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. Critics are divided as to the symbolism of the yellow smog. The metaphor has in a sense been hollowed out to be replaced by a series of metonyms, and thus it stands as a rhetorical introduction to what follows.
It is never explicitly stated to be a cat, but hinted at.
"Let us go then, you and I" | Penn Libraries
Much like the cat, Prufrock is on the outside looking in at a world that has not been prepared for him. Furthermore, fragmentation is a Modernist technique, which had not since been seen before in literature, and was probably not very well received by the high circle of literary elite.
Modernist poets and writers believed that their artistry should mirror the chaotic world that they lived in; seldom is meaning, in the real world, parcelled up and handed over in whole parts. But in pieces. This is why the poem is so significantly argued over: the very fragmentation that Eliot wrote for it is the wealth of a seemingly inexhaustible source of reasonings. One can take almost any approach, any assignation of meaning, to J. Prufrock and his world. And indeed there will be time For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea.
Note again the very same process of fragmentation providing a broken-in society, a patchwork view of humanity that only serves to populate the poem with more emptiness. The sense of time, time, time, presses upon the reader, and the repetition of the world in fact makes the reader more conscious of the passing of the minutes, rather than less.
It can be therefore read as the hasty rush of daily life, that no matter how much time there is, no matter how one thinks about it, there is always going to be enough. While it also serves to remind the reader of the setting, this phrase stops the poem in mire.
Despite the fact that time is rushing in the last stanza, here time has slowed down; nothing has changed, nothing is quick. It could certainly be seen as another idea to the you-I schism.
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This line also serves to enforce the idea of keeping conversation light, airy, and without feeling. Thus, Prufrock alone seems to have feelings, thoughts; Michelangelo, here, is used as a placeholder for meaningless things. It could have been replaced with a hundred other things, and the effect would have still been the same: Prufrock is external to the conversation, external to the world, and the conversation therefore is reduced to nothing more than a word. In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
It is interesting to know that Prufrock himself is fragmented: we do not have a complete image of him, but a half-image of his morning coat, and the collar buttoned to his chin, a modest necktie, and thin arms and legs. Hillis Miller had an interesting point to make about the temporality of Prufrock, and whether or not Prufrock actually manages to make himself go somewhere. If all space has been assimilated into his mind, then spatial movement would really be movement in the same place, like a man running in a dream.
There is no way to distinguish between actual movement and imaginary movement.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
He could be anywhere, we are not told where he is. For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall Beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume? Once more, evidence of the passing of time gives us the idea that Prufrock is one of those men who drinks about sixteen coffees a day.
He convinces himself not to act on what he wants — which, presumably, is to go to the party — but to remain steadfast and distant, looking into a world that he is not part of. And I have known the eyes already, known them all— The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume? Once more, there is the fragmentation of people, the idea that everyone but Prufrock is a ghostly reimagining, the only thing that he allows himself to think of, the only important thing to Prufrock. And I have known the arms already, known them all— Arms that are braceleted and white and bare But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!
Is it perfume from a dress That makes me so digress? Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl. And should I then presume? And how should I begin? He is terrified to speak to the women he sees because he feels he will not be able to articulate his feelings well enough, he does not think that they will be interested in him, and his crippling shyness and insecurity therefore keeps him back.
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Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? Also, the description provided of the world is characteristically bleak, existing only in dusk and smoke. Prufrock reduces himself to an animal, lived-in and alone, sheltered at the bottom of the dark ocean.
T.S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: Poem & Analysis
For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall Beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume? And I have known the eyes already, known them all— The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
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And I have known the arms already, known them all— Arms that are braceleted and white and bare But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair! Is it perfume from a dress That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl. And should I then presume? And how should I begin? Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, Would it have been worth while, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it towards some overwhelming question,.
And would it have been worth it, after all, Would it have been worth while, After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets, After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor— And this, and so much more? I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
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I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me. I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown.