Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501
Here are some quotes from the poem "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" by T.S. Eliot.
As the speaker in the poem makes his way home at midnight, he sees the street bathed in moonlight. The light cast by the moon creates a bizarre sense of things and distorts what the speaker might see during the day. The street scenes have little rationality; instead, what he sees is held together by a strange "lunar synthesis," or the strange light of the moon. In this light, memories come flooding back to him in bizarre ways that distort the way he has thought about them in the past; it makes the memories seem odd and disordered.Along the reaches of the streetHeld in a lunar synthesis,Whispering lunar incantationsDissolve the floors of memoryAnd all its clear relations,Its divisions and precisions
As the speaker makes his way home in the dark, midnight—personified (or, given the qualities of a person)—causes him to remember events from his past. Eliot likens the way the darkness stirs the speaker's memories to the way a madman shakes a dead flower. The idea is that darkness is trying to bring to life what is already past, or dead, and the notion of doing so is mad or ill-conceived.And through the spaces of the darkMidnight shakes the memoryAs a madman shakes a dead geranium.
In this passage, the speaker sees a cat that slips out its tongue to eat some spoiled butter, and he thinks back to a child he saw who slipped out a hand to put a toy in its pocket. The scenes that the speaker encounters make him think of the past. One image causes him to call to mind another random image from the past. These images are jumbled and random, mimicking the way memory often works.The street lamp said,"Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,Slips out its tongueAnd devours a morsel of rancid butter."So the hand of a child, automatic,Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.I could see nothing behind that child's eye.
" . . . The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."
The last twist of the knife.
At the end of the poem, the lamp commands the speaker to brush his teeth and prepare to live the life that will start at daybreak. These actions—putting his shoes by the door and brushing his teeth—contrast with his surreal midnight stroll. They are the quotidian activities of everyday.
But the need to go on with life (to continue to carry out these types of activities) is cruel: a "twist of the knife." There are a number of twisted images in the poem, including a twisted branch and a broken spring, and the impact of these images is to suggest that life is twisted. Even brushing one's teeth is another twisted activity.