Looking at that famous T. S. Eliot Poem – ‘ The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ …
Lines 129 – 131
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
I think the whole poem is a dialogue by Prufrock with his own internal thoughts as he deliberates on a future confrontation in which he has to make his intentions known regards a certain lady. Something he obviously finds very demanding.
His underworld of thought is like the world below the sea. The sea is referenced through the text. He likens himself to a crab. And we have seen from the very beginning the reference to Dante and the shade underworld of the dead. This underworld even colours his view of the sky in that famous line at the start of the poem.
Prufrock has lingered below the surface within his own mind-chamber. In this chamber the sea-girls are wreathed with seaweed – the imagined girls are wreathed. A decoration for the dead perhaps and they could be considered as dead compared with the real-life women that are apparently dreaming of someone quite different. The sea-girls are wreathed in red and brown – quite a different image from the women he is about to meet. He has distorted them and the image is now removed from the beautiful singing mermaids in the previous lines.
The last line is an emergence from his underworld of thought into the world of action – human voices wake Prufrock from his internal sub-life – he has to respond, he is back in the real world – and he drowns, he dies – at least part of him dies – because he does not respond to the demands he has set-himself. And what a nice twist that he dies by drowning.
Note – Our thoughts about people are quite different from the actuality when we meet the person concerned, in fact what we rehearse is usually markedly different from the real-life transaction.
Some thoughts for discussion …
Thought … To what extent have we been ‘Prufrockian’ in life and not done what we know we should have done?
Thought … the more we rehearse the future the more we fear life and do not live or appreciate the present moment. What do you think?
Thought … To what extent do we feel overwhelmed with the trivialities of life?
Thought … There was a major comparison at the time TSE wrote the poem … the First World War and the Boston Scene … what exists today – that is for us, in a similar vein.
Thought … Do you think the word ‘defrock’ can be associated with the word prufrock – what would be your definition of this verb?
Defrock … take away the status, job, and authority of a priest or other member of the clergy, especially as a punishment for wrongdoing.
… and some more questions for consideration –
TSE started writing this poem at Harvard in 1911. It was published during the First World War. What impact did the war have on the poem? (explore the dedication)
TSE’s work is re-known for referencing other literary text … this is very much the case in this poem –
The epigraph is from Dante’s ‘Inferno’. The torture of Guido da Montefeltro in the eighth circle.
A literal translation – “If I thought that my answer were to one that could ever return to the World, this flame should quake no more; but since none ever did return from this depth, if what I hear is true, without fear of infamy I answer thee.”
Would you like your thoughts be made known to the whole wide world?
Here is a list of literary references in the poem …
Line 29 – “works and days of hands” – Hesoid
Line 52 – “voices dying with a dying fall” – Shakespeare
Line 81 – “I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed” – Matthew
Lines 82-83 – a reference to the story of John the Baptist
Line 89 – “among the porcelain” – Emily Dickinson
Line 92 – “sequenced the universe into a ball” – Marvel
Lines 94-95 – two Biblical stories concerning Lazarus
Lines 111-119 – the character of Hamlet and Polonius and the interplay between the two
Line 124 – “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each” – John Dunne
Explore these references – are they appropriate?
Do they add value to your reading of the poem?
The poem is a monologue spoken by Prufrock – but to whom?
What lines are important to you?
What does this poem say?
Which line in this poem is considered a turning point in poetic expression?
This poem is a statement of some of TSE’s themes which are explored again and again in his poetry – can you name a couple?
The full text of the poem can be found on the Poetry Foundation Website … http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/173476
The original text can also be found on the above Site … http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse/6/3#!/20570428/0
… and more analysis can be referenced from this Internet Site … http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/eliot/section1.rhtml