if they don't sing for Prufrock, what will he miss in life?
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Questions
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what do the mermaids symbolize?
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.
Prufrock has just wondered "Shall I part my hair behind?" (122), and previously he has agonized over his bald spot, turned his keen eye to the women's arms "downed with light brown hair!" (64), and agonized over eating a fuzzy peach. Mermaids are conventionally depicted combing their hair with a mirror, so as symbols of vanity and lush beauty - "wreathed with seaweed red and brown" (130), they possess even more artificial hair - they threaten Prufrock (whose thinning hair is perhaps now a salt-and-pepper mixture of "white and black" and no longer "red and brown").
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