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The Overlapping Themes of Alienation and Despair in “The Love Song” and “The Waste Land”

Mar 11, 2023 | 2 comments

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Mar 11, 2023 | Essays | 2 comments


“The Love Song” poem by Alfred Prufrock is majorly concerned with the character who can see the life’s potential. That is the possible joys, loves, heroism and companionship but is not able to act on his desires. The poem of Love Song resonates on the personas the hesitancy, the inadequacy in which creates scenarios and then justify inaction. The poem can be described a personal poem of a tormented and sad man reciting his love song for everyone to hear. The persona also wants someone to understand and see his plight. Similarly, on another level of the poem criticizes the modern society, a place where people get alienated, repressed and are no longer in contact with an existence that is meaningful, a place where there is prevalence of social rituals. The Love Song poem by Alfred Prufrock does not also deeply delve into the whole civilization alienation compared to “the wasteland” by Eliot (Eliot 34).

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Similarly, the long poem “The Waste Land” was authored by T.S Eliot. The author employed cultural and literary allusions from the Hindu Upanishads, Buddhism and western canon making the poem obscure. The poem shifts between the prophetical and satirical voices featuring unannounced and abrupt changes of time, location and the speaker and conjuring of a dissonant and vast range of literatures and cultures (Eliot 66). The poem is divided into five sections. “The Burial of the Dead” forms the first section and it introduces many themes of despair and disillusionment. “A Game of Chess” follows in the section and uses several characters vignettes that experientially addresses those themes. On the third section is “The Fire Sermon” that provides philosophical mediation relative to death imagery and self-denial views in a juxtaposition that is influenced by the eastern religions and Augustine of Hippo. “Death by Water” forms the fourth section with a brief lyrical petition. Finally, “What the Thunder Said” makes the fifth section with a judgement image.

The paper will analyze two selected texts, TS Eliot “The Wasteland” and “The Love Song” by Alfred Prufrock. In analysis of the two texts, Emphasis will be placed on the theme of alienation, Personas, Language/word choice, structure and allusions.


The theme of alienation is common between the two texts of, T. S Eliot “The Wasteland” and “The Love Song” by Alfred Prufrock (32). All societies are based on daily interaction of people where people exchange in form of casual conversations, business transactions and formal discussions. Although most people comfortably and readily interact, some like Prufrock in the poem of “the Love Song,” separate themselves and avoid contact from the rest of the society. The theme of alienation is vividly brought out by Eliot by using imagery to reveal how Prufrock is impotent socially (117).

The inability of Prufrock to speak to women makes him upset and leads to his self-isolation, with a belief that he will never be in a position to establish a relationship that is successful. He has a feeling that all the women he had made attempts of approaching see through him and treat him as an object in their eyes. Rather than judging him based on his class or character, they judge him by the unease of his speech and the fault of his looks. Eliot portrayed Prufrock as an inferior person trapped under a gigantic human thumb. His doubt and fear hinder any possibility of him taking an action. The image of Prufrock as a person trapped reveals his social isolation and this has led to him having an alienated life, believing that he will not be loved or fit to love (91).

The exaggerated anxiety of Prufrock on what other people think about him also made him to alienate himself from others believing he was not meant to be a social human being. The society has not rejected Prufrock, but his own social awkwardness that are self-perceived separated him. Moreover, he has a belief that he is out of place in the salon and the city’s social setting. He also has certainty that he was supposed to be an insignificant creature on the floor of the sea, but was created human being mistakenly. In line 73-74, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” Prufrock further desire the role of crab that is unimportant where nobody will be able to see him and judge him. Residing in the sea bottom, he will be free from his uncertainty and the gossip. Crabs always hide under rocks and corals during the day and only hunt at night. Similarly, Prufrock portrays himself as an unnoticed world observer, who desires that his actions will have no consequences that are binding. He believes that to be free from his paralyzing fear, he should isolate himself. His desire to decamp from his scrutinized and complicated life in favor of an unconscious and simple life further widens the gap between him and the rest of the society.

The theme of alienation is also seen in the poem “The Waste Land” by T.S Eliot in many instances. However, this paper will focus on the section three of the poem, “The Fire Sermon.” From the title, the sermon according to n.a (4) was given by the Budha to the listening months to alienate themselves from the world passions and to free themselves from the things of the earth. This section of the poem bears the religious alienation and fervour connotations to escape from the world wickedness around.

This section opens on a fisherman’s scene in a boat on a river that is surrounded by trash and rats. He is singing and weeping songs that are sorrowful as he realizes that the only living thing around him are the rats in the vegetation with slimy bodies. The way river Thames is described has also some purposes and intention. It is cold, devoid of hope, and despicable, the only company beings the mice behind the boatman rattling bones, and the occasional motor and horn bringing people to their doom that is impending. The image is lonely and dreadful and is tainted with filth and wickedness. It is later revealed that the narrator in “The Fire Sermon” is the hermaphrodite seer who is blind called Tiresias, who is also the alienation figure being represented. From the suggestions of his nature, he is alienated naturally in many different ways. For instance, he is alone and blind therefore cannot create the world visual pictures around him. Also, being a hermaphrodite, (line 218-219: throbbing between two lives, Old man with wrinkled female breasts), Tiresias is alienated from the normal sex classification. Moreover, being a seer, Tiresias has a disconnect with reality realm as it is experienced commonly, because for the remaining section, he is into various visions where he is transported to different parts of the world

All these alienations, however, despite seeming to have miserable and pathetic existence, he is free from the world that is depraved he sees in his past memories and visions detachably. Line 182, “By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept.”

The blind seer who is also hermaphrodite also relates a vison he had of a forced sexual encounter of a typist with a clerk who molest her because he was tired and bored. Line 236-238: “bored and tired, / Endeavour[ing] to engage her in caresses / Which still are unreproved, if undesired.” He claimed how he suffered with her given that he was unable and helpless in doing anything. The lady also does not resist the sexual advances of the man. Line 240; “Exploring hands encounter no defense.” Tiresias is alienated by space and physical ability of not having the ability of abating any of the events he witnessed in the vision. His alienation is emotional, mental and physical since he is able visualize the scenes at hand and emotionally participate in them, but is not able to do anything about them (n.a 6).


“The Love Song” by Alfred Prufrock is a poem that centers on an insecure, balding middle aged man. The persona expresses his personal thoughts about mediocre, uneventful, dull life he is leading because of his fear of making decisions and inadequacy feelings. Unable to take risks or seize opportunities especially with women, the persona lives in the world that can be described that is same from yesterday, today and will be the same tomorrow. He make attempts making progress but his fear of failure and timidity prevents him from taking some action.

The Burial of the Dead” section in “The Waste Land”   has four speakers that represent the personas in the poem who are frantic in their quest to find an audience and speak, but only find themselves thwarted by circumstances outside like war, and surrounded by dead people. “A Game of Chess” in the second section brings out a conversation or dialogue of two women characters discussing a third woman. On the third section “The Fire Sermon,” there is one speaker who proclaim himself as Tiresias, a hermaphrodite figure, a seer and blind. “Death by Water” section is also for a single narrator to the readers

 Language/word choice

“The Love Song” by Alfred Prufrock is a dramatic monologue as well as a modernistic poem. Similarly, the first section of “The Waste Land” called “The Burial of the Dead” is also a modified dramatic monologue. In dramatic monologues, the speaker or the narrator discusses a topic and in the process reveals his personal feelings to the reader or the audience. It is a monologue because it is only the narrator who is talking. The major focus is the speaker’s personal information and not his topic

The poem used a conversational language mixed with poetry’s stylized language. For instance, the opening of the poem is straightforward and direct with “Let us go then, you and I.” after that it presents a simile that has end rhyme in line one and two, or personification that is bizarre, by making comparison of the evening to a hospital patient that is anesthetized.

There is also shift in the poems train of thought which sometimes is abrupt with no transition. This apparently imitates the way the mind of human beings work when it’s daydreaming or dreaming or is reacting an external stimuli. Similarly, the topics under discussion also shift abruptly, from the matters at the moment that are trifling to universe and next to time. For instance, the bald spot of Prufrock, or his trousers length.

“The Love Song” by Alfred Prufrock also shifts from obvious references of allusions to oblique references of allusions. The speaker quotes, cites or paraphrases fictional or historical persons, ideas, things and places. For instance, some of his allusions are easy to understand or know like the word “Michelangelo” in line 14. However, on other references it is difficult to comprehend. For instance, it is difficult to realize that in line 92, the phrase “To Have Squeezed the Universe into a Ball,” the author used a phrase from another poet, Marvel Andrew. Apparently, the author wanted to show audience that Prufrock was a person who was well read.

There is also shifts from universal (abstract) to particular (concrete) words in the poem. For instance, in the poem, some of the abstract language is in line 8-9, “tedious argument of insidious intent” and in line 5, “muttering retreats.” Examples of clauses or phrases with universal nouns in the poem are “the women come and go” and “the muttering retreats.” On the other hand, the examples of concrete language in the poem is in line 19 “soot” and in line 7 “oyster-shells.” Lastly, the examples of particular language in the poem is in line 21 “October” and line 14 “Michelangelo.

On the other hand, the poem of “The Waste Land “has included fragments in languages apart from English which the reader is not expected to immediately make translation. Instead, they are reminders of the 20th century Europe’s cosmopolitan nature and the fate of mankind after the tower of Babel.

Eliot collaged pieces and bits of images, dialogues, foreign words, scholarly ideas, tones and formal styles within one poem (44).



“The Love Song” by Alfred Prufrock is structured in stanzas with different lines in each stanza. Moreover, there is a continuation of the end rhymes in most of the poem in addition to striking figures of speech which generally in some way refer to Prufrock. For instance, the hospital patient that is anaesthetized represents Prufrocks indecisiveness. Similarly, “yellow smoke” and “yellow frog” in lines 15 and 16 of the poem are also compared to the following lined to a cat that is timid, that represents Prufrocks timidity.

There is also variations line meter and length since some lines has many words up to fourteen while others only have three words. The author has also used repetition on certain phrases and words many times, apparently to show monotony and repetition in the life of Prufrock. For instance, he began many lines with the word “And” in addition to repeating certain clauses and phrases like the ones listed below.

“Would it have been worth it”

“I have known”

“Should I presume”

“Do I dare”

“There will be time”

“In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo”

“Let us go”

Structurally, the poem “The Waste Land” by T.S Eliot on the other hand is preceded by a Greek and Latin epigraph. The poem is divided into five parts which includes “The Burial of the Dead,” “A Game of Chess,” “The Fire Sermon,” “Death by Water” and “What the Thunder Said” (Eliot and Susanne 61).

The poem also has short burst of structure and has employed partial rhyme schemes only. In “A Game of Chess” in the second section, the first part is majorly pentameter lines that are unrhymed iambic, or simply blank verse. Down the section, the lines become irregular in meter and length increasingly, portraying the disintegrating feeling. In the second half of “A Game of Chess,” instead of following an organized structure of meter and rhyme, it only constitutes series of phrases that are connected by “she said” and “I said.” On the third section, “The Fire Sermon,” Eliot included bits of several musical pieces including the wedding song of Spenser, a nightingales chirps, a soldiers Ballard, and a Mandolium tune among others to create high art. The section of “Death by Water” is a ten line stanza that is compressed into eight-four pairs of couplets that are rhyming (Eliot, and Valden 113).



“The Love Song” by Alfred Prufrock has alluded to many external texts in the poem. In the first stanza, line 10, the author alluded to the phrase “overwhelming question.” The phrase appeared to be borrowed by the novel “the pioneers” by James Cooper Fennimore. The 1823 novel about the early Americas life on the frontier brings out Benjamin, one of the characters, who asks series of questions that ends with the phase “overwhelming questions.”

In line 13-14, Eliot used the phrase “In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo.” Most of the line in this phrase was borrowed by Eliot from Jules LaForgue, a French poet (74). In his one of his poems, LaForgue wrote “in the room where the women and go while conversing about the Siennese maters (painting masters).” Michelangelo is also an allusion from a renaissance painter, sculptor and architect Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, who was a great artist. Michelangelo according to Eliot and Robert designed St. Peters Basilica dome, painted the ceiling Vatican city’s Sistine chapel, and sculpted the famous David for the cathedral of Duomo in Florence (104).

Similarly, in “The Waste Land” Eliot alludes to other great works, events and people in his poem. Throughout the text, the poet alluded to the books of Psalms (line 182), Isaiah (line 25 and 426), Ecclesiastes (line 23 and 354) and Ezekiel (line 20) from the bible (33).

Moreover, Eliot quoted four lines in his “The Burial of the Dead,” from Tristan Undlsolde, a Richard Wagner’s opera. Moreover, Eliot applied the “Rhine-Daughters” song in “the fire sermon,” from Gotterdammerung opera that also beloned to Wagner in line 266 to 291, and used his own words leaving only leaving the phrase “Weialalal leia” (Eliot 21).

In line 43 to 59, madame Sosostris or Sesostris is a character alluded from “Crome yellow,” a satirical novel by Aldous Huxley. Madame sesostris in crome Yellow novel is a fraud who visits country fairs dressed as a gypsy to tell money fortunes of other people. Similarly, in lines 76 and 60, Eliot quoted from “Fleurs du Mal” of Charles Baudelaire, a French poet (Eliot and Robert 82).

Work cited

Eliot, T S, and Robert Speaight. The Waste Land ; the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock ; the Hollow Men ; Ash Wednesday. London: Argo, 1960. Sound recording.

Eliot, T S, and Susanne Martin. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Tuscaloosa, Ala: Yonno Press, 1986. Print.

Eliot, T S, and Valden J. Madsen. The Waste Land, Prufrock and Other Observations: Poems. New York: Mud Puddle Books, 2007. Print.

Eliot, T S. Prufrock and Other Observations. London: The Egoist Ltd, Oakley House, Bloomsbury Street, 1917. Print.

Eliot, T S. Prufrock and Other Poems. West Valley City, UT: Waking Lion Press, 2007. Print.

Eliot, T S. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems. Mattituck, N.Y: Amereon House, 1976. Print.

Eliot, T S. The Waste Land, Prufrock, and Other Poems. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 1998. Print.

Eliot, T S. The Waste Land, Prufrock, and Others. Marina del Rey, CA: Aegypan, 2009. Print.

Eliot, T S. The Waste Land. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, 1990. Internet resource.

n.a,. ”Isolation In Eliot’s Waste Land And Prufrock”. Google Docs. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_FsYi6gK3cQwAipk7l2G6EWDn2ch0vQXnU3qsGgGtD0/edit

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