What is "Preludes" about by T.S. Eliot?

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coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are some people who think that "Preludes" by the poet TS Eliot actually serves as a "prelude" to some of his later works. It is true that is seems a good preparation for the cityscape and sterile concretre and rubble images of "The Wasteland." He wrote the piece in several short bursts while he a student at Harvard and also while in Europe. Although it sounds like a pretty musical theme in its title , this is ironic because it doesn't live up to that description. Time jumps about within the poem - look for instances of different times of day - and then returns to normal without "preluding" anything in particular. One of the themes it seems to talk about is the isolation and unpersonal style of modern urban city living.

drrb | Student

Preludes of T.S.Eliot have four sections - the first two of them were written among his earliest  poetical endeavours between 1909 and 1910 at Harvard, the third section composed in Paris nearly one year later  and the fourth part  added in London in 1911. The title Preludes suggests that the four sections are an introduction to something vast and large, but of a similar nature. A prelude means an orchestral opening to an act of an opera or a short piece of music on piano hurriedly playing the opening notes of the full songs that will follow  in due course of time.Eliot here tries to highlight some sad and dingy aspects of modern city life through trenchant  but symbolically  pregnant images . He was influenced by Babu de Montparnasse of Charles Louis Philippe  who  gives the graphic picture of the degradation and squalor of Parisian life. Eliot provides a picture of a modern city life in general. The first prelude describes a winter evening when the smoky day comes to an end with the smell of meat filling the houses. Showers of rain beat on the windows  and chimney pots. The streets are deserted. The second prelude  describes a winter morning with the faint smell of beer filling the air. Men with saw dust tread the streets hurrying to the coffee houses  and they assume false personalities. The third prelude  has the picture of a woman lying on her bed half awake , half asleep in a furnished house . She sees various shapes of detestable life she had at night  and is filled with misery. This is a picture similar to that of Berthe's waking after a night of debasing body -selling in Charles Philippe's novel.  Section Four the poet personifies the street and describes its soul stretched tight across the skies. There are hollow men filling the pipes  with tobacco or reading newspapers  with eyes assured of material comforts. But their spiritual bankcruptcy is writ large over their face. The poet links up all the preludes and fuses the ideas underneath only to show his detestation with the sordid life of the city.  The world at large however takes no notice of this soullessness and the intense sufferings of the poetic soul. The world goes on revolving in the wonted way like old women gathering fuel from vacant places.

Dr.Ratan Bhattacharjee


epollock | Student

This poem reflects Eliot’s early poetry in the imagist tradition. He presents little vignettes almost cinematically, as though he had selected them through the process of montage. Because these vignettes represent the reverse side of life, the antiheroic nature of modern urban existence, they cause "Preludes" somewhat to resemble the view of city life presented by Swift in "A Description of the Morning."  

The images of evening in stanza one are derived from locations just outside buildings. In the second stanza the early morning images move into the thousands of furnished rooms in which urbanized human beings spend their lives. The third stanza focuses on one of these rooms in the morning, and a woman in the room is dozing before getting up to begin the day.

One may presume that the "you" in the third stanza is female because of the image of the curled papers in the hair. The images associated with this woman are "sordid," and a damnatory statement is that her "soul" is "constituted" out of a thousand such images; in other words, the negative pictures of life are more prominent than the positive. The things she sees are the shutters, the gutters, soiled hands, and the yellow soles of feet. There is nothing idealistic or pretty here.

The identity represented by "His" in line is not clear. One may assume that a general person is intended, one of the representative nonentities who live in one of the thousands of furnished rooms, one of the faceless persons in the crowd. The meaning of "blackened street" seems to be that there is much that is bad in the urban environment (it is "blackened"), but that it too needs to be active. There is a direction in the impatience to "assume the world," but it is all in the antiheroic direction.

There are not many references to the human body, but there are some. The feet are muddy, the hand is raising a dingy shade, the hair is rolled with papers, the soles of feet are yellow, and the fingers are short and square. Images of the urban scene are more abundant. Both are equally discouraging about the development of humankind.

The idea of stanza five is that there is a power somewhere which may be able to make sense out of the urban images, and that this power, through suffering, may be able to redeem the people who are consigned to the dreariness of the city. The last stanza moves from this hope to final resignation. Have your beer, wipe the foam away, and have a good time, because the world goes on in its own way despite the best any human being can do. This idea is not dissimilar to the carpe diem tradition, but it provides a twist on the theme because of the poem’s emphasis on dreariness, not on mortality.