This early Eliot poem contains lines which find echoes in his famous "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock ," opening as it does with a description of how "the winter evening settles down" amid "the burnt-out ends of smoky days." The poem is divided into four sections. The...
This early Eliot poem contains lines which find echoes in his famous "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," opening as it does with a description of how "the winter evening settles down" amid "the burnt-out ends of smoky days." The poem is divided into four sections. The first describes this winter evening, picking out the details of the "grimy scraps," "broken blinds," and "a lonely cab-horse." This section sets the scene, creating a picture of a dark street in, perhaps, a slightly run down part of town.
In the second section of the poem, "morning comes to consciousness" in the street, but it is barely improved by it: it smells faintly of "beer," and the speaker imagines "all the hands / that are raising dingy shades" in the neighborhood as "muddy feet" move towards coffee stands, and life begins again, a "masquerade."
The third section is written in the second person, drawing the reader into the picture the poem has developed. In this section, "you...watched the night revealing / The thousand sordid images / Of which your soul was constituted." The section describes how, in this neighborhood of dirty streets, the unnamed "you" lying awake in bed until "you heard the sparrows in the gutters" experienced a sort of "vision of the street," or an understanding of the world brought on by self-reflection in the dark.
In the fourth section, the theme of disillusionment continues, but the perspective has changed. The speaker describes the repetitive motions of "insistent feet / At four and five and six o'clock," going about their monotonous business, "stuffing pipes" and reading newspapers. These people seem to pursue a dingy and meaningless existence, but the speaker is "moved by fancies that are curled / Around these images, and cling: / The notion of some infinitely gentle / Infinitely suffering thing." The poem ends with the speaker advising the reader to "wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh," as if wiping away the concerns and night-time anxieties described in the previous section. Ultimately, though the people in the neighborhood seem to exist in depressed, dingy, separate "worlds" which only revolve day by day around each other, there is nothing to be done about it and nothing to be achieved by worrying. The poem's resolution is pessimistic: "you," the subject of the poem, is evidently dejected and disillusioned by the world as it exists, but the speaker cannot suggest any action to take to improve it.