The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
by T. S. Eliot
A poem, in the form of a dramatic monologue, first published in 1915.
A middle-aged man, who feels caught in a petty, ineffectual existence, tries to muster the courage to ask a fateful question but ultimately fails to do so.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.1
Let us go then, you and I,2
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
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
To lead you to an overwhelming question3 . . .
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,--
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
1 From Dante's Inferno, Canto 27, Trans. James Finn Cotter; web edition Charles Franco:
If I thought my answer were given
to anyone who would ever return to the world,
this flame would stand still without moving any further.
But since never from this abyss
has anyone ever returned alive, if what I hear is true,
without fear of infamy I answer you.
2 The I of Eliot's first line is the reader, a confidant to whom Prufrock will divulge a secret.
3 an overwhelming question A marriage proposal perhaps.
PORTRAIT: T. S. Eliot by Lady Ottoline Morrell (1923).
CITATION INFORMATION (in MLA format): Eliot, T. S. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Gleeditions, 17 Apr. 2011, www.gleeditions.com/alfredprufrock/students/pages.asp?lid=303&pg=7. Originally published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, June 1915, pp. 130-135.