The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The use of Imagery, references and allusions in the poem the Love Song of Prufrock.

The Love Song of J. Alfred PrufrockAnswer: As a poet of modem complicated psychological environment, Eliot has expressed his views using imagery, references, and allusions of different kinds significantly. In the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, we find many suitable imageries, references and allusions that have given the poem a high stand in transcending its limitation as only a love poem to a representation of a perfect modern man i.e. every person ofnowadays. The imageries, references are mainly of two kinds; traditional and personal. Eliot has used these two kinds of-reference and imageries, which are found, scattered here and there in the poem.

Imagery is what is mostly claimed as ‘mental picture’; nowadays adding something more to the totality of elements which make up a poem. C. Day Lewis says that an image “is a picture made out of words”. Imagery is said to make poetry concrete, as opposed to abstract. There are three significant uses of imagery. It is used to signify all the objects and qualities of sense perception. Secondly, it is used to signify only descriptions of visible objects and senses. And thirdly, imagery, in current Usage, signifies figurative language, especially metaphors and similes.

Imagery, reference, and allusions go hand in hand in the Love Poem of Eliot. In the epigraph of the poem Eliot gives the reference from the serious context of Dante’s Inferno Eliot has transposed his epigraph to a modern psychological context. In the Inferno, the flame of Guido is asked to identify himself and he replies, “…none ever did return alive from this depth…..” Obviously, this relates to Prufrock and it must be an extended metaphor.

The Love Song of Prufrock is a symbolic poem that expresses the mental tension, frustration and the irresolution of the modern man. Eliot uses images and symbols in depicting the mind man. The opening lines of the poem are full of attractive imagery. We see with our imaginative eyes an evening of unusual character.

The speaker sees the evening in the aspect of anesthetization, and the metaphor of anesthetization suggests the desire for inactivity to the mind of point of enforced relief from pain. All of this simply projects the mind of the speaker that remains in conflict, but presumably concerned with love. Then we learn about the streets leading to a cheap section of town. It characterizes the argument to an overwhelming question”. The streets suggest the character of the question. The abrupt break after the mention of the question suggests an emotional block. As the poet writes:

“When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets.
To lead you to an overwhelming question ….”

Eliot has shown his mastery in using imagery with deep insight. The images are also very meaningful. When we read “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes”, we become fascinated. With the image of the fog as cat, we get another reflection of the speaker’s mental state: desire which ends in inertia. If the cat image suggests sex, it also suggests the greater desire for inactivity. The fog may also be suggestive to the dirty and unhealthy environment of city life.


To portray the inaction and indecisiveness of the speaker, the poet indicates that the speaker has already measured out his “life with coffee spoons”. This comparison of life to coffee spoons expresses the frustrated mental condition of Prufrock. In most of the cases, a modern man’s life remains unfulfilled for numerous socio-economic conditions. Here, Prufrock himself is not satisfied with his life. Wiping out all the difficulties and hardles, the speaker wants to propose his beloved. But he can’t, because he suffers from indecision. Here Prufrock says:

Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways
And how should I presume?

Prufrock never finishes his proposal. After the preamble following “Shall I say”, his psychological block sets in, and he concludes saying that he should have been “a pair of ragged claws” in“silent seas”. By these images, Eliot shows that Prufrock is not in the drawing room where he could make his proposal.

The imagery of the sea, .begun with “Oyster-shells”, again emerges at this point; it is the imagery of the suppressed self of Prufrock. The lyric note comes with the erotic imagery of the mermaids, and the hair of the waves recalls the down on the lady’s arms. This watery, floating imagery involves the relaxation of all effort, offers a sub-merged fulfillment. It is ended when “human voices wake us, and we drown”—with the intrusion of reality which drowns the inner life, the ‘us’ in Prufrock.If this is the sublimation of the amorous Prufrock.It is a release of the timid Prufrock from the polite world, which overcomes him.

On the other hand, ” Let us go and make our visit is followed by a logical inference — that of destination. But the presented in the form of an image.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The most revealing lines of the poem are;

Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?

But the observation ‘downed with high brown hair’ is no digression of Prufrock’s problem. It reveals indirection and mock-heroic tone of the poem.

There are three significant allusions in the poem- they are Lazarus, prince Hamlet, and John the Baptist Lazarus was brought back to life after his death by Christ. Prufrock says;

“I am Lazarus, come from the hell to tell you all.”

He thinks of himself as one who has been living in a dead world. He also says: “No! I am not prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”. By the allusion, the poet shows that Prufrock is not Hamlet, though indecision might suggest it, rather a cautious attendant.

Another significant literary allusion in the poem is the story John the Baptist. John was killed by Salome and his head was brought to King Herod for he condemned the king for his brother’s killing. Prufrock says that he is not like John to sacrifice for a great cause. Rather he is in (his slightly grown baldhead) crucial society where there is no other great cause to lay down the live.

The sea-imagery, hair imagery, Sartorial imagery, that of polite versus crude society, that of base sensitivity versus the protective shell, images of relaxation or concentration of effort will give the readers an imaginative cinematic view to feel the divided mentality of a person.

Connection through imagery is a notable characteristic of Eliot. Recurrent imagery may not only reiterate a theme, but provides a base for variations, or development. Imagery also helps the readers to explore the significance of the theme of the poem. Going through the poem, we see that Eliot is a master-artist in his use of imagery, reference and allusion.