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In Response To:

Modern and Contemporary American Poetry
Sarita Chuang
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is hardly a love song at all, despite the title. The poem consists of trivial details that create a tedious atmosphere. In fact, this poem is very ironic. Most love songs are passionate and directly addressed to the speaker¡¦s lover; however, this poem is full of icy images (¡§¡KLike a patient etherised upon a table;¡K¡¨) , and the speaker keeps talking about things that are of his own concern only.
In fact, the speaker is a very self-conscious person, and I think he is actually talking to himself, because he keeps talking about his worries in life, for example, he is afraid of getting old, but the repetition of the line, ¡§there will be time¡¨, brings out the irony. The last stanza, ¡§We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown¡¨, seems to indicate that the speaker has double identities, and the whole poem is his monologue, addressed to himself.
  Nevertheless, the poet used the juxtaposition of important themes and trivial objects to create a lag. For example, the speaker measures his life with coffee spoons; he relates the issue of growing old with wearing the bottoms of his trousers rolled. The poem can be both personal and profound. It is profound because it reflects urban life. For example, the third stanza describes the fog and smoke, which usually appear in big cities, and isn¡¦t it true that people living in big cities are often occupied with petty things and forget more important things, like the speaker here?
However, the description of the fog and smoke reminds me of the movement of a cat (¡§The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes ¡K 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.¡¨) Why does the poet describe the flow of smoke with the motion of a cat? I also noticed that the sea image keeps occurring (¡§oyster shells¡¨ in the first stanza, and ¡§I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.¡¨). Maybe the poet tries to combine the artificialness of urban life with things from nature.
The last line (¡§Till human voices wake us, and we drown¡¨) is particularly ironic, if put together with the first line of this poem (¡§Let us go then, you and I¡¨). Throughout the whole poem, the speaker repeats, ¡§Do I dare?¡¨ It seems that the speaker keeps saying he ought to do something, but actually, he never takes any action, and therefore, he never gets anywhere. Just like at the beginning, he says, ¡§let¡¦s go¡¨, but in the end, he drowns.

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