Reversing the expectation of a traditional long song or love poem is a main component of the content and structure of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” By T. S. Eliot. The poem uses images of death, not to shock, but as a fact of life, such as a “patient etherized upon a table”. The poem speaks of aging slowly, and yet still having time “for a hundred visions and revisions”, a contrast to traditional love poetry,which emphasizes how time is running out and love should be acted upon now. “Love Song” keeps a similar structure of consistent rhymes, and speaking of life and love and longing throughout. Despite the tone of longing or wishing for love, the speaker does not expect it.
The last eight lines of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” By T. S. Eliot exemplifies many of these reversals, both in the way tone does not match the words, to the way certain metaphors or references are not used in the traditional way.
“I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
Sirens – mermaids who sing and bring lustful sailors to their deaths – do not sing for the speaker. This line is isolated from the longer stanzas, which may show how despite his instance of there being enough time, and enough in his life, the speaker is perhaps disappointed that he has outgrown the traditional love songs. He knows the sirens, he knows love, but he does not have it. He does not hear the sirens voices, he hears human voices, but the end result is the same – drowning, a lack of love left.
The words of the last stanza especially rise and fall in rhythm, like the waves they are describing. This rhythm is calming, soothing, like being put to sleep, the opposite of the “wake us” in the last line. This opposite rhythm in contrast the words being said is shown throughout the poem. Notably here, death is typically seen as being put to sleep, but in this last line, despite the rhythm being that of lulling you to sleep, the death comes as waking up, not falling asleep.