Preludes: Prostitution and Night

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Summary
Prelude I
In this short poem, a hidden observer describes dusk on a winter’s evening in a poor part of a city. •The observer is outside, observing the appearance and atmosphere of a street and neighborhood. •Possibly the observer who describes the scene is Eliot himself. Or it may be the cab driver. Perhaps Eliot is observing a street prostitute, the ‘you’ of the poem, as she stands on the pavement among the withered leaves. •It might be helpful to regard this poem, like the others, as a video post-card of this moment, six o’clock on the winter’s evening. Eliot used words as his way of painting the picture. •The time is pinpointed at 6 o’clock precisely.

Residents, living probably in one-roomed apartments, are cooking their evening meal all at the same time. They are probably all workers living in flats. The word ‘passageways’ suggests the houses have been turned into flats for rent. Even though it seems a run-down part of town, the residents can afford steak. •By linking the scene here with the ‘stale smells of beer’ and ‘dingy shades’ in furnished rooms of ‘Prelude II’ and the ‘thousand sordid images’ of ‘Prelude III’, one could assume that the Preludes are set in a red-light district of a city. •The smell of steak is a signal that day is done and night is beginning. Because of city smoke the day is described as smoky. Maybe the smoke occurs because people are cooking at the same time. The tiredness of the workers is suggested by the word ‘burnt-out’. Or is there a humorous suggestion that they over cook the steaks? •The weather is bad; a windy shower beats on the buildings and on the horse outside. The cold rain evaporates as steam off the horse’s back. •It is early winter as the autumn leaves are still on the ground. The filth of the place is revealed by the phrase ‘grimy scraps’. •The street is untidy as newspapers are blown around the place. •There are many empty or vacant spaces without a building on the street. •The details show that the street is rundown as the word ‘broken’ is used to describe the window-blinds. •The buildings are probably three or four storey houses rather than factories as the observer refers to the chimney pots. In ‘Prelude IV’ the observer refers to the houses as being in blocks. •The means of transport is by cab-horse. A mysterious visitor to a house makes the cab-horse wait. It seems to stamp its feet to beat off the cold or its boredom. The horse is lonely. •We are given no clue about the mystery visitor. The poem invites us to guess for ourselves who the visitor might be. Perhaps he is a client of the woman with yellow feet in ‘Prelude III’, a woman whose hand raised a ‘dingy shade’ in ‘Prelude II’. Might he be visiting a prostitute? Or has he called to eat a steak? •The only other event noted by the observer is the turning on of the streetlights or lamps. In other words, not much is happening outside. Prelude II

In this short poem the observer describes the early morning scene on a street as workers dash for a quick coffee on the way to their job. •The observer is outside, observing the appearance and atmosphere of a street and neighbourhood. •The muddy feet suggest a poorer neighbourhood of St. Louis, where Eliot grew up. •There are probably some public houses on the street. They would account for the slight odour of beer and the sawdust. Floors of cheap pubs would have had sawdust on their floor to dry up mud and spilt beer. •The observer says that morning time causes ‘masquerades’ to start up again. ‘Masquerades’ are pretences, tricks or false actions put on for show. •Thus, as he observes shades being lifted on various street-facing windows, he thinks of the secret lives that will be hidden in the daylight by so called normal behaviour. The dingy hands are probably the same soiled hands that hold yellow feet in ‘Prelude III’. •Perhaps the observer thinks a lot of people show off and do not reveal their true selves in public. They act innocently...
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