The Prominent Role Of Fragmentation In T.S. Eliot’s "Love Song"
One of the most known examples of modern literature is the first published work of T.S.Eliot. ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is considered the shift from romanticism to modernism and the beginning of a new era of writers. Eliot was inspired a lot by the work of the French Symbolists like Baudelaire and Laforgue who contributed a great deal to the style Eliot used in his early stages of writing. The Symbolists though are not the only inspiration. Eliot was also affected by the changes in the world and the huge shift from the Victorian era to a new unknown world full of confusion and ruins. The modern world is always a muse when it comes to his writing. What is truly amazing though when it comes to Eliot is how Eliot did “modernize himself” as Ezra Pound famously said and not only that but also offered a lot of self-made innovations.
This poem could be considered as the exploration of the wounded soul of the new era/modern man. Eliot writes about the everyday man of his own time, a man who has to adjust to a new strange world full of confusion and ruins. What Eliot tries to do is not simply show the mental side of a person, but also bring to light the mentality of his own time. The poem portrays a man that is at the same time well-read and articulated but also full of neuroses and emotional pretentiousness. At the first reading of the poem, Prufrock, the poem’s speaker seems to address a possible love interest with whom he wants to pursue a relationship. The problem is that our speaker has too much knowledge of the world to even dare to go up to this woman and simply express his love. What is very obvious when it comes to Prufrock is how much the voices of others influence his life. He doesn’t dare to come near to his love because of the bad opinion he thinks that people have of him and they consume him to such an extent that in the end these “human voices wake him and he drowns”.
The most important part of the poem though is the shifts that Eliot makes throughout the poem. One of the techniques that characterize Eliot is the use of fragmentation and this poem has quite a lot of them. By the use of fragments, we understand the inability of the character to stay at a particular point in time. He always moves from the sky to the street to a party until he reaches his final destination at the bottom of the ocean. From the tangible images like the city and the few inside spaces, we end with the unclear image of the ocean. This journey from place to place we can say that it ends with the character’s understanding that he is not a hero or a prince and intensifies his emotional separation from the rest of the world.
What I will try to do in this paper is to show you how much impact fragmentation has in this poem and how it works with the other major themes of the poem naming love, indecision, hell, and time. So let us go you and I and see the huge impact that fragmentation has in this work. Starting with fragmentation itself it’s obvious that it completely monopolizes the poem. There is not even one stanza without the use of fragmentation. Every stanza is a new fragment of Prufrock’s life that has no connection with the previous or the next.
Fragmentation doesn’t stop there though. The rhyme scheme that Eliot chose is a very good example of fragmentation as well. We talk about a fragmented scheme. In the beginning, the poem introduces us to an easy form with rhymed lines at least until line 12 “Let us go and make our visit.” From then on all hell breaks loose. Either he will write lines that have no rhyming scheme or opt for lines that may have a rhyming scheme but a completely fragmented one. What we can say is that the rhyming is always dynamic and constantly developing.
Even the protagonist of the poem, Prufrock, is the epitome of fragmentation itself. Prufrock is full of fragmental characteristics. We see that even though a side of him wants to disturb his universe, wants to escape this hellish life that he is living, his other part doesn’t dare to take a stand and fight for what he desires. He wants to be brave but he doesn’t manage to do it and at the same time he is feeling so defeated because of his inability. Prufrock is a fragment himself. He believes that he is a fragment of the society that simply doesn’t fit but at the same time longs to be a fitting fragment. He is feeling so ashamed and saddened that he can’t keep going with his life feeling satisfied talking about Michelangelo like the women do. He tries to conform to society though by having the same routine and wearing the same clothes as the upper-class people. He mentions that in quite many lines like in line 42 “My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin” and in line 43 “My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin”. Also, more proof of his fragmented personality can be traced in the use of many different voices inside the poem. Not only his thinking is greatly fragmented since we only get glimpses of his everyday life but we are not even presented with a single voice. Prufrock is not one voice but an ensemble of voices, a choir of fragmented voices. We see flashes of Dante, biblical allusions, Shakespeare, and other past poets. Prufrock is a fragment, but even his voice is a fragment of many other voices that become such part of him that we are unable to deduce where the other voices end and Prufrock begins. The most intriguing fact, when it comes to fragmentation though, is when Prufrock observes the lives of others and makes a startling discovery. He is not the only fragment every single person is a fragment like him. The whole society is composed of millions of friendless, confused, solitary people, of millions of fragments. Noone fits and this is given to us with some very beautiful lines. On lines 71 and 72 the poet writes “And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes” and line 72 continues with “Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows”. The poem may be a puzzle of fragmented scenes coming together but even the characters and most importantly Prufrock play the role of the fragments as well.
Moving deeper into things we should see how fragmentation works with the other themes of the poem. We will begin with the theme of Hell since this is what Eliot does as well. The poem starts with an epigraph, this epigraph is a six-line quotation from Canto 27 written by Dante Alighieri. These lines are said by Guido a man that has done so many unspeakable atrocities during the war that now is punished in the eighth circle of Hell. So it’s quite fair to say that a poem that is about love according to its title doesn’t live up to its expectations. We can say that this fragmentation works as a warning of what is going to come next. So after we are transferred to hell itself with this little encouraging opening we have another example of fragmentation where we shift from hell to a hellish kind of city. We will be going to experience hell but this time on earth. Eliot through Prufrock invites us to visit his city and needless to say hell seems better than the image Prufrock paints. Not only do we have fragmentation with the shift of different images but even the devilish city that our lonely character lives in is fragmented. This can be spotted in line 8 when he talks about the city streets “Streets that follow like a tedious argument”.
The theme of hell we can say that it goes hand in hand because every scene of his life that is described is complete torture for him. Prufrock is a weighted-down soul that may be alive but behaves like he is dead and this life that he is experiencing is his punishment. The penalty for the sins that he has committed throughout his life. The most notable example of the connection between
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