What kind of neighborhood has the poet chosen to describe in Eliot's poem beginning with the line, "The winter evening settles down"? How can one tell?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The winter evening settles down" is the first line of the poem called "Preludes" by T.S. Eliot. The poem describes a sordid, grimy, lower-class neighborhood in an industrialized city in the early twenthieth century.

In the first stanza, Eliot gives the impression of a dirty working-class neighborhood with its smells of food, "grimy scraps of withered leaves," newspapers in vacant lots, and broken window blinds. The second stanza reinforces the impressions of the first as it describes morning in the city. Eliot writes of the smell of beer, muddy streets sprinkled with sawdust, and people raising "dingy shades" in their "furnished rooms."

The third stanza introduces a specific character in the second person who is waking to a day in the city. This person hears sparrows singing in the gutters. Normally, hearing birds singing in the morning would be cheerful, but sparrows are common in cities, and here they sing in the gutters and not while sitting in foliage. The character referred to as "you" has "yellow soles" and "soiled hands," implying a hard working life. In the fourth stanza, the poet writes of a "blackened street" and an "infinitely suffering thing."

All these sensory impressions give us a picture of a dirty, desolate, depressing neighborhood in a big city.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Eliot is offering his view of modern civilization. Note the many ugly references to grim and emptiness:  "withered leaves," "grimy scraps," "broken blinds and chimney pots," "stale smells of beer," and "dingy shades." Setting the poem in winter, furthermore, suggests despair and loneliness despite the urban location. 

Following World War I, the world view of many poets like Eliot was that modern society was in a state of decline and decay. He has chosen to write about a city in such a condition with images of cigarettes, pollution, and beer to suggest urban squalor without any sense of hope.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial