What sort of person would sing a song of love that has no melody and is addressed to no one in particular? You meet such a man in T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The famous verse is an interior monologue in which a character is talking to himself. Readers or listeners eavesdrop on J. Alfred's stream of consciousness, which flows forward, backward, and sideways as musings trigger other associations not logically but psychologically.
The title is ironic since the title character is isolated, timid, and anti-heroic. A natural tendency is to assume that Prufrock is T. S. Eliot, even though Eliot was 27 years old when the poem was first published and his narrator appears at least middle-aged. The "you and I" of the first line is sometimes interpreted as two different parts of Prufrock's personality: one that urges him to take action and participate in events; the other a feckless dilettante who fears involvement and rejection. Or perhaps the "you" is we, the generalized reader.
Images of involvement and action oppose images of paralysis and fear and such is the conflict that defines the thinker whose musings we share. An educated and highly intelligent man, he begins with a quotation from Dante's Inferno. Dante, while journeying through hell, encounters Guido da Montefeltro, who is wrapped in flame and suffering eternal torment for sins he committed on earth. He confesses his sins on the assumption that Dante, a fellow prisoner of hell, cannot return to earth with the damning information he is being given and besmirch Guido's reputation.
Prufrock's "song" is a similar confession of a soul in torment, though Prufrock's sins are errors of omission and inaction rather than of commission. If hesitation, inadequacy, and a lack of self-assertiveness are mortal sins, Prufrock deserves a spot in Ante Hell among
those who fail to do either good evil; or maybe Eliot considers him a purveyor of false counsel (In Prufrock's case, self-counsel) and...