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The Modernity in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’

Manabendra Gogoi
Written by Manabendra Gogoi. Posted in English Language on 21 August 2011.
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                  Where there is quality, there is Modernity. Modern mind is full of uncertainty and disbelief. It believes only in what is really real. Modern Age as well as literature is one of interrogation. They do not have any steadfast ideal to support and enlighten life, society and individual. Thomas Stearns Eliot, the brilliant critic, playwright, editor and one of the most powerful modern poets, without any doubt, bears this characteristic. When any one wants to taste Modern Poetry, he must begin with Eliot. Because, Modern poetry was born out of the revolt against Romanticism and Eliot himself remarks Romanticism as a sickness.
                 ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’ which is Eliot’s first remarkable poem, was published in his poetical volume ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ (1917). This poem is completely different from the conventional poetry of that age i.e. 19th century, and it definitely shows a new beginning. John Berryman, an American poet declares that Modernist Poetry begins in the simile ‘like a patient etherized upon a table’. Even if we look at its very title, we found a contrast between the romance off the term ‘Love Song’ and the highly unromantic, formal name ‘J.Alfred Prufrock’. This is an irony and a beautiful technique of Eliot that he gives us the idea that he is going to tell us a love story. But, actually it is a love song which is never sung. Eliot found this technique of juxtaposition from the French Symbolist poets Jules Laforgue and Charles Baudelaire.
                  In this poem, Eliot portrays the barrenness and dullness of modern urban civilization. Here he uses some powerful urban images like ‘yellow-fog’, ‘half deserted streets’, ‘restless nights’, etc. His own description is itself also very realistic and fitted in an urban setting.
                 ‘I grow old...I grow old...
                 I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.’
‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’ is the inner cry and mental trauma of a modern man, who is uncertain, disillusioned and unable to attain any spiritual standards. He represents the emptiness of not only him but also the whole barren age. His hesitation is the hesitation of the age (‘Do I dare?’). In a word, Prufrock is everyman here. Eliot uses the technique of ‘de-doublement’ which means the two levels of consciousness.
               ‘ Let us go then, you and I,
                 When the evening is spread out against the sky’
Here ‘I’ is not the first person but the third person as ‘I’ represents to Prufrock not Eliot, the poet. Eliot divides the self into two different parts, one keeps thinking and another observes and acts. Thus ‘I’ and ‘You’ are different levels of consciousness here.
                 Eliot uses some shocking images to measure life like ‘coffee spoons’, ‘butt ends’, ‘platter’, etc. A strong level of serious element is found in this poem. Modern poetry has this deep seriousness of matters. Wilfred Owen, W.H. Auden, Thomas Hardy and this never ending list express this seriousness in various manners. But, Eliot stands at the pivotal position of this nature of seriousness of Modern English Poetry. We may find his poetry strange in nature but the seriousness of thought and feeling and the artistic quality will spellbound us to rank him as an innovator of Modernism in English Poetry.


Manabendra Gogoi

Author: Manabendra Gogoi

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