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Eliot's Preludes is in the form of a sequence of impressionist observations of a metropolitan journey. A series of four observational sequences, the poem explores a fragmented city-scape with emphases on the monotony, disgust, squalor and disillusion of modern world as the narrating persona leads us on from image to image, from one scene to another, with the focus on dirt and filth, aridity and decadence, subjugation and tyranny.
The first three sections move from evening to morning, the fourth returns to the evening hours with a cynical mockery of the earth's repetitive circumambulation.The point of view of an impersonal, objective description of a city street on a “gusty” winter evening in section shifts to a more subjective first-person response in the middle of section IV. The second person addressee “you” in preludes I and IV is presumably a reference to the reader or to anyone who has walked the city streets. The scene moves from the dirty streets to dingy rooms at the end of II. A woman in such a room is addressed as “you” in section III, which describes her actions and thoughts as she wakes up in the morning after a vision of her own self. Prelude IV contains three separate parts, beginning with a third-person description of a man’s soul in relation to the street scene, followed by a more lyrical, subjective, and illusory glimpse of hope and salvation expressed in the first person. The closing lines again cancels out the glimpse as the poem ends with a cynical laughter, and a typically Eliotesque sardonic image of “ancient women” moving round and round in “vacant lots”, reinforcing the image of the same vacancy in section I.
Eliot's vision in these vignettes majestically suggests the hopeless monotony, the decadence, the fragmentation, the dirt and filth, and the denial of salvation in the modern metropolitan life. References to claustrophobic urban existence, routine city life, the street-walker in her dingy room, the futility of the old women's fuel-gathering rotation etc constitute an urban landscape of of alienation and disillusion and emptiness.
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