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.


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.


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.


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.

A Prelude is usually an introduction of the main thing used often in music as a preface for another piece of music. It is also ironic because it is usually considered to be a praise of something, whereas Eliot is constantly criticising and displaying his hatred for the city.

The poem was written at a time of great industrialisation, just before the war and so perhaps provided a bleak atmosphere for Eliot to muse on.

In the first stanza, no people are mentioned at all, the narrator stands alone by "vacant lots". This immediately introduces feelings of isolation into the poem and contrasts to our preconceptions of cities being full of people. In fact, the narrator almost seems absent with the "lonely cab-horse"being the only sign of life. The horse also seems to reflect the feeling os the narrator and as he "steams and stamps," we become aware of the narrators restlessness and almost a sense of entrapment comes through, further emphasised by the harsh alliteration and heavy monosyllables.
The repeated references to the time further echo his agitation and underlying panic - "at four and five and six o'clock." The repeated monosyllabic words create an acceleration finally ending at a climax with "six o'clock."
Eliot also constantly emphasises the pollution and grimy quality of the city; "The burnt-out ends of smoky days," "grimy scraps ... and newspapers" and "ta blackened street."The colour black also emphasises the death of nature and beauty with it. In particular, Eliot uses the technique of taking something natural and potentially beautiful and turning it into rubbish. For example describing the fallen leaves as "withered" and swirling about your feet turns them into another kind of rubbish and later, Eliot talks of "sparrows in the gutters," which symbolises how nature has fallen under the industrialisation and also makes the sparrows appear to be rats.

"And then the lighting of the lamps" could be a reference to "And then there was light" in the bible, which would give us a sense of hope for the next day. However when "The morning comes to consciousness," the grime is still there, except now we are seeing it in a different light. The thick, pungent "smells of steaks" has become "faint stale smells of beer"which indicate that he has been drunk the night before and brings connotations of disorder and regret as subtly indicating that he might be trying to drown his sorrows. Furthermore, his lack of presence could suggest that he is claiming the entire city is trying to drown its sorrows, full of regret.

Also, Eliot's fragmentation of people by describing them only as body parts makes them seem almost like objects, lifeless and possessing no actual connection with each other.

At the time of writing this poem, many men were feeling insecure about their masculinity as women were gaining a more important role. This can be seen in stanza three in that the narrator doesn't seem to have any real contact with the prostitute, but merely observes her from a distance.
He also applies quite a judgemental tone towards the prostitute when he says "The thousand sordid images/ Of which your soul was constituted"but he then goes on to apply that judgement to the city itself; "You had such a vision of the street/ As the street hardly understands." His choice of the second person here also brings an implication of accusation to his writing.

"His soul stretched tight across the skies" brings to mind the idea of a crucifixion as if whomever "he" is, perhaps god? has given up his soul for the industrialisation that built the "city block." Furthermore the description of sunsets as "skies/ That fade behind a city block," emphasises the destruction of nature by the cities and the new industrious modern era.

The final stanza is quite ambiguous in its reference to "the notion of some infinitely gentle/ Infinitely suffering thing." Could it be nature or purity? as everything else in the poem seems to be dirtied. It could even be god who is suffering at the hands of humanity who are destroying the natural beauty which he made the world in. Then the direction to "wipe you hand across your mouth" adds the idea of uncleanliness again "and laugh"seems almost full of hatred an irony, rather than its normal connotations of happiness.