(Prufrock and Other Observations)
By T. S. Eliot
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
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.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
Introducing T. S. Eliot
The rise of Modernism in literature in the first half of 20th century saw the emergence of two major poets in British literature – W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), an Irish poet and T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), an American who made England his home. The contribution of both the poets to English literature is of immense value, leaving behind them a wealth of literary works in criticism, prose, drama and especially, poetry. However, while Yeats poetry concentrated more on symbolism and myth, it was Eliot who surviving the debris of the two World Wars and a series of personal misfortunes, was effective in rendering modern English poetry a new type of rhetoric, structure and poetic diction that echoed the sentiments of Great Britain that was living in the cross-currents of the disturbing images of the Industrial Age and settled assurance of the Victorian past. Eliot, heavily influenced by the changing literary scene and the cultural trends of his times and the French imagist and symbolist poets produced a poetry that has all the essence of a true ‘Modernist’. (Read more…)
A Critical Note:
Theme: Eliot’s Preludes is the musical rendering of the drama of meaninglessness that the modern industrial life had thrust upon man. The title Preludes means an introduction to something, especially a piece of music. Eliot’s Preludes, is therefore, an introduction to the modern song of despair, of despondency, of drabness of grey city life during the early twentieth century. The context of the poem recalls the events aftermath the Industrial Age in Great Britain and in Western Europe that saw a large scale migration of people from their native villages to cities in search of food and work and also to escape peasantry. As the cities got more and more populated there was a vast social and economic change in lifestyle among the working class. The poor living standards and lack of basic necessities made the conditions of the working class miserable. These changes also brought in a cultural loss as life became mechanical, work became exhaustive and men became more corrupted, dishonest and non-religious. In Preludes, the humanist Eliot pained by such deterioration of mankind tries to capture these various meaningless images of the scattered city life and put forth before his readers the futility of such an existence. It is the introduction to an absurd existence that comes to an end every day at ‘six o’ clock’, an existence that is ritualistic and same, an existence that is prostitute to time where every action seems just another futile attempt to whisk away the endless time. It is the sequel to the sensitive suffering of Prufrock, where Eliot presents the fragmentation of modern man which is incapable of having any unbroken vision of life. The four parts of the poem presents the arbitrariness of time where dawn follows the day and day comes after an exhausting night, where time has caught the lethargy of man as it quietly “settles down”. In the inaction of the winter is the paradoxical peace, a compelled relaxation that blurs our vision as a “Paralyzed Force”. All throughout the poem Eliot uses objects and senses of everyday significance to create an image of life as we see but then he so defamiliarizes the image and renders a sordidness even to what we think is positive and beautiful aspects of life that our reaction becomes remote, removed and restless. As Eliot describes the various futile actions of man in its four parts, he slowly separates the ‘you’ and ‘he’ with the ‘I’ and at the end internalizes the self to finally connect all the disconnected parts into single image and associate mankind with the Force that created him. The imagery of “some infinitely gentle/ Infinitely suffering thing” brings into mind the picture of Son of God who sacrificed himself for the salvation of mankind. But here there is no salvation as Eliot, yet again, defamiliarizes the image immediately in the next stanza as we see the “ancient women/ Gathering fuels in vacant lots” as the world continues to revolve in its futile process.
Literary Technique and Structure:
Departing from the grandiloquent poetic diction, Eliot’s poetry articulated raw, irregular and fragmented structure depicting for the first time realism in English poetry. Preludes too articulate this same fragmentation and irregularity in theme and structure. The poem was composed somewhere between 1910 and 1911, while his stay in France and US. Around this time Eliot was also avidly reading the French Symbolist poets especially the works of Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine and Laforgue. Their use impressionistic and pastiche technique in literature greatly influenced Eliot and in Preludes he tries to incorporate the same techniques to express the fragmentation, the sordidness and the solitariness of a drab city life. The fifty four lines of the poem follow a free verse style and irregular structure and are divided into four parts. The four parts represents the four phases of the day and using the stream of consciousness technique Eliot reveals the repetitive activities, thoughts, uncertainties, fear and despair of a city dweller. Each of this part is apparently disconnected from the other and represents a microcosmic image of existence in the backdrop of a grey city life but at the end they add up to become a whole single image to represent the macrocosm, a greater picture of the disconnected self.