I

THE WINTER evening settles down
With smell 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.

II

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 the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

III

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 a 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.

IV

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 newspapers, 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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem Preludes

31 Comments

  1. Kimja Nahin says:

    Prelude is indeed an interesting poem.If analysed stylistically,especially the first stanza, it contains a lot of stylistic devices.

  2. pratik ranjan says:

    the poem was composed in about 1915 .. it encompases 4 broad divisions with the first two n last two being vry similar . the 1st 2 preludes unload the mundane urban squalor which is suggested to be in a decadent state by usage of words like “winter evening ” , ” burntout stubs ” , “stale .. ” … etc .
    the third prelude suggests prostitution in a vague manner ..

  3. Subrata Ray says:

    Preludes initiates waste-land.It projects spiritual decay,and turning human civilization to primitive -sense pleasure , seconded by the dominance of base -instincts
    The poet is undone to share his own race .Modern man knows nothing but the demand of physical appetite .The totality of man’s intellect gets directed to sex and food .
    Subrata Ray .Uluberia .West.Bengal .India .

  4. Subrata Ray says:

    The dominance of instinct over heart and head ,and feasting the gross senses of modern working-class people find sense and language in Eliot’s Prelude .

    Precludes” suggests the advent of modern age. Modern urban is as it were, an ever winter. It is bleak and somber. The poem begins from the winter evening. The time is six o’clock. It aught to have been a time of prayer but, nay, it, with the modern man is a time of debauchery. The atmosphere around suggests this. There is a smell of steaks in the passage ways. The whole day ends with the appetite of consumption- “The burnt out ends of smoky days”. The things around are in utter disorder. The “withered leaves”, “broken blinds” gathering newspapers wrapping the street-work-feet, gusty shower,- all suggest the setting of anarchy. The poet suggests that modern men have been dehumanized. For this waywardness, a cab-horse reacts by stamping its feet on the street. So, we find in the first stanza, a unique representation of modern urban life. The poet gives us some broken pictures, – which are the poet’s objective correlative.
    Eliot’s ‘precludes’ is a modern poem in more than one sense. First of all it reveals the spirit of modern urban life with a number of objective correlatives. From stanza 1 to 4, we find the cyclic order of the day, -evening – morning – afternoon – evening. The poem houses with it the frustration, -monotony, waywardness, sterility and debauchery of modern life. It is a advent of west – land, where wholesomeness, sweetness and light of life are lost.

    The poet concludes his poem with “the notion of some infinitely gentle in finitely suffering thing”. And it is that the modern man’s suffering is beyond any measure but they do not know what for they suffer. The order of this world goes on ceaselessly like the plight of the destitute woman who would vainly search fuel in the abandoned building – sites.
    Subrata Ray Mousumipara .Uluberia .West Bengal .India .

  5. vivek bengani says:

    i m in 11 n doing ISC .. it is a very good poem n teaches a lot about the modern behaviour n portrays the issolation of an individual from the society.. i must tell everyone that the 3rd lyrics is nothing about prostitute…

  6. Terence Govender says:

    Wow, this poem is amazing. I mean there is a prostitute a poor, under-payed, over-worked, poor worker. It is all the poem you will ever need on those lonely, cold nights – when nothing’s on the tele.

  7. Pris says:

    Hi I’m in grade 11 and I am studying 5 of T.S. Eliot’s poems and one of them happens to be Preludes. I find analyzing Preludes and his other poems are really hard!

  8. FARZAANA EBRAHIM KHOTA says:

    Is a deeply thoughtful poem.It illustrates human misery and reality of life.It gives you a wide image of life. Life is not only based on materialism but, it is based on the”Fruitful essence” of trials and tribulations.

  9. Uzair Ravat says:

    Eliot’s Preludes thrives on mans allienation in thh modern world. Mans lack of focus and ambition is noticed yet unchanged. Eliot makes man realize their downfall and uncertainty in this new era, however mans unwillingness to change is equally their downfall. Eliot basically addresses mans eternal problems and provides an unsugar coated view into reality.

  10. Muhammad Shaahid Abdool says:

    Preludes is a deeply thought provoking poem. Eliot wrote this poem to make mankind understand in waht condition we are living. He lived during the time of the great depression and therefore, with this poem addressed many issues which made mankind corrupt but the beauty part is that this poem will always be relevant for future generations to come.

  11. Abdullah Ballim says:

    “Preludes”,states the bare reality of life, misery,anarchy etc. This poem has made me introspect in my life and the world at large , thus changing my opinion on issues.

  12. Zeyad Denath says:

    Prludes is such a poem that illustrates human misery and depression in such a way that it makes one realise how common and lost our lives are. It also creates the enthusiasm within a person to persist in chaniging his life around in such a way that he finds peace and happiness within himself.

  13. Muhammad Jameel Seedat says:

    The poem gives you an awareness of mans’ social unrest in an industrial society showing us how monotonous life can be when alienating yourself from society and running after materialism.

  14. Tahseen Dasoo says:

    Preludes is an interesting poem that brings to light the issue of human despair which is evident in todays’ time. The poem is a prelude to what is to come in the future – the total moral collapse of the world.

  15. Mohammed Nathie says:

    Preludes instills a deep consciouness of mans’ degradation, turmoil and depression in a modern age. It makes one introspect and creates a desire in you to better your life and those around you.

  16. ts eliot superfan says:

    i feel a strong emotional and spiritual conection with eliot as i feel we have been brought up the same and understand the core of eachothers soul truely. i feel the meaning of life lies within this literally magic. how can this not be considered as one of the 7 wonders of the world. my oh my (as my trusty subject os called) this is a miracle and i wish to continue to cry mysrelf to sleep untill everyone has this view. thank you for your valid valid time big it up for eliot

  17. Sadam says:

    Preludes is like 4 seperate poems that are linked: Winter evening in the city, the monring after, women and man..

  18. Justin says:

    From my own personal view, I see this poem as a way of a weekend. Friday night we go out and party in the city, walkin around with nothing but the street lights on and a smile on our faces. After leaving the club or a concert with bars filled with laughter an joy. And then we go home and crash into our beds. Then the next morning we wake up an work an just cant wait to go out again. And then when we are going home getting ready to go out and party we see the same street we where on an remeber what a great night we had an what a great night is too come. When Eliot was writing this mabe he had the idea of trying to say this same repetitiveness gets old an all we do is party. Mabe he meant go out and party an have a great time. I dont no.

  19. Jennie says:

    hi, i am studying this for my AS Level and I am finding TS Eliot hard! His style of writing is interesting though, and there really is a sense of vacancy and a yearning for there to be some meaning. I think that just because the poem is full of complicated images, doen’t mean that it is rubbish!

  20. Merril says:

    “Preludes” is one of my favorite poems. It touches something deep in my heart; it makes me ache for the despair of humanity. No one can quite capture the grunge like Eliot. When you know the value of each human life to its own self, when you think of the dreams and ideals of childhood and adolescence, and how life has a way of grinding it out like the butt of a cigarette, the poem is heartbreaking. What is the story behind the woman whose soul is constituted of “a thousand sordid images”? Who stands behind all those hands raising dingy shades? Somebody’s mother, brother, daughter? Each a human life that will never be repeated, each trapped on one of the least of those worlds that “revolve like ancient women gathering fuel in vacant lots”…lost, hopeless, hurt and dirty.
    It is the “infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing” that gives the poem its meaning. It is the “infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing” that gives life on this planet any meaning at all. If you know the core of Eliot’s soul, then you understand what he is talking about.

  21. Vidya Venkat says:

    I would like to explain what the ‘mood’ of the poem exactly is. T .S. Eliot wrote this poem sometime in 1915 when the First World War had already begun and was bringing about a great deal of social change, most of it unwelcome. All the ‘past’ glory of England was turning into ‘present’ turmoil and there was little inspiration to look forward to in ordinary life for poets like Eliot and Pound. Their state of mental unrest finds clear expression through their poetry. When Eliot gives the title ‘Preludes’ to this poem, it must be understood that Eliot wanted this poem to introduce his new style of approach to his audience, his poetry being markedly different from that of the previous age. In fact, Preludes can be seen as an introductory note to the poet’s magnum opus, “The Wasteland”.

    One must carefully note the collocation of words and images in the poem here. Eliot paints the landscape of his mind in carefully crafted verses. They almost become a defining statement on the kind of life that prevailed in many parts of England and the Western countries then.

    The first clue to the mood of the poem comes in the first line itself. Each word in this poem is part of the poet’s mental landscape. One must understand that poetry reflects a poet’s attitude; therefore it is the poet’s personal mood which shapes the mood of the poem as well. The word ‘winter’ symbolizes harshness, coldness and lifelessness. The poet is therefore obviously not in one of his happy moods, having referred to winter in the very first line of the poem. The dreariness of life is reflected here. To winter is added the image of evening, which marks the approach of night, again, symbolizing the approach of darkness into the very lives of people. And Eliot says that this ‘winter evening’ settles down, as if it to suggest that it is going to be this way only from now on. The mood too is “settled” therefore in the very first line.

    The smell of steaks in passageways suggests the mundane, ordinary nature of life. Like what I said in the previous post, modern poets are primarily preoccupied with the day-to-day life and utilise it as material for their poetry. The smell of steaks pervades the air in passageways therefore, is like how monotony pervades the lives of people. People eat the same steaks everyday and every house by the passage cooks the same too!

    Thus the burnt-out ends of cigarettes, the smoky days, the grimy scraps, the withered leaves, the vacant lots, broken blinds, lonely cab horse are all symbols that signify the monotony and dreariness of life. This is how I interpret each image:

    Burnt-out ends: People burnt out of all their vitality like a cigarette butt.

    Smoky days: Hazy days; the vision of man is blurred when the air is filled with smoke; it also stifles breath- suggestive of poor living conditions.

    Grimy scraps: Suggesting waste, rubbish and therefore wasted lives.

    Vacant lots: void in the lives of people, void of meaning, void of purpose, etc.

    Broken blinds: suggestive of broken lives; of people unable to pull them selves together and crumbling under emotional pressure or for whatever other reason.

    Lonely cab horse: also loneliness of man, the poet too included; each is suffering singularly; embittered souls.

    From this one can clearly understand what the mood of the poem is like. Interpreting hidden meanings in the poem are essential to a complete understanding of the poem and the poet’s attitude and that of the Age which he represents. This explains why Shakespeare never wrote such things as Eliot did. Reading the poem in the backdrop of history always helps. Of course, every poet attempts to only generalize his personal experience and therefore this poem may mean different things to different people owing to the light in which they view it. It’d indeed be nice to know from the readers what other relevance this poem might possibly have.

  22. Eghbal Rezai says:

    Structure is the fromal asspect of a poem seperated from form

    including the arrangement and developement of images, metaphors and

    various statements and situations in relation to the theme. Some of the

    Structures used are Ambiguity, double or multiple meanings attached to

    words or situations, and then the lighting of the lamps, Symbolism, a word

    or image that signafies something other than what it represents, raising

    dingy shades in a thousand furnished rooms, Irony, statement that

    contadicts the actuak attitude of the speaker or a situation that turns out

    different than whats expected, you tossed a blanket from the bed you lay

    upon your back and waited…you curled the papers from your hair or

    clasped the yellow soles of your feet in the palms of both soiled hands.

    I believe the meaning of the first Prelude is that Eliot is trying to explain

    the seasons in one poem. He says the winter evening settles down

    (winter)..the burnt-out ends of smokey days(summer)..wiethered leaves

    about your feet(fall)…the showers beat down(spring)..

    Prelude I think that he is explaing in the first paragraph the morning after a big

    party and the in the second he follows with almost the same theme except the

    party is in a big hall. For the third Prelude I believe hes explaing the morning

    after a long night of work that needed to be done. The last Prelude I believe

    that he is trying to explain the presence of a spirit watching over a busy world

    filled with images of workers.

  23. A person says:

    Not sure when it was written, but it sounds to me like a poem about the depression. I liked it. a lot.

  24. christine says:

    we’re doing this poem at the moment in school [i live in sydney btw] and it’s a nice poem. t.s.eliot is interestingly depressing. is it just me or has anyone else noticed ‘t.s.eliot’ is an anagram for ‘toilets’? cept his work isn’t too crappy 😉

  25. bedz says:

    anyone that thinks this doesnt make sense shouldnt be posting anything on this sight
    this poem exentuates and articulates the hardship and true filth of the modern world. At a time when the world was blown away by the ramifications of a modern world only a select view were able to express the emotions and hash realities attached to this world. This is one of a many amazing poems wrote at an amazing time by an amazing poet.

  26. Terrance says:

    my golly, this poem sucked! its completely irrelevant, i mean, which city has “sawdust roads”. city life, boring?? i dont think so!! farmer john will happily tell u that!

  27. Leonardo da Mince Meat says:

    thank yu for the meny gud times, i had have, knowing yu is much nice! Liason.

  28. Brandon says:

    This poem made absolutely no sense at all.

  29. peter cranefield says:

    I studied this for A-level 40 years ago but I didn’t realise what a nice poem it was until I looked at the first stanza with seven and eight year olds. TSEliot – good poet.

  30. kasia says:

    my favourite line is
    “wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh”

    i don’t know why.

  31. Kristen says:

    This poem was awesome!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by T.S. Eliot better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.