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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T.S. Eliot

Eating and Drinking

Symbol Analysis

Have you ever seen one of those PBS shows or period films where British people sit around and sip tea and eat finger foods? "Prufrock" offers a parody of this easy-going tradition, as Prufrock thinks constantly about what he has just eaten, what’s he’s about to eat, or what he may or may not eat in the future. Especially tea. He’s a total caffeine junky, which may explain why he seems to talk so much. It’s one of those small daily pleasures he just can’t live without.

  • Line 7: Most of the food and drinks in this poem sound nice, but not the oysters at this low-class restaurant. There’s even sawdust on the floor to soak up all the spilled drinks.
  • Line 34: Prufrock has big plans to accomplish before "toast and tea" in the afternoon.
  • Line 51: In this famous metaphor, Prufrock says that the spoons he uses to measure his coffee are like a "measure" of his life, as well. Here the spoon is a synecdoche that actually refers to the whole process of sitting around in the afternoon and sipping on a nice, hot, caffeinated drink. Essentially, he lives from one cup of coffee or tea to the next.
  • Line 81: It’s very ironic for Prufrock to claim he has fasted, considering that we know how much toast and marmalade he likes to eat. What nerve!
  • Lines 89-90: The cups, marmalade, tea, and porcelain all refer, once again, to Prufrock’s favorite pastime. Did somebody say "tea time!"
  • Line 91: It seems that Prufrock has trouble thinking of anything except eating. Here he discusses "the matter" of his big question using the metaphor of taking a bite.
  • Line 122: Before Prufrock was wondering whether he "dared" to ask his question. Now that the opportunity has slipped by him, he has other important things to worry about: such as whether to eat a peach. (Just eat the darned thing, man).

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