The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


I have loved this poem for such a long time.

And it is a long poem so I appologize in advance but it's very much worth the read.
 < I had the text in here but realized that A. It's not maintaining any of the line breaks when I save the project and B. I should annotate a printed copy of the poem which will contain the text anyway. So I'll be inserting that shortly. Here's a link to the poem for the moment: http://www.bartleby.com/198/1.html >

The problem with such a long poem (and maybe I shoud have picked something simpler or with a clearer topic. Oh well. ) is that there's maybe too much imagery and too many concepts to draw from.
I've chewed on it through various English classes and discussed it at length with my sister (who also loves it) So I guess I have to comb through it and pick out some of the most evocative stuff from which to build a cover image/idea.
I found A LOT of people who had Prufrock inspired tattoos. Mostly text ones of the line "Do I dare disturb the universe?" or "I've measured out my life in coffee spoons"
Here are some other covers and illustrations based on the poem that I found while scouring the internets.

*********************************TEXT WITH NOTES



So I've had lots of thoughts on this poem over the years and went and read some analysis from different sources to see if there were other insights out there about the intircacies of the poem.

The poem begins with a quote from Dante's Inferno and is what one of the hell-bound says to our protagonist when he asks why he ended up in hell. Basically it boils down to "If I thought anyone of the living would ever hear my story I would keep my mouth shut but since you won't be returning to the living (since no one ever leaves hell) there's no risk that anyone will learn of my infamy so I'll tell you.

My take on the poem is this. It is about a man who trapped in a hell of his own making—his indecisiveness, cowardice, risk-averision, and over-thinking misses (or has already missed) his opportunity to make a clear declaration of love (maybe a commitment of any kind) and is going through a downward spiral of self-loathing, self-doubt and justification of his paralysis.

It seems to me that he has already invested himself in one particular relationship. Taking tea, reading novels, going to social events with the object of his affections but is afraid that he has read her wrong and that her rejection of him is inevitable.

With so much water imagery his hell is the opposite of a fiery pit that consumes but rather a watery death that extinguishes.

Here are some other notes I jotted down:

There's a ton of imagery to potentially use so it's a challenge to distill down the one(s) that will capture the most essential themes and feelings from the poem.

The image of the patient etherized upon a table is really powerful but I don't think it conveys his torment or the object of his meanderings.

I started to hone in on the images that suggest scrutiny, exposure and humiliation like the pinned bug

"And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,"

and I wanted to tie that back to the stylishly subtle pin in his tie:

"My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin"
And then there was his view of himself putting on a face to greet the outside world—basically calling himself a phony and a fraud. And that we're inside hi head for the duration of the poem so maybe seeing behind the mask was a worthy concept.
So here are some of my sketches relating to that:

But then I liked the coffee spoons that marked the passing of his mundane life and how that related to how small he had made his world that he's parceling out his time by spoonfuls.
And I felt like the ocean imagery is this weird metaphorical undercurrent and that the idea that he's dousing his flame—keeping his passion from burning too bright or even from being revealed at all—that I could do something with water or drowning.
Those sketches are in there too.

There were a few final images that I thought were really powerful signifiers like the eyes that are scritinizing, judging him and discarding him.
Or the mermaids that hold all these other connotations of luring men to their doom, feminine beauty and vanity, and possibly bestowing favors or gifts. So I thought of a mermaid who's turned away from the viewer since they are not singing to him (maybe not deeming him relvant or worthy to lure)
So I have more whittling of ideas and imagery ahead of me but I'd rather start with too many ideas than too few I guess.


So started pulling images and trying some of the ideas I was sketching. I also wanted to try putting the opening stanza that quotes Dante's Inferno on the cover to separate it from the narrative of the poem and to introduce the idea of a confession from the damned.


So the first image I found that I liked was of an extinguished match and I really loved how dark it was and how unromantic—making it a nice contrast to the idea of a "lovesong."

I kept the fonts very understated and tasteful (like Prufrock himself) and I wanted the quote to contrast—more flowing and scripty—to signify that the poem was beginning here and that it was different information than the title and author.



So after that I went digging for a period-appropriate image of a man's collar and tie. It was hard to find an image that was large enough to use for a book cover but I ran across a handful of possible candidates. I wanted to cross the ideas of a tastefully elegant tie accented with a tie pin and a bug impaled on a pin for close scrutiny.

I kept the information on the cover the same but wanted to try a more modern typeface. I wanted something that was a heavier weight face so that it would read more clearly when used semi-transparently against the image. I also wanted to see if I could push the swash-y handwritten quality of the quote.

I found a few images of actual pinned bugs to use but somehow throwing a photographic image over another photoraphic image didn't really have the effect I wanted and looked somewhat cheesy. So I found a diagram on the proper way to pin bugs and used that overlayed on the collar/tie.

I originally thought I would use blue as the color wash to imply all the water imagery he uses in the poem but it seems so dull and recessive that I switched to red.

Have a few more ideas to work out but I think these are a solid start.




Kinda had a flash of an idea and wanted to do a cover that was super graphic and iconic.

I did a conceptual mash-up of the idea of measuring out life in spoonfuls and those spoonfuls running through an hourglass like sand. Thought it was the most concise set of images I could throw together that would capture some of the futility and wasted opportunity.

I wanted the colors to be somber but to use teacup/hourglass in a cutaway view and show the interior as a peach color both to recall the line "do I dare to eat a peach?" and to suggest a curvy feminine shape of perhaps the beloved he's letting slip through his hands.

I'll see if I can shake loose some more ideas in the next few days and maybe wrap these around a book in the meantime.


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