Eliot's poems in Prufrock and Other Observations often present the circularity of time: the relationship between an individual, an individual moment, and the whole of existence.
In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," for one, Prufrock's relationship with time is characterized by anxiety. He finds himself enduring another tedious social evening, but he has a similar anxiety about time spent alone with his female companion. Prufrock's repeated question—"Do I dare / Disturb the universe?"—is really a question about time: Do I dare to use my time as I wish? Do I dare disturb the only routine I know?
Prufrock expresses with great exasperation his circular thinking about time and action; in lines 25–36, he repeats "time" eight times. Eliot's use of repetition illustrates Prufrock's neurotic thinking: "There will be time" for action, to imagine, to prepare a face to meet other faces, to "murder and create"; time to answer the questions others drop on his plate,
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
Prufrock's indecisiveness is his individual response to time; the poem is his soliloquy of the divided self.
At this party, in this moment, he does not have the confidence necessary for action and individuality. The character in the poem's epigraph (from Dante's Inferno) recognizes his permanency in hell and therefore answers Dante's question without fear of infamy. Prufrock's crime would be to disturb his social universe, to exit the party and his loveless relationship. He fails (he fears exiting down the stairs because of his bald spot and the butler's snickering at Prufrock's early departure alone) and therefore will not, in this moment, return from the depths of his misery. He fails in this moment of time to take action.
In "Rhapsody on a Windy Night," Eliot segments the relationship between individuals and existence. The streetlamp speaks to the man as he walks through the city; the streetlamp asks the man to observe the individual moments in the whole of existence.
During his four-hour walk on a windy night, the man sees a woman "Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door / Which opens on her like a grin." The woman, likely a prostitute, lives in the same moment as the man on his walk; she lives in the same moment as the moon, the memories of the twisted branch, the broken spring, the stray cat eating rancid butter, the child, and the old crab. These images and memories are present in the same moment as the current action.
The circularity of time is the concept that everything in the poem exists both in its own time and in the whole of existence. The only timeless object in the poem is the moon: it has seen all time, both in its wholeness and in individual moments. The moon symbolizes the endless circularity of time.