Quick Review: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Illustrated by Julian Peters

I liked this poem much better than I thought I would.

I think I was skeptical that I’d like it because I’ve never had a huge interest in poetry (in comparison to my interest in fiction or nonfiction, at least), and the little bit of poetry that I remember liking was usually pre-modern (John Keats, Emily Dickinson), or post-modern (Anna Akhmatova, Peter Meinke). I also was skeptical that I’d like it because T.S. Eliot is a notoriously difficult poet to understand, and my eyes tend to glaze over when I can’t make much narrative sense out of a text.

That said, I’m happy to report how much I genuinely liked the T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (4 stars out of 5, as I indicated in my Goodreads review, haha). It was beautiful and strange. I know that the surface level read tells you that it’s written from the perspective of an aging, balding man (the speaker) who is sad that he can’t get up the courage to ask a woman (any woman) out on a date. But I also read it as someone wringing their hands over deciding whether to pursue a creative endeavor. It reminded me of the hesitancy most writers I know have when it comes to writing and putting their stuff out into the world, for fear of rejection. Of course, that leads to never giving yourself a chance to succeed (or in the case of romance, never giving yourself the chance to love). Which leads to dying alone. Or perhaps worse: dying alone, unpublished.

There’s much more to the poem than this as well: there’s the form itself to think about (fragmentation), the context of the time he was writing in (World War I), the literary allusions (Hamlet!), but I’ll leave it at that since I wanted to keep this review short and sweet.

Favorite Lines

“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;
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” (28-34)
(^ See what I mean about the writing themes? “CREATE”; “REVISIONS”!)

“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?” (45-46)

“I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker” (84)


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