Preludes – ts eliot [1888-1965]

Preludes – TS Eliot [1888-1965] Relevant Background • Thomas Stearns [TS] Eliot was born in into a wealthy family in St Louis, Missouri, America in 1888 • He became a British citizen at the age of 39 in 1927. • His father was president of a brick making company. His mother wrote poetry and was once a teacher and social volunteer. They were determined to educate Thomas well. • TS Eliot’s awareness of how differently some people lived inspired a lot of the descriptions found in ‘ Preludes’. • Through the work of his mother and grandfather TS Eliot became aware of poverty and the boring reality of peoples’ lives. • In 1917 he published ‘ Preludes’. ‘ Preludes’ consists of four short poems, numbered I, II, III and IV. • Some say that in ‘ Preludes’ Eliot tried to imagine the thoughts and observations of four badly-off city dwellers. It is possible on the other hand that he is observing a prostitute in the first three ‘ Preludes’ and a tramp in the fourth ‘ Prelude’. This is open to discussion. • In each prelude the Eliot reveals the thoughts and feelings of a person about an aspect of everyday living in a city. Eliot felt that life for poor city dwellers was monotonous. He felt that they suffered from boredom and a poor quality of life. In these ‘ Preludes’ Eliot looked at human despair and feelings of rejection and failure. • A prelude is a short piece of music that introduces a longer piece of music. In music a prelude is sometimes referred to as an overture. In writing a short introductory piece is often called a preface. • Perhaps the overall theme is the misery of poverty. Summary Prelude I • In this short poem, a hidden observer describes dusk on a winter’s evening in a poor part of a city. • The observer is outside, observing the appearance and atmosphere of a street and neighborhood. • Possibly the observer who describes the scene is Eliot himself. Or it may be the cab driver. Perhaps Eliot is observing a street prostitute, the ‘ you’ of the poem, as she stands on the pavement among the withered leaves. • It might be helpful to regard this poem, like the others, as a video post-card of this moment, six o’clock on the winter’s evening. Eliot used words as his way of painting the picture. • The time is pinpointed at 6 o’clock precisely. • Residents, living probably in one-roomed apartments, are cooking their evening meal all at the same time. They are probably all workers living in flats. The word ‘ passageways’ suggests the houses have been turned into flats for rent. Even though it seems a run-down part of town, the residents can afford steak. • By linking the scene here with the ‘ stale smells of beer’ and ‘ dingy shades’ in furnished rooms of ‘ Prelude II’ and the ‘ thousand sordid images’ of ‘ Prelude III’, one could assume that the Preludes are set in a red-light district of a city. • The smell of steak is a signal that day is done and night is beginning. Because of city smoke the day is described as smoky. Maybe the smoke occurs because people are cooking at the same time. The tiredness of the workers is suggested by the word ‘ burnt-out’. Or is there a humorous suggestion that they over cook the steaks? • The weather is bad; a windy shower beats on the buildings and on the horse outside. The cold rain evaporates as steam off the horse’s back. • It is early winter as the autumn leaves are still on the ground. The filth of the place is revealed by the phrase ‘ grimy scraps’. • The street is untidy as newspapers are blown around the place. • There are many empty or vacant spaces without a building on the street. • The details show that the street is rundown as the word ‘ broken’ is used to describe the window-blinds. • The buildings are probably three or four storey houses rather than factories as the observer refers to the chimney pots. In ‘ Prelude IV’ the observer refers to the houses as being in blocks. • The means of transport is by cab-horse. A mysterious visitor to a house makes the cab-horse wait. It seems to stamp its feet to beat off the cold or its boredom. The horse is lonely. • We are given no clue about the mystery visitor. The poem invites us to guess for ourselves who the visitor might be. Perhaps he is a client of the woman with yellow feet in ‘ Prelude III’, a woman whose hand raised a ‘ dingy shade’ in ‘ Prelude II’. Might he be visiting a prostitute? Or has he called to eat a steak? • The only other event noted by the observer is the turning on of the streetlights or lamps. In other words, not much is happening outside. Themes Suffering People live harsh lives, full of routine and boredom. Life is an unchanging cycle of day and night. There is a sense of people waiting and rushing but not really enjoying their lives. People endure the discomfort of winter. They live in filthy conditions. Some hide false lives from the eyes of others. Women struggle, leading sordid and unhygienic lives. The poet pities this suffering and seeks a spiritual significance for it. But he gives up and laughs at it all. The Nature of Life In The City Day and night are different in the city. By day it is a scene of rushing crowds heading to coffee stands before work or heading home from newspaper stands after work. For many their daily life is a masquerade in comparison to what they do at night. A woman has a vision of the street that others don’t have. At night the street is blackened and a type of filthy underworld exists. At night people live their secret lives, creating ‘ sordid’ images. Women and Men Around 1910 a woman’s life was difficult. The poem portrays a woman passing an uneasy night in bed, tormented by sordid images, perhaps of her clients. Her hands are dirty, like the dingy hands that lift thousand shades. Old women are reduced to picking twigs as fire fuel. Men on the other hand are portrayed as living lives that are busy but false. They are full of certainty. They light their pipes and read evening newspapers. The women use the same papers only for hair curlers as they prepare themselves for men. Pretence People lead double lives. The respectable life people live by day hides a sordid night-life. Beer and sordid images are the reality of night-life for some. By day they act out a cleaner life as they rush for the coffee stands and work, pretending to have a clean conscience. They ignore the suffering of a beggar as they get on with their busy and important lives. But it is all a ‘ masquerade’ or pretence. Time Eliot looks at the faces of the city at different times: dusk, night-time, morning, afternoon. In time nothing changes, the world revolves around human misery, especially the misery of women. Lifestyle People’s lives in 1910 consisted of rushing to and from work, consuming coffee, beer and steaks, reading newspapers, smoking pipes and secret, sordid activities. Poverty Eliot portrays filth and neglect. Hands and feet are dirty. The streets are full of rubbish. Old women hunt for fuel. Young women sell their bodies. Women use newspapers for curlers. Style • Repetition Many words and images are repeated. They link the preludes. Newspapers carried home to read in ‘ Prelude III’ occur as rubbish and as curlers in Preludes I and II. Hands are mentioned in three preludes. Feet are mentioned in all the preludes. The sense of smell links the first two preludes. Time of day [see theme above] forms a connecting link between them. ‘ Vacant lots’ links the first and last preludes. ‘ Grimy’, ‘ dingy’, ‘ sordid’, ‘ soiled’ and ‘ blackened’ form a strong link between the preludes. ‘ Blinds’, ‘ shades’ and ‘ shutters’ link three preludes. • Imagery The poem consists of a series of manly descriptive images. Examples include the sparrows, the restless female sleeper at night, withered leaves, a cab-horse, a gusty shower, evening newspapers, paper hair curlers, and the smells of beer. There are a large number of such word pictures in the poem. • Metaphor A day is burnt out. A soul is compared to an evening sky. Images in a woman’s mind flicker on her ceiling like flames. • Personification A Street has a conscience. Morning has a consciousness. Light creeps. An evening settles down. A shower wraps. • Simile The worlds revolve like old women hunting for fuel. • Metonymy Body parts like eyes, hands and feet are used to represent a person. • Contrast Day is contrasted to night, men to women, the outdoor street to the interior of a room, light is contrasted to darkness. • Tone Detached at times, like the opening. The tone is scornful or sarcastic at times, such as with the use of the word ‘ masquerades’. The tone is jeering at the end, with the poet’s mocking laughter. At many times the tone is disgusted, like when the awakening woman holds yellow feet in soiled hands. The word ‘ trampled’ implies pity, as does the reference the gentle thing suffering. • Atmosphere Each prelude describes the mood of a city street or room at a time of day. The mood or atmosphere on a winter’s evening is very well described. The words ‘ burnt-out’, ‘ gusty’, ‘ grimy’, ‘ withered’, ‘ vacant’, ‘ broken’ and ‘ lonely’ are all adjectives that capture a bleak and dreary place. They create a feeling of misery. The verbs ‘ steams’ and ‘ stamps’ are effective at showing the impatient mood of the lonely horse. The words ‘ trampled’ and ‘ insistent’ create the urgent atmosphere surrounding the public on the street. The verbs ‘ tossed’, ‘ lay’, ‘ dozed’, and ‘ clasped’ convey the restless or tormented world of the woman. • Paradox [apparent contradiction] The ‘ certain certainties’ contradict the ‘ masquerades’. • Pun ‘ Muddy’ may mean literally covered in street mud, but it may also mean dirty or immoral, or it may mean that the feet are disguised for the ‘ masquerade’. • Religious Allusion Eliot refers to the suffering Christ who may lie behind all the human suffering of the city—‘ some infinitely gentle infinitely suffering thing’. • Alliteration ‘ Smell of steaks’, ‘ His soul stretched tight across the skies’—both of these are also examples of sibilance. ‘ Broken blinds’. Alliteration contributes to the musical effects of the preludes. • Assonanance Note the ‘ o’ sound that creates the music of the awakening sounds of morning: ‘ The morning comes to consciousness of’. After this there is a 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’. • Sibilance [repetition of ‘ s’ sound] The repeating ‘ s’ sounds in the opening description convey the distasteful nature of the house smells, linked especially to ‘ steaks’. The continuing ‘ s’ repletion also becomes an example of onomatopoeia when it captures the rasping or scraping sound of the blown leaves as they scrape the ground. Sibilance also conveys the mood of the impatient cab horse more vividly. Sibilance is used throughout the poem—it reinforces the atmosphere of dirty secret lives. • Rhyme There is a lot of end rhyme in the poem although it doesn’t follow a strict pattern throughout. Note the irregular sequence of fifteen end sounds for ‘ Prelude III’: ‘ ed’, ‘ ed’, ‘ ing’, ‘ ages’, ‘ ed’, ‘ ing’, ‘ ack’, ‘ ers’, ‘ ers’, ‘ eet’, ‘ ands’, ‘ ere’, ‘ air’, ‘ eet’, ‘ ands’. There is rhyme but an unclear pattern. This musically represents the confusion of life. There are also some word repetitions between lines. Take for example ‘ street’ between lines 33 and 34. All the sound repetitions create verbal or word music, which is very suitable for a group of poems called ‘ Preludes’.