Study Guide

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Manipulation

By T.S. Eliot

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S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo. (epigraph)

Yes, we feel bad about using a quote in Italian, but if it makes you feel better, we’ll give the translation: "If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy." This is Guido da Montefeltro speaking to the poet Dante Alighieri in Hell (go back to the Detailed Summary if you need more info). The quote basically shows that Guido is only talking about himself because he thinks no one will find out. It shows us he’s pretty much a manipulative toad, which should raise our suspicions about the poem that follows.

Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit. (lines 8-12)

Even the streets are trying to mislead us. They have an "insidious intent," which means they are wind all over the place and will likely make us lost…A lot like the poem. Come to think of it, all of Prufrock’s arguments are fairly "tedious," too. You could change the word "streets" to "verses" and it would perfectly fit this "love song."

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair – (lines 37-40)

You’d think that Prufrock was narrating something that actually happened here, or that is actually happening: he wants to go tell someone something, but he chickens out and runs for the exit. But by putting the line, "And indeed there will be time" in front of this little story, he turns it into a hypothetical situation, one that may or may not have happened. This is one of the places we learn not to trust this guy.

For I have known them all already, known them all: –
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; (lines 49-51)

When he says he has "known them all," he wants us to think that he’s an old hand at life. Been there, done that. He doesn’t need new or exciting experiences, because he has had them already. But what exactly is he claiming to have done? Lived through different times of day with the help of a lot of caffeine? Any exhausted student cramming for an exam can tell you what’s that’s like – and it’s hardly the time of your life.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. (lines 120-121)

He’s starting to run out of steam at this point. He’s like an actor who has to stay on stage even after the play ends. But that’s not going to stop him for convincing us that he’s "The Decider!" He even makes big decisions like rolling his pant-legs. Sounds like a super-hero to us.

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