Saturday, 12 January 2013

Poetry Reads: Preludes by T.S. Eliot


Preludes by T.S. Eliot begins with some imagery of a cold winter evening. The sight is that of a littered place, urban and messy. First published in the early nineteen hundreds, this poem is a revelation of city life where profligacy reigns supreme.

The winter evening settles down
With smells of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
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

The next stanza describes the scene of a morning. However the description of the morning is unromantic. It is a reflection of urbanity, filth and routine.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

In the third stanza, there is an illustration of hardships that man goes through. There is a trace of the muck, vulgarity and the experience of having experienced rough times. It is about people who are spiritually poor.


You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.

And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
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.

The lines below reveal a scene of how life just goes on despite the cynicism. The last stanza aptly describes the futility of situations and the entire poem is summarized in 'The worlds revolve like ancient women gathering fuel in vacant lots’.

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspaper, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

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(Review by Kabita Sonowal)

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