TWELVE o’clock.
Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations
Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,
The street-lamp sputtered,
The street-lamp muttered,
The street-lamp said, “Regard that woman
Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.
You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin.”

The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Half-past two,
The street-lamp said,
“Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter.”
So the hand of the child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child’s eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.
The lamp hummed:
“Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smooths the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and eau de Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.”
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.

The lamp said,
“Four o’clock,
Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair.
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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem Rhapsody on a Windy Night


  1. jahosephat says:

    this is a poem about a tired and old character living in a materialistic world that is restrained by conventions. or is it… ha ha..

  2. reverseangle says:

    I think we like ‘Rhapsody’ because it presents itself in a more accessible form than some of Eliot’s other work, as does ‘Hollow Men.’ But I’ve grown old and as such have come to love Eliot purely for the ‘sound’ of his language rather than the weight of his ideas. It doesn’t take a hundred lines to tells us that a universe without transcendent meaning is a cruel and, in fact, uninhabitable space. We make an existential leap and go on living anyway (but having learned that we are leaping live our lives resigned to futility).

    You have the key,
    The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair.
    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.

    Eliot succeeds in asking big questions in big ways, ways that wouldn’t offend those who were so willing to discard the Christian meta-myth or most other means to make sense of the fragmentation all around us.

    Transcendence puts humankind in a lower position, as does the lack of transcendence (note his equating the cat and the child).

    But I digress. Read it, love it for the sound of its language, the beauty of the sound. You decide why we ascribe value to beautiful things or if value exists without transcendence. Or are the cat and the child really the same?

  3. sophie says:

    its very kewl! and quite straightforwad

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