“The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’ clock.
The burnt –out ends of smoky days.”
A poem is a complete expressive of the mood of the poet, and Thomas Stearns Eliot is of no exception to it, when he is certainly throughout his poem is deeply in a mood of gloom and despair, as far as society is concerned. He is considered to be one of the most distinguished poets of the twentieth century who brought a very modern touch to his poetry with plenty of symbolism and knowledge of the world. His imagery and metaphors are drawn from classical Greek Literature and even from Upanishads. He brought a fresh metaphor and depicted dilemmas, the hopelessness and sterility of the modern man with a fine hand. He is a poet who needs to be studied therefore very deeply, and is still the subject of a lot of research for scholars. His famous works are “The Waste land”, “The Hollow Men”, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’’ and many others. One of his poems in ‘Preludes’, he is describing of a modern street, a witness to various sordid images and ugly deeds and the mechanical, hum-drum, meaningless life led by its inhabitants:
“His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fades behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;”
His ‘Preludes’ is a complete link of poems divided into four sections. It is a poem, as portrait of the modern man is nothing but mainly of desolation of a mundane life. Eliot, here speaks in his poem of the alienation of man and about the exploration of the cycle of life. To quote him-
“You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;”
The poet leads the reader from evening to night and morning and again from morning to evening-a full account of a day’s activities-or lack of them. “The winter evening settles down” could be any one evening in winter but ‘winter’ is usually associated with lack of growth, chill and gloominess. ‘’With smells of steaks in passageways’’ ,where the ‘smell of steaks’ suggests the cooking of food but the word ‘passageways’ conveys an idea of stuffy corridors. The poet gives the time of the evening-it is ‘six o’clock’-a time for returning home after a day that is burnt out like cigarette stubs –nothing productive happens:
“The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.”
It is raining and the ‘gusty storm’ that lashes on broken blinds can only blow ‘withered leaves ‘about your feet’ or dislodge ‘newspapers’ from the ‘vacant lots’. ‘Vacants lots’ are probably the empty lands here and there generally becoming dumping yards. In the street corner the ‘cab-horse’ that ‘steams and stamps’ expresses its loneliness and restlessness. Overall, the first section of the poem has given an impression that of filth and neglect; the boring routine of mechanical life. The mood of the poem is thus leading to the point of disillusionment and pessimism. The blinds appear to cover the reality outside, and even when the day arrives it brings pretence and there is obvious no reality which is covered up in smoke and grime.
Morning comes...,the second section of the poem brings a glimpse of hope when morning comes to consciousness but the hope is soon gone as we learn of the ‘faint stale of beer’ and ‘sawdust-trampled’ and ‘muddy feet ‘ and the mention of ‘dingy shades’. There is nothing but dirt and squalor and even the people are masquerading to be what they are not. There is no reality anywhere including the furnished rooms which are looked upon as owned but are rented and do not bear a stamp of any individuality. These are completely the pointers towards the decay setting in, setting -in the society. There is pretence, in everything man does!
However, next in the third section we find there is a change in style and tone in the few lines of the poem....A very clear picture is drawn of the early morning activities. ‘You tossed a blanket’-the first line of this section makes the lines a little more personal and this way if following the lines of the poem the lines do not exactly sound critical or judgmental. We are taken through the night and early day of a woman who lazes on her back with intermittent feelings of ‘dozing’ and ‘gazing’-watching the night that reveals ‘sordid dreams’ and forces her to search her soul.. even while light creeps in through the shutters, she knows what lies outside-where the’ sparrows’ are heard ‘in the gutters’.
‘’Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.”
We come to know, thus that the ‘you’ mentioned here is a woman when the poet talks about ‘curled papers’ from ‘your hair’…..… While she uncurls the paper curlers and sleepily rubs her ‘yellow soles’ with her soiled hands, she reveals her restless state of mind, an image of neglect. The mention of ‘yellow soles ‘and ‘soiled hands’ sets a mood of disgust towards the artifice of life.
“With the other masquerades
That times resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.”
In the final section, the poet clearly reveals his own thoughts. From ‘you’ the mood and tone turns to ‘I’. He is moved by the fancies, the ‘imagination of man’. He prays for an infinitely gentle’ hand to touch and heal man. He feels for the routine lifestyle of his fellow beings working till four, five or six o’clock, getting back, stuffing pipes and buying evening newspapers. What the poet sees around is a representation of ‘conscience of a blackened street…’ -a consciousness struck by false values that cannot discern a ‘masquerade’ from a reality. This is again unfurls like a series of snapshots of the ugliness and emptiness of modern life styles…despite some hopes of a rebirth or a rejuvenation there is only hopelessness and despair.
[“I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.”]
According to some, the poet is thinking of Christ who will bring salvation for others the poet refers to any gentle being, who may have brought hope but the next moment he is pulled back to reality. Perhaps he is talking to himself since he was mentioning “I” and says that he should forget about the vision of that gentle being, ‘wipe the image off and should laugh at the thought’. The word ‘ancient’ used in the poem for the old women does not only make them look very old but also suggests, that they have been doing the same thing for years and nothing for years and nothing has or will perhaps change. Life will continue to be the same.. Thus ‘Preludes’-paints a picture of desolation, hopelessness, filth and pretence of modern society. .The poet expresses his disgust at this bleak world that has hopes but is caught in the mire of decay. He says-
[“Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient woman
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.”]
(References, words, sentences, ideas, setting, orientations, contextualized from revised edition by Sraboni Ghosh and Ms. Nagpal.)