The Use of Metaphor in T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Elliot uses personification heavily. The third stanza follows a trail of fog around the outside of a house and describes its movements. The image that the fog produces in my mind is that of a lazy cat stretching against glass, sprawling around the outside of the house throughout the evening.

The yellow fog begins its evening jaunt by rubbing “its back upon the window-panes” this line gives a powerful image of fog coming in contact with a window. The choice of words is interesting. The phrasing “rubs its back upon…” is a new way to view the common phrase “rolling fog” but in this instance the fog takes pleasure in leisurely caressing the window-pane. I can imagine the yellow fog rolling up to the window and billowing backwards as it makes contact with the window in the same way the fur of a cat would rub against the window.

The cat image is reinforced in the following line where the fog “licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.” The imagery portrayed by a mist or a fog licking its tongue works well. The fog traveled a far distance, “into the corners of the evening.” The way the fog/cat moves suggests a certain gracefulness in the rolling fog. I imagine a lithe, slender cat slinking through the night. This metaphor of a cat is powerful in the passage.

The metaphor continues with the figurative cat lingering “upon the pools that stand in drains” this shows a hesitancy in the fog. The fog lingers to describe the overall attitude of Prufrock. In the rest of the poem, Prufrock is depicted as a depressed man looking for meaning at the end of his life. As well as the image of the cat, Elliot expresses Prufrock’s overall demeanor through the fog in order to give deeper insight to the reader. Prufrock lingers, he is holding onto his life even when it is meaningless.

Elliot’s use of metaphor is obvious and intentional in the passage. The metaphors are layered and can be interpreted several different ways. The fog can be interpreted as a lithe cat on an evening walk, or a deeper look into the mind and psyche of the poem’s title character Alfred J. Prufrock. Either way you see the metaphors, they clearly give meaning to the poem.

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