The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Rhapsody on a Windy Night” is a lyric poem in free verse. It is divided into six stanzas that vary in length from nine to twenty-three lines each, with a separate closing line at the end of the poem. In one way, the title seems to reflect the poem’s form, since in music a rhapsody is an irregular, unstructured piece. The poem at first appears to be an uncontrolled jumble of oddly juxtaposed images in lines and stanzas of irregular length, with no consistent rhyme scheme but with scattered rhymes, repetitions, and variations throughout. “Preludes” and Four Quartets (1943) are other poems showing T. S. Eliot’s interest in using musical forms.

From another perspective, the title is ironic, since the label “rhapsody” suggests a mood of enthusiasm or frenzy that the poem does not convey. A situation that could be romantic—a midnight stroll in the lamplight and moonlight—is actually dominated by images of sterility, decay, isolation, and despair. Moreover, the only sign of the wind is found in the two lines stating that the street lamps “sputtered,” although the wind is emphasized in the title and is an important image associated with decay and spiritual emptiness in other poems, such as “Preludes” and “Gerontion.”

“Rhapsody on a Windy Night” is written in the first person, but the reader learns less about the speaker as a distinct personality than he or she does in Eliot’s other early monologues, such...

(The entire section is 518 words.)