The Aspect of Time in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

The Aspect of Time in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock evokes the sense of time as its own master. The poet personalizes time a lot, using it symbolically with metaphors (Brown, 2018). All the stanzas of the poem have a certain aspect of time. It could be that Eliot was trying to show us that people fantasizing about love often lose a sense of time while in other instances they tend to be very immersed in a particular time making plans. In this paper, time includes changes in weather and season also. Eliot uses time, weather and seasonal changes to show gradual steps (or missteps) in love and to convey emotion. The poem somehow seems to start in the middle and ends likewise, making the reader feel somehow empty; we see Prufrock oscillating as a young man to an old man and vice versa. Maybe Eliot wanted to evoke that emotion of emptiness that often follows intense love.

In the whole poem, time is erratic. The poem employs a narrative style, but the story progresses non-linearly. Sometimes, it seems it is a flashback, other times it is in the present. In the second line, Eliot writes, “When the evening is spread out against the sky” (Eliot, l.2). In this instance, “evening” is the time of the day. The fact that Eliot describes the evening as being “spread out against the sky” means that the lovers (Alfred Prufrock and his “woman”) are young.  We are not sure if the woman exists as the poem is told exclusively from Prufrock’s point of view. The notion that night has not yet started when the two lovers are stepping out also means that the possibilities for the night( and more specifically romance) are many. The word “spread” also implies intimacy and sex; the desires of libidinous youth. The assumption that the readers take from this is that Alfred Prufrock is young and perhaps fantasizes too much instead of actually asking the woman out. In love, a plan to do something does not translate to action.

In the whole poem, Prufrockuses the future as an escapist fantasy. For Prufrock, the endless possibilities that the future holds are a perfect excuse for him to procrastinate on making his plans for love work. The phrase “there will be time” (l. 23, 26, 28, 29, 31, 32) and this is only in the fourth stanza. The fifth stanza has the same repeated phrase.  Eliot is showing us that the persona Alfred Prufrock is a coward in some way. Instead of embracing the day (Carpe diem) and embracing his love right now he keeps mentioning the future. To the reader, Alfred Prufrock comes across as a weakling with these feminine fantasies (Mandal&Modak, 2013).Prufrock is a child when it comes to love. He should understand that men act rather than a daydream. He is a very frustrating figure. In actual sense “there will be time” means that Prufrock is wasting away his time and youth.

Love is a young man’s game, and for Alfred Prufrock, it is an old man’s regret. Eliot suddenly shows us an old Prufrock, going against the reader’s picture of a man full of hope and youthful vigor. “Time to turn back and descend the stair, / With a bald spot in the middle of my hair.” (lines 39-40). At this time, Prufrock is a middle-aged man, yet he talks about love wistfully like a teenager. Prufrock is at an age where his primary concern about love should be love for his wife and children. It is very clear that whatever chances Prufrock had, he wasted them. Prufrock does not reminisce on the wasted opportunities but instead makes it as if he is fighting a battle with other people yet the conflict is actually internal(Mandal&Modak, 2013). Eliot writes, “I have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons” (l. 50). Prufrock acclaims to show the audience that he has lived his fair amount of time; not meaning he has lived a full life though because he has not. Time is a curse for Prufrock as it seems he is a young man in his mind but trapped in the body of an old man.

The aspect of time fleets from fantasy to reality all through the poem. The persona, Alfred Prufrock, is worried about getting old, and not living happily with his love. Sadly, ironically, that seems to be the fate of Prufrock. He worries about stuff that are out of his control such as death: “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid.” (l. 85-86). The eternal Footman is a personification of Death, The Grim Ripper. Eliot seems to suggest that worrying about death will not solve anything; rather it results in a pessimistic attitude towards life and a bleak existence rather than fulfilled living. Fear of changing times, growing old and dying occupy most of Prufrock’s thoughts.

Time is of the essence is a major theme in the poem. Eliot uses Prufrock to show the dangers of an emasculated man fantasizing about love and worried about time. Prufrock is not a happy man. He cuts a sad and desperate figure which draws the reader to sympathize with him. At the same time, he is very frustrating. He is afraid to talk to his woman so instead he takes coffee with her in silence and plans to walk around at sunset. The lesson from the poem is that in love it is better for a man to act and be rejected than wait and be dejected for life.




Brown, A. (2018, March). A metaphorical analysis of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot. In Accounting Forum(Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 153-165). Elsevier.

Eliot, T. S. (2010). The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock (p. 429).Harvard VocariumRecords.

Mandal, A., &Modak, A. (2013). The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: A Postmodern Poem with a Postmodern Hero. The Criterion: An International Journal in English, (12), 1-6.

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