Among the works of existentialist literature, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S Eliot is one of my favorites. Written in 1910, it is a reflection of the inner torment in Prufrock’s mind. Eliot was influenced by French symbolism which reflects in this poem. He was also inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Bible and Dante Alighieri. It was first published in 1915 in an issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. This poem is a paradigm of modernism. Modernism is best described in the words of Herbert Read - “The modern poet has no essential alliance with regular schemes of any sorts. He reserves the right to adapt his rhythm to his mood, to modulate his metre as he progresses. Far from seeking freedom and irresponsibility (implied by the unfortunate term free verse) he seeks a stricter discipline of exact concord of thought and feeling.”
His mind is in a conflict because he cannot make up his mind to approach the woman he fancies. To him, the world seems alienated and he is angst-ridden and cynical; being middle-aged and socially awkward, he wonders if he should – “ask the overwhelming question (the existential question of approaching the woman)’. This poem is a monologue; however the first stanza appears as if it were a dialogue between two people. It is also a reflection of urbanity and superficiality.
Read the poem here.
(Article by Kabita Sonowal)