The Imagery of Preludes
In T.S. Eliot’s poem “Preludes” he portrays the world as a dark and depressing with no future. His Imagery is sharp and clear and he exercises many techniques. He uses literal imagery, which is a clear description of what something is, so it can pictured it in the mind. His word choice is a big factor in that he uses words that bring a certain picture to the mind, he also describes humans by their body parts or their presence. His unique syntax and use of rhythm also heighten the effects of his poetry. His attitude towards this world is summed up in the last two stanzas. Eliot’s imagery achieves its effect through his use of literal imagery, word choice, descriptions of the human influence, syntax, and rhythm. His attitude is one of total indifference, towards this world.
Eliot uses literal imagery in “Preludes”. He doesn’t use vague or hard to picture images. Since it is impossible to picture to picture “tasting desire”, he would never use, “From what I have tasted of desire” which is from Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice”. He uses descriptions like “the faint stale smells of beer” (15). This image clearly brings a smell to your mind. His word choice is a big part of this. He uses words that bring clear pictures to the mind. For Example, the words “Withered leaves”(7) gives a clear sharp image, as does, “… grimy scraps” (6).
Eliot also uses an interesting syntax in his poem. He makes inanimate objects the subject of his sentences, for example “The winter evening settles down / With smell of steaks in passageways.” (1-2). He makes the winter evening the subject of the sentence, not the human presence. In “of withered leaves about your feet / and newspapers from vacant lots…” (7-8), he makes the non-living and everyday, unimportant objects, the focuses of his sentences. He also uses an rhythm to play with the reader at the beginning of the poem, “the winter evening settles down/ with smell of steaks in passage ways. Six o’clock.” (1-3). He utilizes iamb tetrameter in the first two lines, and then, as if ripping us from our daze, he puts in “Six o’clock” (3). This warns us that this poem is not going to be a nice and calm. He continues this style in the lines which follow, “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” (4-9). It is almost as if he is preparing the reader for what is to come later on in the poem.
Eliot also uses an interesting way to describe the people in the poem. Only in stanza III does he actually describe a person. In the stanzas that came before that and in the stanzas that come after that, he only describes body parts and not the whole person, and example of this is “withered leaves about your feet”(7), and “onethinks of all the hands”(21). He only applies the extremities in the presence of actual human parts. Possibly because they’re the farthest ones from the heart. He also uses the human presence or what humans built to describe the humans in the poem, an example of this is, “to early coffee stands” and “with smell of steaks…”(2). He makes what we’ve done out to be more important then people or individuals.
Most of the poem is outside, where there’s no warmth. “The winters evening” (1) portrays a cool winters night, with no relief. “…Smell of steaks in passageways” (2) makes it seem like there is food insight, but unreachable for the person outside. There’s no comfort for the soul or body. Then in Stanza III we go inside, where Eliot imagery shows us that it is no better inside. “Thousand sordid images/ Of which your soul was constituted” (27-28), is an example that the thoughts of the people inside are just as bad as the thoughts of the people outside.”Or clasped the yellow soles of feet/ In the palms of both soiled hands”(37-38), proves that inside it is no cleaner for the mind or soul, then the outside. His imagery portrays that the ugliness is at the very heart of the world not where the people are.
“I am moved by fancies that are curled/Around these images, and cling/ The notion of some infinitely gentle/infinitely suffering thing” (42-51), says that Eliot’s attitude towards his world is one of indifference. He sees the problems of the world he created. He also knows that the world is suffering and that it’s done nothing to deserve what’s happened to it. He sees all the things that cling to the world and drain the goodness out of it. “Wipe your hand across your mouth and laugh;/ The worlds revolve like ancient women/ gathering fuel in vacant lots” (52-54), but he doesn’t care about it. He knows that like the “… ancient woman/gathering fuel in vacant lots” (53-54). They will always be there and they have done that one simple task since the beginning so why should he try to change it.
Eliot created a world full of images of dirt, ugliness and dankness. He uses many forms of imagery to get this across to the reader. He uses syntax, rhythm, description of the people’s extremities and presence, word choice and literal imagery. His attitude though towards the world is very much indifference to it. T.S. Eliot wrote about a world that is solemn and hopeless. He creates such strong emotions in readers that they can feel the hopelessness of the world, through his imagery. His imagery makes the poem and should not be over looked.
Eliot, T.S. “Preludes.” Twentieth-century Poetry and Poetics. 4th ed. Ed. Gary Geddes. Toronto: Oxford, 1996.
Frost Robert “Fire and Ice.” Twentieth-century Poetry and Poetics. 4th ed. Ed. Gary Geddes. Toronto: Oxford, 1996.