Rhapsody on a Windy Night

by T. S. Eliot

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Analyze the combined effect of imagery and setting in "Rhapsody on a Windy Night".

Quick answer:

The setting, city streets between the hours of midnight and four in the morning, and the grim imagery the speaker uses to describe the scene work together to convey the speaker's alienation and unhappiness in "Rhapsody on a Windy Night."

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The setting of the poem is a city at night, between the hours of midnight and four in the morning, during which the speaker walks the streets. It is a lonesome time, and the speaker sees little beyond lamps, prostitutes, and a cat.

Imagery is description that uses any of the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. The imagery Eliot employs is largely grim and unpleasant, reflecting the speaker's state of mind as he tramps alone. For example, here, the moon, which is often depicted in poetry as beautiful, has "smallpox cracks" on her face and smells of "dust and old cologne," according to what the lamp tells him.

The speaker also uses unusual imagery. Instead of describing lamps visually, for instance, he says that each one "beats like a fatalistic drum." Of course, lamps are silent, so the auditory image reflects the speaker's unhappy mental state. Likewise, the setting of darkness works to shake loose his memory as a "madman shakes a dead geranium," another unusual and depressing image.

The woman who can be seen against the darkness in the light from a door, probably a prostitute, is also described with unpleasant imagery. The hem of her dress is "torn and stained with sand," while her eye "twists like a crooked pin" at the corner.

The dismal urban setting and the unsettling imagery work together to create a picture of a person caught in the throes of unhappiness and alienation. Even approaching his room at four in the morning brings him no sense of security or ease, as the speaker perceives going to bed so that he can get up and face life to be

The last twist of the knife.

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