Prufrock, the narrator of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” invites other poets on a journey with him through him poem. The epigraph of the poem is a conversation, from Dante’s Inferno, in which Count Guido tells Dante that he will reveal his secrets to him only because he believes that Dante will never return to earth. This concept mirrors Prufrock’s intent because he only wants to share the meaning of his poem with other poets. Only poets, such as himself, are able to understand the pain and suffering that he goes through in writing a poem. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” represents the testimony of a failed artist because Prufrock fails to complete the themes of his poem.
Prufrock attempts to make his poem embody the carpe diem motif, but he becomes ineffective to develop this idea as a them in his poem. Prufrock states that “indeed there will be time” (I.23), to answer the opening line of “To His Coy Mistress,” “had we but world enough, and time” (I.1). Prufrock attempts to reaffirm the carpe diem idea of “To His Coy Mistress” and make it a theme in his poem. Prufrock claims he will have time “to murder and create” the poem he is writing (I.28). Time will be no boundary to any literary effort that he may have. This idea of seizing the day occurs in many poems, and Prufrock attempts to give his insight on this theme. However, Prufrock proceeds to mention that there will be “time yet for a hundred indecisions,/ And for a hundred visions and revisions” (II.32-33). This statement does not live up to the idea of the carpe diem theme. By writing those lines, Prufrock ignores the present and looks toward the future. He feels that he does not have to worry about the present to write his poem because there is so much time in the future for him to accomplish his poem. The thematic failure represents his ineptitude as an artist because he cannot create a poem as intended and thus made it incomplete.
Prufrock attempts to make his poem a “love song” but he fails to promote this theme in his effort. The title of the poem suggests that it will be a poem about the love that Prufrock feels for the women who “come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo” (II.13-14). These lines suggest that Prufrock constantly concerns himself with the women that he sees at the tea parties. He tries to make his poem into a song that he will sing to them so he can woo these women. Prufrock establishes how he knows all these women and their “arms that are braceleted and white and bare” (I.63). This line shows that Prufrock only stares at them sensuously but never approaches them. He never talks to these women to tell them of his adventures “through the narrow streets” because he believed they would laugh at him (I.70). These are women of a superficial society who would not care about his experiences in the “real world.” The poem will become the representation of the love for these women and allow him to overcome his fear towards these women. However, Prufrock does not “have the strength to force the moment to its crisis” and tell the women the passion he has for them (I.80). He writes, “I do not think that they will sing to me,” which becomes his reason for not revealing his love song to them. By not singing his “love song,” Prufrock fails to express himself through his poem, which makes him a failed artist.
Prufrock falls short in his attempt to make his poem into a social criticism because he never completes his stance on this idea. One of the main themes of the poem is the scorn that Prufrock feels for the society in which he lives. Prufrock criticizes the superficiality of the society because “‘they will say: how his hair is growing thin!’” (I.41). This society does not care about the inner character but only outer appearance. The society is worthless because Prufrock feels he has “measured out” his “life with coffee spoons” (I.51). As a part of this society he feels that he has not done anything meaningful in his life. All he does is go to the tea parties and partake in the useless conversation. At this point, Prufrock tries to construct his poem into a criticism of the upper class society. However, Prufrock is not a profound artist who could complete his poem as a declaration of social criticism. Prufrock claims, “I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter” (I.83). With this statement and the preceding lines, Prufrock alludes to the fact that he is not John the Baptist who died trying to make the people change their ways. Prufrock feels that he does not have the ability to make his poem an eye-awakening manifesto to society. Unlike John the Baptist, he does not have the power to use his words to change the people. This idea makes Prufrock feel that his social criticism is “no great matter” and he should not continue with this theme. He is not “an attendant lord who will… start a scene or two” (II.112-113). Prufrock fails to complete his poem as a social criticism when he realizes his inadequacies as a poet.
Prufrock falters in his attempt to develop his poem into one that expounds upon the nature of the universe. One of the main questions that he has in the poem is whether he should “‘disturb the universe’” (I.46). As a poet, Prufrock has the ability to declare his notion of the meaning of the universe and life. He can make bold statements about the nature of time, love, and society; but, he does not make them. Unlike other poets who have an idea of what they attempt to accomplish, Prufrock thinks “it is impossible to say just what I mean” (I.104). He perceives his inadequacy in capturing his thoughts, which makes him realize that, as a poet, he is a failure. Prufrock mocks his idea of disturbing the universe by asking, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” (I.122). This statement shows his futility as a failed artist because he knows that he cannot disturb the universe. He considers his initial question as meaningful as whether he should question to eat a peach. Prufrock recognizes his failure, which makes him conclude the poem by writing, “till human voices wake us, and we drown” (I.131). To Prufrock, it is better to drown his ideas than to continue in his worthless endeavor, because his poem contains no meaning. Prufrock betrays his ability as an artist because he does not come to any conclusions in his themes that would “disturb the universe.”
Prufrock tells of his failed artistry in his “love song” because he is incompetent in his capability to complete any of the themes that he set out to accomplish. The true genius of T. S. Eliot can only be seen in this ironic way. Eliot created a poem in which the narrator is unsuccessful in writing his poem, but in creating “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot writes a successful poem with meaning. The intent of the poem was to show other poets that the meaning of poems come from the language. Eliot’s poem was the first poet of the modern movement because it focused on the language of the poem and not the other elements. This focus made for his criticism of past literature movements because he saw all other parts of literature as subservient to the language. Eliot invites other poets to join the narrator of his poem so they can see the fault in their past styles.