The poem “Preludes” by T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) is one of the most prominent poems written by this American-British poet, playwright, cultural philosopher and critic. In this poem, written in an impressionistic style, he shares his thoughts about spirituality set in the modern city.
Writing a poem isn’t limited to a certain period. The poem Eliot wrote was written between 1910 and 1912. There is one ‘problem’ because it’s not just one poem. He combined four poems.
Society is a wasteland. Corruption and desolation are the dominant factors in this wasteland. The poem suggests something is coming. Prelude means that it’s an introduction to something. This word is often used in music.
In this poem, he learns about economics, vividness and impersonality. It’s not the easiest poem to read. It ‘speaks’ hopelessness, that uses parts of the human body to bring forward his message.
At the time Eliot wrote these words, he was in his twenties. The poem was later included in the poetry collection “Prufrock and Other Observations” (1917).
It all takes place in a city without a name, but it could easily be in the cities where he lived. Cambridge (Massachusetts, US), Paris (France), Oxford. You decide. It’s a timeless poem about a modern city that might as well be any big city. But in a way, it’s a confrontation with himself, his spirituality and the fact that this city makes a great impression. Or better: made a great impression, since the words were written long ago.
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.
— T.S. Eliot