines, because he later says “I grow old, I grow old….”(line 120).
T.S.Eliot’s presents his poem The Love Song of Alfred J.Prufrock in such a way that it captures and binds the audience’s attention throughout the entire duration of the poem. First of all, he uses a variety of lengths for his stanzas. For example, the first stanza is as long as 12 lines but the second stanza is only a mere 2 lines. This avoids a sense of repetition as it is not the same length over and over and over again.
Eliot also uses the technique of iambic pentameter in most of his lines. For example,
Of rest/less nights/ in one/night cheap /hotels
creates a rhythm rather like a drumbeat. It sets the pace for the most part of the poem, making it seem as if Prufrock is emitting a steady flow of his thoughts. This allows the reader to create an image of Prufrock as being an introvert, or a person who is more likely to think things over very carefully in his mind before saying it aloud. This can be supported by Prufrock’s claim that he is “cautious and meticulous”. He also measures out his life in coffee-spoons, which demonstrates how he is very careful and precise in his endeavor of daily events.
Also, with the use of rhyming Eliot creates a flow of Prufrock’s thoughts from one to another. For example, one of the uses of the name Michelangelo could be that Eliot wished to create a sense of a flowing motion that is more gentler on the ears, as the word “go” rhymes with “Michelangelo”. The letter M also creates a gentle peaceful sound that further contributes to the flow of that particular thought. If Eliot had chosen a different name e.g. Luigi, the effect would have been different as it creates a rather abrupt and harsh stop to the entire motion of the thought. Thus, in a sense, by Eliot’s use of rhythm and rhyme, the poem manages to develop into an entire piece of motion. Eliot also uses the remarkable tool of using the sound of certain words in order to create a specific mood in regard to a particular line or stanza. For example, the lines
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
creates a feeling of suspicion and slyness, as the “sss” sound is usually associated with a snake, which is often seen as a conniving and devious creature. In this context, Prufrock is the devious creature as he is attempting to persuade his lover to go to the one night cheap hotels with him so he could merely use her for sex as a form of retreat for him.
With the use of rhyming also creates the belief that Prufrock is of the upper class, as in the Shakespearan times, the nobility would often talk in rhyme. Hence, not only does this fit in with an image of him formally dressed with his morning coat and necktie, it also enables the audience to understand that Prufrock is of the educated and respectable class. Thus, Eliot is trying to convey that even though Prufrock is knowledgeable and educated, he is still insecure and unconfident of basically everything in his life, as shown with his lines “time for you and time for me, and yet time for a hundred indecisions…”
In this poem, Eliot uses the first point of view throughout the entire poem. An example is shown in the line “Let us go then, you and I”, where it enables the audience to immediately pay attention to the poem as it insinuates that Prufrock was inviting the reader to follow him to his destination. However, on closer inspection, the reader finds out that Prufrock was not inviting the reader, but was instead referring to his lover. By the use of 1st person, the reader is able to delve deep into the recesses of Prufrock’s mind in order to understand and sympathize with his innermost thoughts and feelings, as well as be able to see Prufrock in the way that he sees himself. For example, the reader is able to perceive Prufrock’s thoughts regarding himself in his confessions “…at times, almost ridiculous…almost, at times, the Fool.” By the use of 1st person, Eliot also manages to convey very successfully to the reader the extreme indecisiveness that Prufrock is going through, as shown in the lines “Do I dare disturb the universe?”, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?” This way, it creates a feeling that Prufrock is pleading the audience to perhaps help him discover the answers to his questions., or to help him overcome his indecisiveness.
In lines 1 to 30, the meaning and idea of the stanzas stand opposite to the rest of the poem. In these few stanzas, Prufrock conveys to us the more sensual and dirty side of him, with his urging of his lover to follow him to the one-night cheap hotels. The thoughts and phrases here such as “let us go, through half deserted streets…let us go make our visit” convey to us that he is in a rendezvous with his lover, and the mention of one night cheap hotels insinuates that she is not a lady of the respectable class.
However, although he is using the lady as a form of a retreat, he is still unsatisfied and restless with what he has. It later ties into his question of “…and when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin…then how should I begin to spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?” The image of him formulated and pinned against the wall like an insect specimen arouses the question of whether Prufrock is “restrained” and looked condescendingly down upon by perhaps a lady of a more respectable status. He is pondering the heavy task of explaining about his sleazy acts (prostitutes in one-night cheap hotels) and of the task of justifying those acts.
However, after the first 3 stanzas, Prufrock seems to change his personality from one of a sleazy restless lover to a hesitant and reluctant old man. He repeatedly states that there will be time for several things, e.g. sex (yellow fog). He also states that there is time to create a new personality for himself in order to disguise his true self from the rest of society e.g. shown in the lines “there will be time…to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…”. In short, he is procrastinating with everything in his life, and he is reluctant to step forward to do what he wants. Later throughout the poem, his extreme indecisiveness can be felt strongly through his constant question of “Do I dare?”
We know that these lines present an image of dirtiness, but it also shows desire. The metaphor of a fog-like cat to sex shows that it is an enjoyable and sensual experience, and that is the reason he goes to the prostitutes. This can be shown because later in the poems, as he shows his insecurities about his choices concerning women, he does so in a ‘clean’ and respectable environment (“toast and tea”, braceleted arms, etc). This gives us the impression that part of his insecurity of his choice would be the choice between a clean life with little sensuality, or a very unclean but sensual life. It seems that he believes that the two cannot coexist.
Later in the poem we see more superficiality, “After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me.” But here in the beginning, he describes things as very real, and very emotional, like the sensuality truly affects him in a way that the superficiality offered by cleaner women cannot.
He says “if one settling a pillow by her head Should say “That is not what I meant at all”” Now this seems to imply that what he DID mean could be sensuality in the way he had it with the prostitute, but he is afraid, that if he tries to achieve this level of sensuality with the more clean, respectable woman, they will “throw off a shawl” and tell him that that is not what they expected of him. That they did not expect him to want this level of sensuality from them.