“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Although decadence is prevalent throughout the poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot, but it also diverges from it. Decadence means the tawdry subject matter, having low morals, and being only interested in pleasure.

This poem has many portions of which Eliot uses decadence to conceptualize his story, but majorly Eliot uses Prufrock interest in pleasure. Prufrock describes his experience of what can be preceded as a one night stand, “Let us go then, you and I/ Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, /The muttering retreats/ Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels/…Streets that follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent” (1,9). It seems as though Prufrock is with someone and is interested in having pleasure with them. Also, the lines “like a patient etherized upon a table” can mean explicitly mean that they are having sex (2). The word etherize means to make numb, while in this excerpt it can directly mean about their “restless night.” While Eliot uses decadence throughout his story, he also strays from it.

Eliot diverges from decadence by Prufrock becoming interested in his future. Prufrock says, “I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;/ I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid” (83,86). This shows that Prufrock begins to think about how his future will ultimately materialize. He already precedes that his future is not going to be glorious, and frightful.













Decadence and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a poem that exemplifies the values of Victorian age Decadence. Decadence was essentially the uprooting of those Victorian values with an amoral attitude that focused on more of the sexual things that were not talked about at the time. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” embodies this because of the multitude of different sexual references and Elliot alluding to sex in many different ways. For example, Eliot writes, ” And when I am formulates, sprawling on a pin,when I am pinned and wriggling on the wall/ then how should I begin to spit out all of the butt-ends of my days and ways?” (ll. 58-59).This line to me, puts emphasis on sexual dominance of the main character over all of his lovers. This quote also indicates that the main character’s partner emphasizes the sexual act rather than the emotional relationship. This attitude is most certainly decadent because of the amoral attitude and inability to emotionally connect with one’s partner. However, what contrasts Decadence is that same idea: sexual acts were still somewhat reserved for marriage. So, Eliot is avidly describing affairs as well as sexual acts that were outside of marriage, which was still against the Decadent times. For example, Eliot writes, “In the room the women come and go” (13) and “Is it perfume from a dress that makes me so digress?” (65-66). This implies that the main character of this poem is sleeping around with many different women and is being called out by the narrator. In conclusion, Decadence is evident in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” because of the way Eliot talks so freely about sex, but contrast with Decadence because of the main character’s ability to sleep with a multitude of women.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”, contains elements that coincide with Decadence and that diverge from it. One commonality between the two can be found in Eliot’s attention to surface details. He writes, “Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;” so as to say that something as trivial as a coffee spoon is how he is counts his entire life. He says too, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” This brings importance to things that are purely surface details. We  also see sophistication of taste when Eliot writes, “Talking of Michelangelo”, “the taking of toast and tea”, “the cups, the marmalade, the tea, among the porcelain”, and “my morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, my necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.” These kind of sophisticated appearances of taste is common in Decadent writing, but I believe Eliot is using them in a much different way than, say, Wilde would. Wilde would perhaps say that taste and pleasure are more important than morality, but Eliot is using these examples of taste as a way to say that not even taste matters. We can find this when he writes, “I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter.”

Contrasting with Decadence and the sophistication of taste, however, we see Eliot write of things considered ordinary or even low-class. He writes of “sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells” and “the pools that stand in drains”. He also mocks those who speak with sophistication when he writes, “Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-” and this is purposely meant to contrast with the examples of high taste mentioned above. He, like the modern age itself, is bringing “common” life into the “sophisticated” life. This is seen heavily through the food he mentions, alluding to the modern availability of varying kinds of food to the lower classes in cheaper ways.

J. Alfred. Prufrock

T. S. Eliot includes many elements of decadence in his poem “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Decadence, a weakening of morals often as a result of indulgent activity, fills the poem through descriptions of Prufrock’s lifestyle.  Aside from the content, the poem itself represents a break from past establishments.  Eliot writes the poem in an unconventional verse and rhyme scheme.  It presents a more free style than the previous more structured forms of poetry, similar to how decadence represents a free living lifestyle compared to previous practices, especially in the Victorian age.

Moving to the content itself, decadence is evident in Prufrock’s  practices and Eliot’s word choices to describe them.  Eliot writes about “restless nights in one-night cheap hotel,” suggesting a sexual affair with either a prostitute or a sort of mistress (6).  Even if Prufrock’s partners were steady girlfriends, the traditional view on moral sexual activity is that it should be reserved for marriage.  Later in the poem, Eliot writes “there will be time to murder and a time to create” (28).  This line, followed by another “and time for” line functions mirrors a bible passage directly.  The beginning of Ecclesiastes 3 is a long anaphora with lines repeating “a time to,” including one that says “a time to kill.”  The twisting of the biblical passage shows the decadence movement through its blatant falling away from the past scripture. T.S Elion also asked the question “Do I dare/Disturb the universe” (45-46).  Decadence, associated with a more modern way of living and lifestyle, connects with this question.  Previously, religion and social norms ruled morality itself.  The question asked has a way of questioning reality itself.  As decadence is a falling away from morality as suggested by Prufrock’s sexual escapades, asking if one should disturb the universe is a similar questioning of authority by contemplating disturbing reality itself.  In a way, this new form of poetry and its blatant, shameless discussion of subject matter that would be taboo in Victorian times disturbs the universe as well.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Written by T.S. Eliot in 1915 during Modernism, we can say that in this poem, we can find some aspects of Decadence, such as the tawdry subject matter, flaunting and art for art’s sake which is a bit more related to aestheticism, but which still doesn’t imply a moral concern. In a second part, we will see that this poem, in some ways, diverge from Decadence.

First, we can say that the tawdry subject matter can be found for exemple l.6 “Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels”, so here we have a frank exemple of a bed in a cheap hotel and then not of a good quality, and Prufrock doesn’t hide himself from saying that it was a restless night. He could have used a more poetic way to say it but prefers being direct, he doesn’t beat around the bush. Then, flaunting is very present, for instance l.111 ” No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;”. Prince Hamlet being a character respecting the established rules, he obviously says that he doesn’t care about it, and states that he is even less than that l.119 “Almost, at times, the Fool.”. He’s not ashamed of being ridiculous and is proud of himself to be less than Hamlet or a prince. This is against the traditional morality. Then, we can talk about art for art’s sake since it is part of aestheticism, it gives a sophisticated tone in his poem, when he says for example twice l.14 and l.36 “Talking of Michelangelo.” or, for the ultra-refined sophistication l.88-89 “After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, / Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,”.

Then, we can also say that in some ways, it diverges from the Decadence since Prufrock wonders about a lot of things, he is afraid to make a choice, whereas Decadence is about not caring about this, the consequences of his choices and his actions. For instance, he repeats a lot of time for instance “Do I dare?” l.38, l.45 followed by “Disturb the universe?” which means that he is not quite sure about it. Or, “So how should I presume?” l.54, 61 and 69 with “begin” instead of presume. So, we can say that this is not Decadent because Prufrock actually cares about morality.

Eventually, we can say that this poem have more in common with the Decadence, and that it doesn’t really diverge from it.

Theme of Decadence in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”by T.S. Eliot

The poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” begins with strong tones of decadence but as T.S. Eliot continues, the poem shifts towards having a moral direction which does follow the theme of decadence. An aspect of decadence is writing without the intent of instructing readers how to behave correctly in society. The narrator of T.S. Eliot’s poem does not have strong morals which is evident from the start. T.S. Eliot opens “The Love Son of J. Alfred Prufrock” with an excerpt from Dante’s Inferno where Dante asks one of the damned souls in hell for his name. The soul’s response strongly suggests that Dante will spend his eternity in hell. The universal theme of hell is that it is a horrible place and the people who end up there have sinned greatly. Therefore, the main character of this poem has not made morally correct decisions in his life. He seems lost. Another example that shows the narrator has not led a moral life appears in the lines, “Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells” (Eliot 6-7). The image of a night spent in a cheap hotel and faux nice restaurants suggests a night out with a call-girl. The rest of the poem continues with a look into the narrator’s indecisiveness of embracing his immorality. For example, the lines “Is it perfume from a dress / That makes me so digress? / And should I then presume? / And how should I begin?” (Eliot 66-69), contrasted with the lines “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid” (Eliot 85-86). The lines 66-69 demonstrate that the narrator is easily tempted by a woman however he is unsure of how to proceed with his temptations. This contrasts with the next lines because he is now afraid of the outcome of his immorality. This is where the poem shifts away from a decadent tone. The narrator becomes aware that there may be consequences to his actions. This gives readers moral direction, reminding them that a life in hell awaits them if they lead a sinful life.

Decadence in T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” contains some elements of Decadence but at the same time diverges from it. One way Decadence is shown is through somewhat subtle sexual innuendos. For example, the persona speaks of “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels” and of “one…throwing off a shawl” (6, 107). Both of these phrases hint at sexual acts. Another characteristic of Decadence present in the poem is amorality, which is shown through the slightly amoral attitude of the speaker. He says that “There will be a time to murder and create,” casually mentioning the act of murder (28). Another way Eliot uses Decadence is through conveying a bit of sympathy to social outcasts. In one line, the speaker talks about “lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows” (72). He feels bad for these men and likely empathizes with their loneliness. It is clear that Decadence is a part of this poem.

However, this poem also goes against Decadence in some ways. One is that rather than outright flaunting his amoral attitude and his stance against traditional morality, the speaker is subtle, even unsure about it, as he questions himself repeatedly, “‘Do I dare?'” (38). He is also subtle about his mention of tawdry subject matter — sex does not pervade this poem, but rather it is mentioned in a subdued way only a couple of times. Though Decadence is present in the poem, it is only to a certain extent.