In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
This line functions as an early refrain (or “hook,” if you will) in the poem. It attempts to return the reader to the scene that Prufrock’s describing, after he’s gone off on his various digressions.
The women he’s contemplating are implied to be pseudointellectual, pretentious types who don’t do anything of real use but spend their days “visiting,” “lunching,” “taking tea,” and talking about the appropriate topics for such visits: classical art and literature, the sorts of things women of that era were told they were supposed to interest themselves in to avoid becoming “enervated”—which in many cases was used as a polite term for “wanting to have sex.”
These lines also allude to a poem by the late nineteenth-century French poet Jules Laforgue, a major early influence on Eliot. Here are Laforgue’s lines:
“Dans la piece les femmes vont et viennent
En parlant des maîtres de Sienne.”
(“In the room the women come and go / Talking of the Siennese masters.”)
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