Preludes - T.S. Eliot

From Between the Desire and the Dream

Written in 1917, Preludes is a series of four sketches - two of places, two of people. The landscape seems to be turn-of-the-century New York with its "...grimy scraps of withered leaves and sawdust-trampled street. The poem echoes the feeling by many following the First World War, that the industrial civilization had lost its sense of meaning and direction. The last two lines are particularly evocative of frustration and emptiness with the vision of ancient women gathering fuel from vacant lots.

Read by Dennis Regan
Music composed by Steve O'Connor

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       	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 chimneypots,

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 times 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.