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 sould 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.
In music, preludes
are short works, typically free from, created to introduce more formal and larger compositions. When T.S. Eliot
picked this musical title no doubt he intended to use it to suggest the mood and method of longer works composed in the same period.
Eliot had a great impact as a poet. His techniques, as well as, those of fellow American poet Ezra Pound, became hallmarks of modern poetry. His 'voice' has been the expression of dislocation and despair of the twentieth century and prevailed in English literature for over thirty years in a way that hasn't been seen since the days of Dr. Johnson. Eliot regarded poets as craftsmen using traditional literary materials as his objective in creating better made poems. His theory was that the poet is like the anonymous master artisans who made contributions to the great medieval cathedrals yet remain personally unknown. The poet becomes a part of the background of the poem. It's the poem that matters not the one who created it. He disliked the ideas of those that would search through a poet's background to find revelation in a poem. The work was all important and stood alone from its creator. As a result we have a body or work that can be studied, not for its messages or meanings, but for its method and structure--its architecture.
The original text appreared in Prufrock and Other Observations (London: The Egoist, 1917), this work is about city life seen from the point of view of a wanderer through the streets trying to come to some conclusion about the meaning of life he sees around him. In the end he finally relinquishes his goal and leaves the reader with a vision of the street for which he feels compassion but considers beyond redemption.
Preludes paints a thousand sordid images....of burnt out ends of smoky days on a sawdust-trampled street that hardly understands why the infinitely gentle are infinitely suffering things gathered in its vacant lots. Eliot relates city life to the vanishing urban landscape and sets the stage with images as a prelude to life as a wasteland.
Written when Eliot was in his twenties, horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps were not yet replaced by the more modern conveniences. Steaks in line two were cheap cuts of meat. Dehumanizing aspects abounded in the growing metropolis like Eliot's Boston and he watched the multitude of workers wash in and out like debris on the tides. Large slums loomed to block eternally peaceful rural landscapes as the Industrial Age heralded in.
Biographical information about Mr. Eliot taken from The Influence of T.S. Eliot by John Malcom Brinnin.
Public Domain text taken from: