Both Williams’ The Ivy Crown and Eliot’s The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock explicitly address the theme of love, thus joining the long tradition of romantic poetry, where love is a central topic. At the same time, both poets decide to emphasize a certain pain to love. In Williams’ poem this pain ultimately can be overcome, however, in Eliot’s work, love can be said to be unattainable, thus providing a more nihilistic version of love.
Williams begins his poem with a remark about the almost impossibility of love: “the whole process is a lie”, however, he creates a caveat to this situation, when he follows this up with the words “unless,/crowned by excess,/it breaks forcefully,/one way or another,/from its confinement.” Namely, love does not exist unless it manages to escape the immediacy of its relationship: love is a struggle, initially implying a type of trap and a suffering, for example, in the forms of unrequited love or the loss of love over time. Love therefore must “break through” its manifestation as a social relationship between two individuals and reach for something higher. In this case, it is attainable, as Williams notes at the end of the poem: “the jeweled prize/always/at our finger trips/We will it so/and so it is/past all accident.”
In contrast Eliot, while also noting the negative aspects of love, does not offer such a potential for a positive account. His poem can be read as a long meditation on bleakness and loneliness. The poem itself seems to be an account of the romantic failures of Prufrock, who has a result feels a profound loneliness. He visits bordellos, but of course not find true romantic love there. This has left him rejected, wishing the following: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” The poem’s last line also repeat this despair: “Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” For Eliot in this poem the search for romantic love ultimately leads to an emptiness, and is thus never fulfilled.
Accordingly, both Eliot and Williams discuss the existential despairs and pains created by love. But the poets differ in so far as Williams thinks this love is possible, although it is the result of a great labor. Eliot on the other hand sees only despair in the game of love, and thus confirms its close link to existential sadness.
Eliot, T.S: “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
Williams, William Carlos. “The Ivory Crown.”