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.

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One thought on “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

  1. I agree with your analysis that there are elements that both coincide and clash with Decadence in this poem. I found it interesting that the narrator refers to himself as “almost ridiculous- / Almost, at times, the Fool,” (118-119) which you mentioned in your post. He seems to have a sophisticated taste only because it is what was expected of him in society, and he is well aware that he is putting on a facade by partaking in these sophisticated things. He says “there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet … Before the taking of a toast and tea” (26-27, 34). This stuck out to me because it seems to allude to preparing a false image of oneself before engaging with others who have a sophisticated taste. He then goes on to describe himself turning back on the stairs “With a bald spot in the middle of [his] hair” (40) and how his company “will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!'” (41). The narrator knows that these people with sophisticated taste whom he spends time with will judge him on any lack of sophistication he shows. I think that this is a very interesting take on the Decadence movement as a whole. The Decadence movement was focused on giving a voice to those who felt like the Victorian society was too close-minded and judgmental, and therefore rejected to moral norms of that time period. T.S Eliot seems to be, in a way, commenting on the hypocrisy of these people, because they have turned into a close-minded and judgmental group towards those who are not viewed as “sophisticated” by them.

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