Significance of the Epigraph in Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The irony in the poem begins right from the title where “Love Song” and “J. Alfred Prufrock” appear together. The irony goes deeper as the reader proceeds further to realize that the title has nothing to do with a love song. The irony develops further with the poem as the apparent appearance of irony becomes complex.
The Epigraph, a passage from Dante’s Inferno emphasizes the ironical twist. Dante meets Guido da Montefeltro there and when he enquires about the state of Italy, Dante gives an account of all that happened in that country. In return Dante asks him what had led him to hell. The occupants of Hell agree to oblige him presuming Dante is another lost soul like them. The condition is that he should not ever return to the world and tell the people about Guido’s shame. Montefeltro realizes the violence of his sins. Parallelism works between Montefeltro and Prufrock on the one hand, and Hell and Eliot’s ultramodern, sophisticated contemporary world on the other.
The Epigraph sets the tone of the poem, anticipating the restrained ironies and the symbolic significance of the poem. Prufrock’s ennui is comparable to a damned soul in the Inferno. In a sense Prufrock represents the modern man, overeducated and sick with abstraction, unable to and even unwilling to set himself free from his state of incarceration.
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Prufrock’s frustration is heightened through the Epigraph. If refers to the fortune of Guido in the eighth circle of the Inferno. He is tortured in hell for the sin of fraud through evil connection. Prufrock is unlike him in the sense that he does not intentionally indulge in evil. He is similar to Guido in that he is guilty of fraud, as he has perverted his own human reason by directing it into pointless fantasy. Even the dissimilarity between the two figures serves to heighten the irony of Prufrock’s situation by pointing to his lack of heroic characteristics, and the fact that he too is in a kind of hell.
The poem is a proof of the fact the Prufrock lives in a world of fantasy and daydream. In this unreal world he has allowed his ideal conception of womanhood to overshadow his real life. Thus he has neither accepted nor rejected love. Actually he has created a false notion of it which has prevented his from taking any kind of action. His tragedy is that he is a man driven by the desire for something that he cannot achieve. Thus while he cannot abandon the illusion of his fantasy world, he cannot accept the realities of the other world in which most probably women talk of Michelangelo.
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