Monday, June 24, 2013

The Preludes by T.S. Eliot

Eliot found degeneration, decay, and monotony in contemporary human life. He miserably failed to notice anything positive in life. This, however, does not in any way reduce the significance of his poems, which are excellent poetic manifestations of the themes through their use of imagery. The Preludes, which is under reference here, acutely describes the metaphysical emptiness of men in modern metropolis. Eliot presents some images; the inner message is left to the reader to discover. The poet maintains an apparent detachment from the objects he describes. That modern life is devoid of spiritual values is emphasized by creating a sense of isolation and loneliness. The steaming cab horse in a wintry evening is the symbol of this loneliness. The squalor of modern life is emphasized through pieces of newspapers, saw-dust and stale smell of beer in Preludes. The most accepted interpretation of \"you\" is that of a prostitute though the \"you\" here can also be taken as the collective consciousness if we accept dedoublement. Her way of life is diseased, bloodless and as such yellow soles. Hands refer to evocation or profession, which in her case is dirty or soiled. The sparrows are the symbols of abnormal sensuality. Her vision about the \"street\" is limited; the reflections are distorted. She met only the lustful persons during the night, so she has a negative view about them. Those in the street hardly know what she thinks of them - they have no time to cast a sympathetic look at her cruel life because they are running after their own materialistic ambitions. Further, all of them are not passionate or sensuous or lustful - so, they cannot also imagine what she thinks of them. The spiritual limitation of modern man is further elaborated in poem where the vision is limited - it cannot even see the sky - the sight is blocked by sky-scrappers (city-blocks). The conscience is dark, but it hardly bothers modern man who is happy to have their material comforts fulfilled. It is a bestial life - happy at having a good meal, smoking cigar etc. \"Wipe your hand across your mouth\" brings to my mind the image of a cat wiping its mouth with front leg after a good meal. Devoid of spiritualism men have been reduced to mere animal existence. Because of his Catholic temperament, Eliot could feel the inadequacy of such human life. He gives a picture of this vacant life through multiple imagery drawn from the contemporary life.
The poem was written in 1917 coming to the end of the First World War. Although I see the interpretation of the prostitute, my analysis shows that perhaps she is actually a burnt out, tired munitions worker. The skin of some women turned yellow because of chemicals in the factories;
'Clasped the yellow soles of feet'. She would have been dirty working with metals etc in the factory as well.
The poem, Preludes shows the dark, mechanical life led by the modern man. The poem begins with a winter evening which is unpleasant. The gloomy, depressive mood of the poem sets in. there is a smell of steaks in passage ways, adding to the unpleasantness, indicating badly ventilated congested rooms. The people are at the end of a day, which is like the burnt out end of a cigarette and they themselves are burnt out. The rains are not refreshing, but just another of troubles and the vacant lots are not like the lush meadows of the countryside, but just vacant. The cab horse breathes and its breath appears as a mist. The lighting of the lamps also has a ritualistic appearance and meaninglessness.
The morning comes to consciousness indicating that the world was unconscious in sleep that sleep is like temporary death. Instead of a fresh morning air, there is a smell of stale beer. The streets are sawdust trampled and people press their feet rather than walk. There is a feeling of mechanical life. People walking to early morning coffee stands make us contrast it to our traditional homelike morning picture of the family sitting to breakfast together. The loosening of family bonds can be visualized by us. The poet uses the word masquerades to describe all these activities as its all like a big show...thousands of shades being raised by thousands of people in thousands of rooms all at once It gives it a ritual like feel and the people appear to be puppets.
Now the controversy is about the woman being a prostitute or not. I think it’s kind of dumb to think that she is a prostitute just because she "had such a vision of the street/as the street hardly understands."It is just that at that moment early in the morning, when she thinks consciously about her subconscious thoughts, she realizes that all those people out there in the street are living a mechanical, meaningless life while they do not realize this. She is then at a superior position to them as she understands the drabness of life whereas they are puffed with self-importance. The poet doesn't lose any opportunity to use unpleasant adjectives-"yellow-soled" feet which are anaemic and "soiled" hand.
D. N. Aloysius

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