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Eng 380a T.S. Eliot: Preludes: The Meaning of Urban Landscape

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Gergana Ivanova

Prof. Vladimir Levchev

ENG 380a T.S. Eliot: An American Individual Voice in the European Tradition

Fall 2015

Preludes: The Meaning of Urban Landscape

        “Preludes” is one of the early poems of the 20th century poet Thomas Stearns Eliot. It exposes the Modernist idea for the absurd of the urban landscape, its monotony and coldness. The piece is separated in four parts which mainly refer to city life as a symbol of solitarity, alienation, remoteness and disconnection.

        Part #1 sets the whole tone of the poem. By using the time and place of the happening –
“winter evening”, Eliot suggests a cold, dark, unfriendly atmosphere. The “gusty
rain and “grimy scraps” continue that feeling of negativism and disgust. The author gives an exact timing – “six o’clock” which may be interpreted as a connection to the exact hour when working urban people leave their offices after one more usual day at the office. “The burnt-out ends of smoky days” simply confirms the end of the day sucked and covered by the fog of the monotonous every day routine of the city life. The text continues with descriptive words like “broken” and “lonely” which totally verify the remoteness of the place where people live their own self-centered lives without sharing any private thoughts or emotions with each other.

        Part #2 leads the reader to the start of a new day. Usually, the morning itself symbolizes a new beginning and hope. However, the new day brings a well-known monotonous routine to the reader with the usual happenings at that particular time of the day – from “faint stale smells of beer” to “early coffee-stands”. The word “masquerade” is used as a metaphor of the carnival that the urban people are living every day, putting masks on their faces and leading a life full of pretence.

        Part #3 draws the personality and thoughts of a person from the city. Eliot depicts a scene most probably from the life of a prostitute. The gender of that person is not certain, but the images of his/her dark inner world are more than specific. The setting of the whole stanza is a very private and domestic one – the bedroom of the prostitute. The memories that keep coming to his/her mind, haunting the present moment, stand out even more on a background of bird sounds and creeping light. “The street hardly understands” refers to all the people out there in the city who do not truly understand the motives of his/her actions.

        Part #4 depicts the self in third person as a “he” who has already accepted this alienated absurd world. The final part of the piece gets us back to yet another dark winter night of loneliness. A crowd is passing by and its unconsciousness and pressured nature show the loss of self of urban people. As implicated in the second stanza, everyone in the crowd is part of the urban every day “masquerade”, acting as his/her center of the self. The last three lines lead the poem to a dramatic end.

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