This essay is mainly about the preludes by T.S. Eliot, which speaks about the spiritually exhausted people who exist in the impersonal, tawdry modern city. Starting with information about T.S. Eliot, followed by a definition of modernism. Then exploration of the prelude is through close reading’s skills, in three different stages; first; annotating the text, the second stage; understanding the text, the third stage, include the theme of the poem by discussing and analyzing the poem, including some outside information about historical and biographical facts.
“T. S. Eliot was born in St. Louis and most of his adult life was in London. He is a modernist poet as many of his contemporaries; in as young he suffered a religious crisis and a nervous breakdown before regaining his emotional equilibrium and Christian faith. One of his most significant works is the preludes, which deal with spiritually exhausted people who exist in the impersonal, tawdry modern city.”1
“Characteristics of Modernism, Open Form, Free verse, Discontinuous narrative, Juxtaposition, Classical allusions, Borrowings from other cultures and languages, Unconventional use of metaphor, Fragmentation, Multiple narrative points of view”2
“‘Preludes’ is a poem by T.
S. Eliot, composed in the early stages of his career. It is in turns literal and impressionistic, exploring the sordid and solitary existences of the spiritually moiled as they play out against the backdrop of the drab modern city. In essence, it is four poems rather than one, and it is duly labeled as such. Composed over the course of four years in France and the United States, it comes to just 54 lines.
Its four parts are uneven, irregular and written in free verse symptomatic of the speaker’s stream of consciousness. Part I is comprised of twelve lines, part II of ten, part III of fifteen each and part IV”3
The preludes are four sections or prelude, each draws different portrait. The first prelude sets the mood of the reader, which is pensive. From the very first line, Eliot manages to set the preludes as modernist poetry, the way he portrait the scene using ‘winter’ as a symbol of coldness and lifelessness, then using ‘evening’ as a symbol of darkness, and using ‘settles down’ this way from now on. It seems to be unidentified observer. Several aspects of nature involved; the most significant is the rain, which is usually a symbol of growing but ironically to show dullness and dreariness aspects of mundane living. As Eliot used it ‘gusty shower’ showing no good, if the rain drops on lifeless city, so, there would be no growing or rebirth.
The Prelude I has no sign of life except for the ‘lonely cab-horse’ who ‘steams and stamps’, pointlessly and impatiently waiting for nothing important. In the last line of the first prelude ‘the lighting of the lamps’ light is usually a symbol of hope but in contrary, the light shows the despair and misery of the street, as it would be clear in the following preludes.
Prelude II starts with the arrival of the morning, “With two five line stanzas and a more regular rhythm and rhyme scheme, the reader may think that there is the arrival of hope, but this is not to be.”4 The prelude shows the dirtiness of humanity in the modern city. Starting by;
‘The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.’
The morning is to indicate a person, who got sick because he drunk beer too much the night before and fainted or passed out, and with the arrival of the morning he wakes up but still suffers of hangover, so he rushes to the coffee stand to get sober in order to go to work, which, as a series, leads to the following stanza, when Eliot announcing them as having two lives ‘masquerades’, this chain of events called correlative objective.
‘Muddy feet’ like the ‘cab-horse’ they are impatiently for nothing important. Eliot de-humanizes the character by using parts of the body to elaborate cleverly the influence of the modern city on human. Also to show that ‘Muddy feet’ are hidden since each one of them have two lives, as indication of human hypocrisy, even in this section the observer remains unidentified and the rhyme is so consistent, to show regularity in the events of the city life.
The third prelude starts by the pronoun you, as if it’s self addressed, as the poem became more personal, but also not so clear to whom. In contrary of the previous prelude the rhyme here is unclear, there’s no clear pattern which produces irregular music that is a symbol of confusion, as if it’s to alert the reader to expect something. In this prelude the time is during the night till dawn, there is some uncovering is happening, but nothing revealed is good, it is only unclear and dirty morality ‘You tossed a blanket from the bed’ in these stanzas you see actions happens during the night, while its time to sleep and rest the time of motionless, but it seems to be that the night is the mask where ‘muddy feet’ turn into their second faces.
At this time the beings are in half and half, half awake half a sleep, but this is not the case of the woman, who was suggested as a woman by ‘you curled the papers from your hair’, this is her job to be awake at night. In the previous two preludes there was no image about hope, but yet in the third, readers can find the ward through the appearance of the woman of her soul, as Eliot tours inside her inner conflict about her needs and her wants, and the methods she complies to fight her poverty in order to survive.
‘The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.’
The sins, the dirty deeds, all like flames reaching the ceiling as the fire eats her inside out.
‘light crept up’ the light in all the preludes is obscured as the dawn start on raising showing that all body parts mentioned are being soiled; yellow feet, soiled soul, and the hands, also the light announces the ending of the night, where the woman soul was soiled through, which is a glimpse of hope, but rapidly Eliot says ‘you curled the papers from your hair’ does that mean, she is getting ready for the following night? If so, then the hope is gone again. When Eliot uses parts of body he limits the description and de-personalizes it, in order to give the reader the freedom to feel the reality of the poem by linking it to reader’s actual life.
The forth and last prelude is timed afternoon ‘That fade behind a city block,’ and more people went out in the city’s street or blocks. ‘His soul’ there are several interpretation about this one; a man who is being passed by with out being notice, or it might be the soul of Eliot who observes in actual life the street, feeling loneliness and sees everyone without him being notice. Both possibilities are good to be true. But Eliot suffered from religious crisis when he was young, so ‘his soul’ could mean the Christ, as if Eliot says; the Christ will redeem and give meaning to the lost souls in the city, this called religious allusion, like he is having this Christian vision, where the Christ soul is being ignored by the busy residents of the city, and by ignoring him and getting busy with their sinful lives and selfish selves they are crucifying him, “too full of their own certainty”5. Also using ‘stretched tight across the skies’ is an indication of the constantly presence of the Christ spirit who is suffering by the city’s dweller’s sins.
‘The conscience of a blackened street’
‘Blackened’ is a symbol of three explanations; 1- the street is blackened as people are crowded. 2- As the light of the day fades away, dusk, and the sordid images keeps on coming. 3- Moral sense, when people ignore their conscience with their sinful deeds. Actually the three explanations combing make sense in condemning the city life. Contradicting himself, Eliot mockingly laughs about the idea of the suffering Christ redeeming the lost lives of the city residents.
The ‘ancient women’ are the three witches of Shakespeare’s play, the correlation of these three women and the woman in the third prelude that all of them lived their lives in sordid but the only different that they are ancient in Macbeth that they are experience to woman in the prelude she still young she can change her life style, if not she would just like them sinful life in young and searching for help and hope in old. The style in the preludes is rich, there is repetition, many words and images are repeated to link the preludes together, for instance; the timing of the day as starting by the evening in the first prelude then morning in the second, then in the third night and dawn, and afternoon in the forth, as if Eliot is exploring the city in different time through the day, this link the four preludes to show that no matter the time passes the miserable life of the human kind stands. Also news paper which is brought home to be read in the forth prelude, is rubbish in the first prelude and curlers in the third.
Also there is imagery, the poem is a series of descriptive images; cab- horse –> to represent the lonely poet who actually used to wander in the same street observing the life cycle around him. Words such as; burn-out, grimy, gusty, vacant, broken, create feeling of sadness and miser. ‘Muddy feet’ represent the dirt of the city morality. ‘Burnt-out ends’ people are lifeless, they became numbed because of all the fear caused by world war 1 and the industrialization, with all accompanied uncertainties about sciences and other changes occurred at that era, people became useless just like the end of burnt out cigarette. ‘Vacant lots’ the emptiness in lives of people, with no purpose or meaning.
Contrast occurred several times in the poem such in; day and night, evening and morning, woman and man, streets and interior room, light and darkness. As an example of personification; ‘The morning comes to consciousness’ as if the morning is a patient who passed out or faint because of the amount of beer he had the night before. The tone in the opening is detach, in other places the tone is sarcastic when using the word masquerades, in another time the tone is disgusted and jeering in the end, with Eliot mocking laughter in ‘Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh’. There is paradox in this poem, the most obvious one is ‘certain certainties’ in the forth prelude contradicting masquerades in the second prelude. The assonanance the ‘o’ sound that creates the music of the awakening sounds of morning: ‘The morning comes to consciousness of’. Then the sequence of ‘e’ sounds, which create a striking musical effect:
‘Smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands’.
“The repeating’s’ sounds in the opening description convey the awful nature of the house smells, linked to ‘steaks’. The continuing’s’ repletion also becomes an example of onomatopoeia when it captures the scraping sound of the blown leaves as they scrape the ground. Sibilance also conveys the mood of the impatient cab horse more vividly. Sibilance reinforces the atmosphere of dirty secret lives.” 6
The rhyme in this poem does not have a clear pattern, which directly point out the confusion, uncertainty and doubtfulness of life, as an evidence of that prelude III contains 14 different ending, on the other hand there are words repeated such as ‘street’ in lines 32 and 33. “All the sound repetitions create verbal or word music, which is very suitable for a group of poems called ‘Preludes'”7.
In summary, Prelude speaks of spiritually exhausted people who exist in the impersonal, tawdry modern city, in my personal opinion this is true. In the modernism era, literature was not so fond of the beauty as in Romanticism, in that era people suffered of war and changes occurred especially the industrialization which was a great revolution as a human development but the worst set back toward the poor class, which means more poverty and misery to this class, also the Spiritual Decadence was elaborated in details in the preludes.