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Last Updated on August 14, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438

Various Passing Characters

There are no named characters in the poem. It describes a destitute part of town which is described as dirty and poverty-stricken. It makes mention of passing characters, such as "ancient women" who move through empty lots gathering fuel and a cab horse that stands on a street corner, stamping. Other implied characters include the owners of "muddy feet" who move through these dirty streets, and the metonymic "hands" which are raising shades in the rooms beyond the streets.

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Part of the point of this poem is that it could describe any neighborhood suffering in this run-down way at this time. Eliot deliberately does not name any of the characters, because he does not want to suggest that they are anyone in particular. On the contrary, anybody reading might recognize a neighborhood like this one, which is "grimy" and inhabited by many dirty and faceless people who are "suffering." Small details, such as the lamps being lit and the image of the cab horse standing on its own, lend atmosphere to the scene described: we can imagine that it is not a wealthy neighborhood, smelling as it does of beer and still having gas lamps and horses where others of the time would have motor cars and electricity. This is a world which would have been familiar to many in the urban environment.

The Speaker

It might be assumed that the speaker is Eliot himself, or that the voice is informed by Eliot's own. The speaker is intrigued by what he describes, which he perceives to be something "infinitely suffering" and extremely gentle. The speaker seems to have great...

(The entire section contains 438 words.)

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