A well-written poem is built out of levels. Each level alludes to the next until the ultimate discovery of the poet's message. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T. S. Eliot, provides a perfect example of a well-crafted poem comprised of sequential levels, also known as a framed story. At the level just below the very surface, the poem obscurely tells the story of a failed lobster prophet, resurrected from the dead to warn other lobsters of the cruel fate that awaits them in the event of their capture. In the course of the story, the lobster prophet falls prey to the harvest of a lobster catcher and is then sent to a restaurant as food. While in the tank with the other lobsters, he reflects on and laments his life. This interpretation serves as a vehicle for presenting the true message of the poem, which exists on the next level, to the audience. The story of the lobster represents Eliot's own fear of people overlooking the messages he attempts to convey in his poetry. Even though he has learned this lesson from previous poems, he feels an attempt to save his future poems is futile in the same way as one lobster saving another is futile.
One indicator that the lobster interpretation exists at the level below the surface of the poem is the yellow fog that fills the "... sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells" (Eliot L. 7). The persona describes "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes / ... Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains" (Eliot LL. 15&18). The yellow fog from the passage is the steam from a restaurant's lobster pot that boils and cooks the lobsters. The yellow fog receives its color from the dim yellow lighting of...
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...e, inside the obscurity of the poem at its most superficial level, like the abuseds' half of the ox. Eliot is afraid that the audience will mistake the obscurity of the poem as the best part, and overlook the hidden good on the inside, just as the abusers' did with their half of the ox. By wrapping one thing inside of another in this way, Eliot builds an excellent compilation of levels into one, well-written poem.
Eliot, T. S.. "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock." Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. 2nd Ed. Schlib & Clifford. Boston: Bedford, 2003. 851-855.
Hesiod. Theogony. Trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1983.
Hesiod. Works and Days. Trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1983.
Holy Bible. King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984.
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