Essay

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Turns 100

The famous poem was nearly not published.
By The Editors

This month marks the 100th anniversary of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” published when Eliot was just 26 years old. Had it not been for the intervention of Ezra Pound and Harriet Monroe, the seminal poem that helped usher in American Modernism might not have been published at all.

Eliot originally wrote parts of the monologue of a troubled, middle-aged man in 1910 and soon combined these pieces to form the long, complicated poem readers know now. Then he put it in a drawer for four years and focused on his graduate study in philosophy.

In the spring of 1914, Conrad Aiken, Eliot’s college friend, passed “Prufrock” along to Harold Monro, editor of Poetry and Drama. He reportedly remarked that the poem is “absolutely insane” and turned it down.

In September 1914, Eliot first met Pound in London, who was then the acting foreign correspondent of Poetry. Eliot showed him “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Pound was elated. “Prufrock,” wrote Pound to Poetry editor Harriet Monroe, is “the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American,” adding exuberantly in all caps, “PRAY GOD IT BE NOT BE A SINGLE AND UNIQUE SUCCESS.”

The following slideshow features three of Pound’s letters to Monroe, proclaiming Eliot’s talent and urging her to publish “Prufrock.” (“I hope you’ll get it in soon,” he wrote.) She found room in the June 1915 issue. Though Monroe’s responses to Pound are not available, his letters hint at her apprehension. “In being the first American magazine to print Eliot you have scored again, though you may not yet think so,” Pound wrote shortly after “Prufrock” appeared in print, still compelled to convince her of its value.

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For more background, watch Eliot scholar and editor Christopher Ricks the Prufrock centenary at Harvard University.

Letters by Ezra Pound, from New Directions Publishing Company acting as agent, copyright 2015 by Mary de Rachewiltz and the Estate of Omar S. Pound. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Company. Photos courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Originally Published: June 8th, 2015
  1. June 11, 2015
     Paula

    we're all in this together
    Poets United!
    Let's
    Hold
    Our
    Pencils
    High

  2. July 19, 2015
     michael couhig

    I had waited so not patiently to hear anyone less than 100 to embrace this
    poem as the beginning of all that is modern as sure Tupac took from his
    detestable old and die young philosophy for the pinnacle of youth is a fine time
    to surrender your life

  3. August 22, 2015
     Patrick j Walsh

    An Anglo Catholic in religion, a classicist
    in literature and a royalist in politics.

    Bravo!