Summary of the poem " prelude" by T.S. Eliot

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This delicate, ironically titled poem is a portrait of an old man’s thoughts alone in a dingy room.  The 1st stanza sets the setting – urban, windy, etc.  Evening (dusk, the streetlamps being lit);  2nd stanza -- Morning --  smells and light – Time resumes; 3rd. stanza. – waking up to your facticity (cf. Whitman-- “[Animals] do not lie awake…and weep for their sins”).; 4th stanza switches to the third person – (His soul stretched tight…”)

The poem lists sensory impressions, a city scene but with a thread of natural life also (“leaves, sparrows.”) It is a paeon (poem in praise) to the non-youthful state, a register of the cycle of day and night but also of life itself – youth goes to old age, then comes back around.  The genius of Eliot (here and elsewhere, as in “Prufrock”) is that he catches the essence of age, of “having aged.”  The irony of the title is made clear by the final three lines, which sum up the idea that life is a cycle, and “the past is prelude,”one of Modernism’s most prevailing notions--“The worlds revolve like ancient women/Gathering fuel in vacant lots.”

   By drawing in details of sensations --  “The thousand sordid images/Of which your soul was constituted”—smells (stale beer, steaks), sounds (cab-horse…stamps”, “sparrows”), but especially the changing light (“And the light crept up between the shutters”), Eliot recreates the ever-repeating cycle of daily life, like the debris whirled around by the “gusty shower” -- “I am moved by fancies that are curled/Around these images…” Eliot sees Man as an "infinitely suffering thing"  but suffering is what "stretches the Soul across the sky."

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