What was happening historically at the time T.S. Eliot's poem "Preludes" was published?
T.S. Eliot wrote his masterful poem "Preludes" between 1911 and 1912, when England and the United States were on a rapid path of urbanization and industrialization. The poem, which includes references to "The burnt-out ends of smoky days" and "newspapers from vacant lots" in the first stanza and "The morning comes to consciousness/Of faint stale smells of beer" in the second stanza, is about the spiritualness deadness and emptiness of modern city life.
At the time, England and the United States had undergone a process of industrialization, meaning that technology and mass production governed the way goods were produced and the way people worked. As a result, people flooded from rural to urban areas, such as London and Liverpool in Britain and New York and Chicago in the United States, to work in offices and factories. The planned development of the modern city lagged behind this rapid process of urbanization so that people often lived in crowded and unsanitary conditions. These are conditions and way of life that Eliot portrays in "Preludes."
In addition, while eventually civic and religious associations started to connect urban people, there was a great deal of anonymity at times and disconnection, themes that also appear in Eliot's poems. Eliot associated urban life with a kind of spiritual deadness that is conveyed by his poem, including the "sordid images" and "yellow soles of feet" in the third stanza. The soles of the feet can be associated with the souls of people, which Eliot conveys are deadened and dirty.
Soon after he wrote this poem, Britain would become embroiled in World War I, which broke out in 1914. This war would lead to immense death and destruction in Europe.
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