The poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by Thomas Sterns Eliot is full of imagery that is used by the writer to create a specific atmosphere and affect a reader. The work introduces a speaker who is full of various fears and feels miserable and useless. The given voice can be considered one of the distinctive features of the poetry at that period. However, in the poem, the author manages to create the desired effect and modality with the help of specific approaches. By employing multiple metaphors and allusions linked to devastation, destruction, ugliness, and tiredness, Eliot manages to depict Prufrock as a man who is not able to resist the fear of age, corruption, and death.
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Reading the poem, readers firstly see the speaker introducing the idea of sickness and age. In lines, he makes a comparison “When the evening is spread out against the sky/ Like a patient etherized upon a table,” which sets a tone for the whole poem (Elliot 2-3). Instead of comparing the sky with something attractive and beautiful, as many poets do, Eliot uses the idea of a patient who can feel nothing because of the ether. The given image helps to understand the current emotional state of the patient, or speaker, who feels nothing because of hard thoughts or emotions that affect him at the moment. The sky is not attractive for him because of the inability to notice the beauty that surrounds Prufrock.
The emotional tone created by the first symbol is supported by the next lines. Describing a city, the speaker does not use bright colors or attractive comparisons. On the contrary, he notices only ugly, unpleasant, or even repelling objects that also reflect his mood. There are “one-night cheap hotels” and “half-deserted streets” that also contribute to the creation of the image of decadence (Eliot 6, 4). The imagery of an ugly city helps the speaker to convey his mood and show readers that the world is not attractive anymore because of multiple problems that affect him at the moment. Being supported with the idea of disease and patient introduced by previous lines, the given symbols develop the motif of hopelessness and depression.
To make the effect stronger, the speaker uses specific colors to depict the overall mood of the city and of the whole poem “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes” (Eliot 15-16).
Yellow is a color that has multiple meanings that depend on the context. However, it is usually associated with illness, weakness, dullness, depression, and bad mood. For this reason, Elliot selects the symbols of yellow fog and yellow smoke that cover the city, penetrate all corners and houses, and leave no place for some pleasant feelings and joy. It becomes one of the strong elements that are used to create a specific voice of the poem and convey the main message to readers.
In such a way, the poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock has some specific examples of imagery that emphasize the idea of devastation, destruction, corruption, and tiredness. Yellow fog and smoke, an ugly city with empty streets, and a sky that is compared to a patient establish a depressive mood show the absence of any other emotions, and emphasize the fear of death and age peculiar to the speaker.
Eliot, Thomas. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” PoetryFoundation. Web.
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