Surrealism and T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Essay by ecoboyUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, November 1996

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Surrealism is a dangerous word to use about the poet, playwright and critic T.S. Eliot, and certainly with his first major work, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock '. Eliot wrote the poem, after all, years before Andre Breton and his compatriots began defining and practicing 'surrealism' proper. Andre Breton published his first 'Manifesto of Surrealism' in 1924, seven years after Eliot's publication of 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'. It was this manifesto which defined the movement in philosophical and psychological terms. Moreover, Eliot would later show indifference, incomprehension and at times hostility toward surrealism and its precursor Dada.

Eliot's favourites among his French contemporaries weren't surrealists, but were rather the figures of St. John Perse and Paul Verlaine, among others. This does not mean Eliot had nothing in common with surrealist poetry, but the facts that both Eliot and the Surrealists owed much to Charles Baudelaire's can perhaps best explain any similarity 'strangely evocative explorations of the symbolic suggestions of objects and images.'

Its unusual, sometimes startling juxtapositions often characterize surrealism, by which it tries to transcend logic and habitual thinking, to reveal deeper levels of meaning and of unconscious associations. Although scholars might not classify Eliot as a Surrealist, the surreal landscape, defined as 'an attempt to express the workings of the subconscious mind by images without order, as in a dream ' is exemplified in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.'

'Prufrock presents a symbolic landscape where the meaning emerges from the mutual interaction of the images, and that meaning is enlarged by echoes, often heroic,' of other writers.

The juxtapositions mentioned earlier are evident even at the poem's opening, which begins on a rather sombre note, with a nightmarish passage from Dante's Inferno. The main character,