> > What the argument follows from is not made explicit -
> > . . . it remains a mystery.
>True, but we know some key characterizations about the nature of the argument
>(and by implication, the nature of the streets): they are characterized as
>'tedious' and of 'insidious intent', hardly neutral terms. And, most
>importantly of all, they LEAD to the overwhelming question. If you want to
>learn about the nature of the overwhelming question, follow the half-deserted
I feel that, while the most immediately natural response to the opening
stanza is to see it as an introduction that's setting the scene, there's
more to it than that. Although the streets are no doubt literal, I'm not
sure whether they're literal *in the current moment* of the speaker, as it
were. What I mean by this is that Prufrock is characterised by the lack of
action - and equally so in this opening stanza. The repetition of "Let us
go", particularly in the first and last lines, suggest that there's a
greater sense of continuity between the opening stanza and the rest of the
poem, so that rather than a literal walking through the streets towards the
"overwhelming question", there's a more metaphorical sense. This is
reinforced by the repetition of the streets later on -- "shall I say, I
have gone at dusk through narrow streets"; "after.. the sprinkled streets"
-- and these streets clearly pay an important role in the psychological
battle that Prufrock is fighting.
As others have noted, the streets are those of the seedier side of town,
and apparently lead to brothels. So, I'm tempted to see the first stanza
less as a broad introduction to the poem, but rather as another aspect to
Prufrock's inner monologue as he attempts to convince himself to confront
the issue. In this sense, explaining the context of the "then" on the
opening line is hardly necessary: It's merely the first example of
Prufrock's apparent reaching of a decision -- a decision which, as we later
see, he very quickly revises.