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T.S. Eliot's poem is a description of not only one city, but of different cities he may have visited - therefore the four short poems which make up the complete rendition. The cities he describes are bleak, morose places, unwelcome and filled with, grime dust and filth, not only on a literal level, but morally and spiritually as well. The city is not wholesome and pleasant - the sounds, smells and even the view, is one of decay and corruption. There are no nightingales swinging sweet choruses in beautiful, leafy trees, but 'sparrows in the gutters'. The city is unremarkable and unsatisfying - a place where people indulge in immoral acts and hide behind 'dingy shades'. It presents 'sordid images' and its endless main street is 'blackened', and seemingly 'impatient to assume the world'.
In Mongane Wally Serote's poem, the images of Johannesburg are very similar to those described by Eliot. The city is personified and inhales and exhales 'thick iron breath', a reference probably to the stifling smog and smoke created by traffic and places of commerce and industry within the city. The city has 'neon flowers', 'electrical wind' and 'cement trees' a mocking reference to the unnatural identity of the city. The city has lodged its roots deep within the speaker, finding its sustenance there but at the same time possessing the speaker's mind, body and soul, weakening him. The city is like a parasite, for it uses the speaker - 'that is all you need of me.' The city is 'dry like death' - lifeless and barren.
2. The people
In both poems, it is clear that the inhabitants of the city are mere pawns in its hands. They are the products, as it were, of an uncaring and harsh environment. They have become corrupted and enveloped by the filth created by the city - spiritually and physically. The city has made them spiritless and mundane, drab and unexcited. Eliot more clearly describes the effect life in the city has on those who reside their and pound its streets. He vividly describes how grimy and disgusting their lives are. Just as in Serote's poem, it is clear that they labour hard - the soles of their feet are 'yellowed' and their hands 'soiled' - indications of hard, physical labour.
3. The speakers' attitudes
It is clear that both speakers are deeply cynical about the city. Their references and imagery speaks of a feeling of disgust towards the subjects of their poems. In both instances the speakers adopt a mocking tone. Eliot ironically titles his poem 'Preludes' - a prelude is normally an introduction to something special, an action or event that one can look forward to - the expectation is mostly a positive one. However, one is introduced to a miserable and sombre place, one that does not justify any 'prelude'. Furthermore, the setting of part 2 is also early morning, when one should look to the new day with expectation. The morning is a prelude to the rest of the day. The speaker emphasises, though, that there is nothing much to look forward to. 'One thinks of all the hands that are raising dingy shades ...'.
Mongane Wally Serote's poem is a 'praise' poem, and therein lies the irony because he actually despises the city for the fact that it takes him away from 'my love' and 'my people' and sucks him dry. However, the city also takes him away from danger, 'Where death lurks in the dark like a blade in the flesh' and from 'my dust'. It is ironic then that he can find being in the city so dissatisfying - maybe it is because he has no choice, he has to work and in this sense, Johannesburg provides him with that sustenance. The speaker thus has an ambivalent relationship with the city. He both praises and criticises it.
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