Both the ‘ Love Song of J . Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘ Preludes’ through vivid imagery and compelling metaphors, convey to the reader the thoughts and emotions of the author. Eliot as all Modernists through the use of distinguished themes and characteristics manipulated traditional forms of poetry and sought to project their own interpretations of society at the time. T. S Eliot makes the reader work to interpret their own reading through controversial and thought provoking poems. In the two poems Eliot portrays the same theme, in which the central image evokes a sense of desolate hopelessness and lends to his generally cynical view of civilization during this period.
A reaction of deep profound disappointment in mankind around him is made evident using his characteristics as a writer, like the use of dislocate language, paradoxes, ambiguity, change of tense and the vivid use of imagery. Characteristically Eliot uses imagery to keep the poems coherent and give them a central theme. In both poems the narrator is a speaking voice. In ‘ Prufrock’ Eliot summarises the frustration and insecurity of the modern individual and permits the reader to associate him/her self with the main character , whose heightened emotional state is expressed through rich, associative imagery expressed by the narrator.
The use of imagery being Eliot’s main characteristic to express his inner feeling of society. In Prufrock the “ soot” the “ urinous” pools as well as the evening fog are all projections of “ Prufrock’s” desire to escape the world. The imagery of the evening fog that is personified in ‘ Prufrock’ suggests some of the problems facing humans when deciding to act on their thoughts, the fog curls around the house, like a cat, the evening “ sleeps so peacefully”, “ stretched on the floor”-or, like etherised Prufrock,” malingers”. Imagery of “ streets that follow like a tedious argument;” and
“ sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells” used here are very descriptive suggesting a sense of inevitability when compared to society, giving the sense of repetition of going through the same rituals, thoughts and emotions, a constant theme throughout Eliot’s work.
Imagery is used in both poems to keep the central theme the same, that of contemplating life and the ever present repetition that society goes through, without looking on itself or asking why
“ To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.”
Eliot talks about the limitations of time on the individual in both ‘ Prufrock’ and ‘ Preludes’. The section above from ‘ Preludes’ suggests that time limits the individual to its continual cycle. Eliot’s use of dislocate imagery of a very distant description of “ one” “ thinks of all the hands” is mechanical suggesting depersonalisation and futility, “ And short square fingers stuffing pipes” “ And evening newspapers, and eyes” also reinforces his view that life is sterile, unexciting, bleak and mundane and that the present cannot escape from the past. Eliot displays images of blurred consciousness or semi-conscious objects and people.
The yellow fog, the evening that is “ like a patient etherised upon a table” and in ‘ Preludes’ “ The morning comes to consciousness ” images of blurred vision represent a theme throughout, a lack of clarity within the society at the time of writing. These images also represent the degenerated consciousness and soul of a mankind in the 20th century. In ‘ Preludes’ the transitory show of fingers, newspapers and eyes constitute the soul of the personified street, as the woman’s soul is constituted. The hidden human reality the street unveils “ As the street hardly understands” is itself neither soul nor “ conscious” and therefore represents the dilapidated condition of the modern consciousness.
Seedy retreats in ‘ Prufrock’ demonstrate the tiresome, tedious nature of city life, as characteristically the use of simile, describing the street, compares it to a “ tedious argument”:
“ Let us go, through certain half deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent”
In ‘ Preludes’ the human condition is illustrated as one of suffering:
“ The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.”
Thematically Eliot is confronting the difficulty of action rather then its unpleasantness. In ‘ Preludes’ Eliot illustrates physical inaction, as a woman struggles sluggishly to awake and prepare to get out of bed, “ You tossed a blanket from the bed, You lay upon your back, and waited” as the woman’s soul is constituted by life’s mundane “ masquerade” (a “ thousand sordid images”).
You dozed, and watched the nights revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;”
Characteristically Eliot uses further literally allusions and images as well as thwarted expectations, in order to add to the overall central theme. As character’s desires are not quenched in reality, they succumb to escapism of one form or another. Through fantasizing or day-dreaming, the individual escapes the limitations of reality, attempting to fulfil their desires and alleviate the pain of living and reality. Prufrock wished he had the freedom of “ a pair of ragged claws” that are “ scuttling across the floors of the silent seas” where there is peace on a quiet sea bed and there is no need to be purposeful. Prufrock demonstrates the freedom of his imagination contrasted with the depressing last word of “ drowning” Eliot uses to express reality. In ‘ Preludes’ the cutting juxtaposition emphasises this point:
“ And the light crept up between the shutters,
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters”
Here Eliot conveys a sense of unease, “ shutters” being the dominant word meaning a sense of being cut off, from any current or future hope, and the “ light” creeping between the gutters is used to give some future hope, only to be followed by “ sparrows in the gutters” a sordid image to thwart the expectation and bring the character back to reality.
The characters described in these two poems are passionless and unemotional, although generally conforming correctly and properly to social standards, which adds emphasis to the theme Eliot portrays in both poems, people in the society going about their lives without realising much point to their existence. After the socially acceptable conventions of “ the cups, the marmalade, the tea”, “ the porcelain” and “ some talk of you and me” Prufrock is still unable to connect to the society emotionally, which demonstrates one of Eliot’s themes of concern with the public and private self, and the contradictions between them. In ‘ Prufrock’ he suggests that people are self masking, implying that mankind’s public persona is false or empty “ To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;”
Eliot displays in ‘ Prufrock’ the superficiality and emptiness of the masks people create, in the sense that these masks need to be prepared, constructed or made up.
The division of self is a constant theme in both poems. The motive of the male observers in ‘ Prufrock’ and the constant sense of unease at one’s life in ‘ Preludes’ castigates the inert self, which cannot act or assert their will. The person of feeling can treat no one except through his physical and psychological mask: through it he is interpreted and by it he is condemned. ‘ Prufrock’ claims to have “ wept and fasted”, to be John the Baptist , an association suggested to him by the “ head brought in on the platter”, even to be Lazarus, come back from the dead.
These attempts to imagine himself as Christ-like seem for Prufrock to be less convincing. It is simply as if they are more” faces” to “ meet the faces that you meet”, the images Prufrock tests on himself before rejecting them. Eliot adds fear “ and in short I was afraid” and the recognition of failure” I do not think they will sing to me” to create pathos, and are both sympathetic and forlorn. This is used to allow us to laugh at Prufrock’s presumptions while simultaneously sympathising with his fear.
This explains the observer’s general distaste of the social activities of high society, as he finds their actions and conversations not simple pretentious but deceptive also. Summing up the characteristic human desire to avoid the limelight, to hide from interior and exterior worlds by constructing masks. The ladies “ talk of Michelangelo” in ‘ Prufrock’ which is cynically satirised and made to appear absurdly trivial and empty, as they “ come and go”, in comparison to the magnitude and greatness of Michelangelo.
The ‘ o’ itself suggests the plum-in-mouth voices, apparently endlessly discussing culture. Eliot’s poetry is that to express the speaking voice, as the lines are irregular and of different length. Eliot generally does not use rhyme regularly but uses rhythmic devices to satirize a situation, as in ‘ Prufrock’ where the rhyming couplet adds to the effect of the satire concerning the women discussing Michelangelo. Eliot conveys that the inner self is both hidden and isolated from everyone else.
Characteristically in his works Eliot uses bathos, to underline one of his themes, the idea of hopelessness and repetition in society, as in ‘ Preludes’
“ The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street”
The thwarted expectations of society are underlined, as in his language the hopes are raised and then dashed. The image of the morning, meaning hope of renewal, is undercut later in the stanza as the words become devoid of colour and a sense of repetition is portrayed through imagery. Eliot contrives to a nostalgic evocation of the past, where the meaning is that the past survives to the present, and the past is merely a repetition of rituals. Prufrock admits he is incapable of predicting the future and therefore the future is risky and uncertain:” I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter.”
The characteristic use of irony allows us to laugh at Prufrock’s presumptions while we recognise and sympathise with his fear. Prufrock claims instantly that “ there will be time” while time is seen forever to be slipping further and further away. Prufrock’s anxiety about facing problems directly are shrugged away by his insistence that there will be time
“……. time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
Either endless revising or a successive series of visions, which a minute can reverse can be established from the play on sense of “ vision” and “ revisions”, with the ironically juxtaposed prim ‘ t’ sound in the third line, suggesting an upper class society holding its nose up. In ‘ Preludes’ “ The conscience of a blackened street:” also shows the use of irony because that clearly lacks morality, as how can a “ blackened street” meaning repetitive and wasted society, which leads to nowhere, have a “ conscience”?
Eliot characteristically uses alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeic effects to intensify his descriptions. He introduces a lyrical note into Prufrock’s vision, with delicious assonance in “ By sea-girls wreathed with sea-weed red and brown” and the chambers of the sea are to be “ lingered in”, just as the fog has “ lingered” in the corners of the evening, and the afternoon, like a cat “ malingers”. In ‘ Preludes’ he uses
“ The worlds revolve like ancient women” “ Gathering fuel in vacant lots.”
Eliot uses the rhythm of the line to suggest that the world is moving, without a meaning, and no core, as well as taking a line from ‘ Murder in the Cathedral’ where women were gathering fuel outside a cathedral, expressing a circular movement, a lot of activity but not getting anywhere One of Eliot’s constant themes is expressed where the characters are riddled with uncertainty to underline his feelings of the society at the time, and portray his evocative impression of civilisation. The characters are uncertain as to how to act or feel. Eliot invokes pathos in his poems to depict the pitiful situation of mankind in the modern world. For example, pathos is employed in ‘ Preludes’
“ I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.”
Characteristically Eliot also uses death and decay throughout his poetry. A process of dying is one of the central theme’s running through Eliot’s to create a sense of inevitability. ‘ Prufrock’ begins to “ grow old”, showing physical decay and he drowns him at the end, suggesting spiritual and mental decay, whereas in ‘ Preludes’ Eliot uses
“ Assured of certain certainties” to create certainty and a sense of prostitution of people’s lives as they were seen to be assured of one thing. Cynical rebukes are used when Eliot encourages us to laugh rather than pity the human condition: “ Wipe away your hand across your mouth, and laugh”. The subjects of Eliot’s poetry suffer from defeated idealism, torturing their desires and view of reality. Typically of Eliot many of the subjects look back at an ancient glorified golden age, which is a topic for idealism, and contrast it with an image of the decaying modern world. The references to Michelangelo represent the greatness of the past and when contrasted with the modern world make it appear trivial and banal.
Prufrock is a tragic satire, as the character is unable to achieve his goal through to his own inability, which is an overview of society, saying it could as well be about anybody. This image is prefigured by the epigraph, in which Guido is trapped within a wall of flame. Preludes is written in associative logic, which takes the readers on a journey through the mind and senses of his observers, having given us his view of the human condition in a modern world.
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