Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
- There’s still plenty of time to do all the important things Prufrock wants to do, except now he’s second-guessing himself.
- The setting gets more specific, too. We might imagine him standing outside the upstairs room his "love" is in. He paces back and forth and tries to decide whether to ask his big question. "Do I dare?" he wonders. But no, he doesn’t dare. He turns around and heads back downstairs.
- Of course, Prufrock doesn’t exactly describe this scene to us: he’s much too tricky for that. Instead, he poses it as a hypothetical situation – "Well, if I wanted to chicken out and not ask my question, there’s plenty of time for that, so what’s the big deal?"
- Sure there's time, Prufrock, sure there is.
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
- Now he’s going to describe his appearance, and the first thing we learn is he has a big bald spot. He’s probably a middle-aged man, or at least close to it.
- Also, he seems worried about what people will say about him and his bald spot and his thin arms and legs.
- His only attractive features, funny enough, are his clothes. He has a nice coat and necktie, which he wears according to the fashion of the time. He’s not a trend-setter, though, he’s a trend-follower.
- As for "they," we don’t know who "they" are, but according to Prufrock, they’re a gossipy bunch – and not so nice.
- Prufrock’s concern about what other people think might make us suspicious. Back to the Epigraph we go!
- Recall that Guido da Montefeltro was also worried about his reputation, even though it didn’t matter because he was already in hell.
- Prufrock, too, seems to have nothing to lose by asking his question – it’s not like we were in love with the guy already. To the contrary, he seems like kind of a coward. But now, on top of cowardice, he also seems superficial.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
- Prufrock doesn’t want to rock the boat or "disturb the universe." That would involve taking a risk, and risks aren’t Prufrock’s thing.
- But he still insists (again) that he has plenty of time. Truth be told, he’s starting to sound pretty kooky, like a broken record.
- Even though he hasn’t done anything in the poem yet, he insists that everything could change "in a minute" – if only he could make a decision.
- But things can also change back again in another "minute," once he "revises" the decision he made. Kind of like when he was about to enter the room to tell his love something, and then went back down the stairs.
- But, Prufrock, doesn’t that just leave you where you started?