Rhapsody on a Windy Night

by T. S. Eliot
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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636

T. S. Eliot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" is a poem in which the speaker walks along a deserted street at midnight. The poem is divided into eight stanzas and does not adhere to a particular form or rhyme scheme.

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The first line sets the scene for the rest of the poem, reading almost like the stage directions of a play. The speaker imparts the time in a matter-of-fact tone before describing the location. The moon is nearly blocked out from the speaker's view thanks to the street lamps that burn in his eyes. The speaker suggests that these lamps trigger his memories of the past. The speaker likens his thought process to that of a lunatic (a term that is derived from an outdated belief that the moon—and night itself—caused madness).

The speaker hallucinates, imagining that the street lamps are speaking to him in a bizarre whisper. In the second stanza, a lamp tries to convince the speaker to gaze upon a silhouetted woman who waits in a doorframe with a torn dress. The woman, likely a prostitute, is an example of the underbelly of the city that emerges during night.

In stanza 3, the speaker turns inward to recall two vivid memories of objects that the speaker has seen. The images of the weathered tree branch on the beach and the rusty spring in a factory yard have a similar quality of death and decay. Seeing the woman in the doorway in the previous stanza has triggered the speaker to contemplate how things that were once useful and pretty become hideous and pointless over time.

In the next stanza, two and a half hours have passed since the beginning of the speaker's walk. This stanza blends both the scenery around him and the memories that it triggers. A lamp once again beckons the speaker to look at a cat eating spoiled butter, an image that reminds the speaker of a time when he saw a child snatch a toy quickly with their hand, a movement that is much like the cat's tongue snatching the food. This memory gives way into another one in which the speaker toyed with a crab on a stick that he once found in a pool on the beach.

The following stanza is only three lines long, containing a repetition from the beginning of stanza 2 describing the lamps.

In the next stanza, a lamp mutters to the speaker to gaze upon the moon. The moon is then personified as a woman who holds no grudges, who smiles down feebly at the speaker and offers him a "paper rose," which most likely represents her hollow loneliness. One could interpret this as a mirror of the speaker's own loneliness. The end of the stanza recalls a memory of smells, including cigars and perfume.

In the next stanza, the speaker finally arrives at his own doorstep at four in the morning. Still, a lamp reminds him that this is indeed his own house. This might suggest that the speaker is drowsy after such a long walk. The images of a staircase, a bed, a toothbrush, and shoes indicate that the speaker needs to rest in order to prepare for the next day's work. After walking for hours in the dark, the speaker is finally exhausted enough to sleep.

The final stanza consists only of a single line and is the most interesting of the entire poem. Immediately following the descriptions of objects associated with daytime life, the speaker says "The last twist of the knife." This suggests that the speaker feels happier in the nighttime world that is full of confusion and memories than in the daytime world of routine and people. The speaker does not sleep at night because he does not want to exist within the world of the day.

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