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Just a Glimpse at T.S. Eliot and Alfred J. Prufrock

Written by: Leo Larry Amadore

Just a Glimpse at T.S. Eliot and J. Alfred Prufrock

More than any other contemporary, Thomas Stearns Eliot influenced poetry on both sides of the Atlantic.  A naturalized Englishman who was born in St. Louis, Missouri, September 26, 1888, he came of New England stock.

He was educated at Harvard (of which a distant relative, Charles W. Eliot, was president) and concluded his studies at the Sorbonne and Oxford.  In his mid-twenties he settled in London, taught at a boy’s school, worked in a bank, became an assistant editor and, in his infrequent leisure periods, wrote poetry and critical essays.

His first collection created a small sensation.  Prufrock,  published in 1917, was immediately hailed as a new manner in English literature and belittled as an echo of Laforgue and the French symbolists to whom Eliot was indebted.  The subject matter was strange; the technique puzzling; the style – alternately sonorous and discordant, elaborately obscure and conversationally simple – was harshly criticized and widely imitated.  The unprepared reader may have been shocked, but he was shocked awake.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was written while Eliot was still an undergraduate at Harvard.  One of his first, and still one of his most famous poems, it is a highly allusive picture of decadence against the background of a sterile society.  Concentrating upon moments of intensity, omitting all but the most vital commentary, Eliot portrays a tired world through the eyes of an ultrafastidious and futile dilettante.  The title sets the mood for the poem with its contrast between the alluring “Love Song” and the unromantic business signature  “J. Alfred Prufrock.”

The opening lines of "Prufrock" grasp the reader's attention ("Let us go then, you and I, while the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table....") in a way few others ever have. Eliot and his poetry are well worth study and emulation.