What is the rhyme pattern in the first stanza of "Preludes," and what might Eliot have been trying to do in using this pattern?

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The rhyme pattern here, in my view, doesn't correspond to anything especially meaningful or recognizable in the established poetic forms of literary history. We see the following scheme for the opening stanza:

ABCBDDEFEFEGG

In spite of a slight irregularity, however, one could judge it to contain two six-line sub-stanzas with...

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The rhyme pattern here, in my view, doesn't correspond to anything especially meaningful or recognizable in the established poetic forms of literary history. We see the following scheme for the opening stanza:

ABCBDDEFEFEGG

In spite of a slight irregularity, however, one could judge it to contain two six-line sub-stanzas with an extra rhyme added between the fourth and "fifth" lines of the second sub-stanza, the extra line being the third "E" rhyme. But even if we disregard this additional line, the two sub-stanzas still don't show the identical rhyming pattern.

Obviously Eliot intended this irregularity. As in "Prufrock," the rhymes seem randomly placed. Ever since Whitman and his use of free verse, poets saw no absolute need to employ rhyme or meter. Neither Eliot's "Prufrock" nor his "Preludes" are written in free verse per se, but they nevertheless don't follow the specific patterns we associate with verse from the periods before Whitman and modernism.

The irregularity is probably meant to give an off-center feeling in the first stanza. Because the reader is not met with any expected rhyming or metrical scheme, there is a sense of randomness, which corresponds to the deliberate use of "unpoetic" images and sensations: the "smell of steaks in passageways," the "newspapers from vacant lots," the "broken blinds and chimney-pots." Eliot's verse is "poetic" yet ironically so, since he purposely mixes the conventional with the radically startling (in context) but still prosaic symbols of the modern world, such as the "patient etherised upon a table," in "Prufrock."

In "Preludes," a more regular pattern would be incongruous. Immediately the reader is given a "broken" pattern of lines—not merely unexpected and irregular rhymes, but truncated lines: "Six o'clock," "The grimy scraps," and "The showers beat." These truncations appear in every third line but are lacking from the last four lines of the stanza—and the subsequent stanzas show different patterns and groupings. This mixed, inconsistent and fragmented technique corresponds to the fragmented, alien nature of the modern urban world Eliot is describing.

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The first section of T. S. Eliot's "Preludes" is written in a form similar to the "songs" of the Metaphysical poets Eliot admired. The formal patterning exists on the border between free verse and regular meter. The rhythmic pattern is primarily iambic tetrameter, with occasional short lines (dimeter) interspersed among the tetrameter lines, in many ways recalling works such as Donne's "Song: Go and catch a falling star."

The lines tend to be end-stopped with pronounced rhymes. The first part is thirteen lines long and in some ways has echoes of the sound structure and rhetorical form of the Shakespearean sonnet—but with significant variations. The actually rhyme pattern is:

abcb dd efef e g g

The spacing (added for this answer) is intended to show how the section references a sonnet structure, with two quatrains and a final couplet, but does so in a free and fluid manner. There are several departures from the sonnet pattern, but there is still sufficient regularity, so a reader will hear the ghost of a traditional meter behind Eliot's flexible deployment of rhythm and rhyme. This exemplifies Eliot's own theories about his relationship to tradition, in which the ideal poet takes traditional materials and techniques and reshapes them in a manner that is simultaneously giving a voice to the past but located in the present.

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Given the musical provenance of the word "prelude," it shouldn't surprise us that there's a certain singsong quality about the poem. In opera, a prelude is a piece of music played before the action starts. It sets the tone for what's about to follow, and introduces the audience to a number of themes that will be developed in the course of the drama.

In the first prelude, Eliot is primarily engaged in mood-setting. It is evening in the city, and Eliot introduces a common refrain of his work: the sterility of modern urban life. The sudden storm provides an appropriate atmosphere in which the detritus of the decaying city may be more keenly observed. "Withered" leaves are blown about by the wind in "grimy scraps;" the showers beat on "broken" blinds and chimney-pots.

Eliot deliberately refrains from using a regular rhyme scheme in the first prelude. This is entirely in keeping with the picture he paints of a tired, lonely city lashed mercilessly by a storm. Regular rhyme would infuse the prelude with a sense of life and vitality. But there's precious little of that on display in this dull urban landscape. Rhyme is used fitfully; and even then, it's only to draw attention to the city's deadening torpor:

A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps

And then the lighting of the lamps.

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Published in the second decade of the twentieth century, T.S. Eliot's early somber poem Preludes deserves its title.  In its four sections Preludes 'raises the curtain' on many of the themes the premier modernist poet exhibited in his later work, most especially in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land. During a 24-hour period, quartered into evening, middle of the night, morning, and back to evening again, each stanza and line immerses the reader in the desolation, grime, and hopelessness of a broken civilization. To underscore this, Eliot experiments with a fragmented, even makeshift rhyme scheme throughout the poem, including the first stanza. Here, the rhymes are scattered irregularly - 'wraps' and 'scraps', for example - as if to emphasize the futility of living in a day that is already 'burnt out'  

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