The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - Realism in Diction, Versification and Subject Matter
Modern poetry is poetry of revolt against tradition in terms of diction, versification and subject matter. This is to be seen both in the form and content of poetry. Increasingly the poet turns away from the decadent romantic tradition; a tradition which still persisted in Georgian poetry. The squalor and dinginess of modern urban civilization is reflected everywhere in the poetry of T. S. Eliot. After the World War, realism in subject matter has led the modern poet to reject the highly ornate and artificial poetic style of the Romantics in favour of a language which resembles closely the language of everyday life. Modern poetry is characterized by the use of colloquial diction, speech rhythms and prosaic words. This realism in diction, versification and subject matter is a marked feature of the poetry of Eliot.
Eliot uses different images in his poems to express the predicament of man. The opening lines of the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” provides us with an image of a patient lying stretched upon a table under anaesthesia. This image suggests an operation of a patient. We can focus on the dilemma of the protagonist Prufrock through this image. The image of fog reminds us of an urban atmosphere filled with dirt, smoke, and soot. The poet’s consciousness of the grim realities of life has shattered all illusions and Romantic dreams.
The images of the opening lines depict a drab neighborhood of cheap hotels and restaurants, where Prufrock lives in solitary gloom. In line 12 he suggests making a visit, and immediately his mind calls up an image of the place he and the reader will go-- perhaps an afternoon tea at which various women drop in and engage in polite chitchat about Michelangelo, who was a man of great creative energy, unlike Prufrock.
The next stanza creates an image of the dull, damp autumn evening when the tea party will take place. In the rest of the poem Prufrock imagines his arrival, his attempt to converse intimately with the woman whose love he seeks, and his ultimate failure to make her understand him. Prufrock has attended such parties many times and knows how it will be, and this knowledge makes him hesitate out of fear that any attempt to push beyond mere polite conversation, to make some claim on the woman's affections, will meet with a frustratingly polite refusal.
The new poetry with Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’ was trying to find a way to express the complexities of the modern world and the perplexities of modern life in language which should be at once natural and flexible. Death, gloom, trance, a complete lack of vitality, by all these the poet conveys exactly the atmosphere of futility and indecision of a sordid reality. Here he is adapting the symbolist practice of communicating indirectly by means of metaphor and symbol, by a suggestive association of ideas. Eliot has sustained better the correspondence between symbol and reality. Even in his symbols and imagery, he is influenced by science and modern thinking, for example images like - “Like a patient etherised upon a table,”
For many readers in the 1920s, Prufrock seemed to epitomize the frustration and impotence of the modern individual. He seemed to represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment. Such phrases as "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons" (line 51) capture the sense of the unheroic nature of life in the twentieth century. Prufrock's weaknesses could be mocked, but he is a pathetic figure, not grand enough to be tragic.
“Prufrock” is an experiment with new verse forms and poetic technique. The use of slang and colloquialism has become common. The language and rhythm of the poem approximate more and more to those of common speech, the bonds of meter have loosened, and there is the use of free verse. No rules of rhyme or meter are followed, stresses vary according to emotion. Symbols, often personal in nature are used in abundance. These entire features make the poem realistic and untraditional.