I just finished annotating TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and it was a great joy. There’s no one to whom I can really vent this joy (my friends and classmates would accuse me of arrogance, my teacher would be jaded and unimpressed, my parents require too much explaining, and my brother wouldn’t be interested), so I have come here to capture this great feeling before it fades away.
I can say with confidence that many of my classmates forgo actually annotating a piece and search up texts on schmoop or other literary analysis sites dedicated to thinking for you. I didn’t use any of that (besides Googling the epigraph to find out that it came from Dante’s Inferno).
The poem is a culmination of some dreary and dry reading on existentialism (which I still don’t have a clear understanding of). I used a robin’s egg blue Uni Ball Signo dx 0.38mm to annotate, and the ink flows beautifully- it’s smooth with no skips and pools just a little when the tip lingers on the page.
When I began reading the poem I had no idea where it was going, who it was about, and how the title (“Love Song”) had anything to do with it. I couldn’t figure out why “the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo” or the repetition of “‘that is not what I mean at all.'”
The first connections I made were between the “hundred indecisions… visions and revisions,” “I am formulated,” to prepare a face.” After deciphering those references to creating a persona (a concept I’m used to seeing in literature now), I was at a loss. Had he realized his freedom as an individual and is now “afraid” of the isolation of existence? (This was probably inspired by those existentialism readings.)
A few random filler comments later, it came to me: the Love Song, “after tea and cakes and rice,” “Should I… have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” And that is why he is afraid- because he knows he “is no prophet,” and could very well be rejected should he force the crisis. He is afraid, yet he knows that he cannot back down. And all that stuff about creating a person? He was creating a persona to present to the lady, filtering his words and actions, thinking and overthinking (the bald spot?). And he resigns himself to his true self with “I am not Prince Hamlet.” However I can’t tell if the rest of the stanza refers to what he is or what he is not. Is he a fool or not?
And then, because we are in the middle of reading The Great Gatsby, I thought of Gatsby. Gatsby, who spent five years building an entire world on top of an over-the-top persona to woo Daisy, the not-so-object of his interests.
Obviously, I’m far from a complete understanding. I still don’t know what mermaids have to do with anything. And what explanation is there for the fixation on his bald spot? What does growing old have to do with anything? What about the yellow smoke, and the etherized patient? Lonely men leaning out windows? What does having “known them all already” mean?
The pride I feel is rueful, however. Is it too much, is it deserved? Maybe everyone else in the class was able to get it right away, it wasn’t exactly hard. It was just a really nice feeling. Will I be able to prove to myself later on that I really do have a better understanding of the poem? Will I be able to explain it to other people? Look at me, a hundred indecisions and visions and revisions. I guess people really are the same after all.