one of the
(Poem #107) Preludes
I The winter's evening settles down With smells 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 across your feet And newpapers from vacant lots; The showers beat On empty 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.
One of the earliest Eliot poems I read - we had to study it in school. Despite that <g>, it remains one of my favourites... [Commentary] [The Preludes] form a group of four portraits - two of places, and two of people. Despite their inclusive title, which suggests the preoccupation with musical form that was to stay with Eliot until he wrote the Four Quartets towards the end of his career, one is immediately struck by their vividness as sketches. Each seems to suggest the material for a painting by a French artist at the turn of the century. Eliot has been wittily charged with writing the best French poetry in the English language, and although the landscape of these poems seems to be that of Edwardian New York, it is seen as if through the eyes of the French poet Paul Verlaine. -- George Macbeth, Poetry 1900-1975 [Biography] Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in Missouri on September 26, 1888. He lived in St. Louis during the first eighteen years of his life and attended Harvard University. In 1910, he left the United States for the Sorbonne, having earned both undergraduate and masters degrees and having contributed several poems to the Harvard Advocate. After a year in Paris, he returned to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, but returned to Europe and settled in England in 1914. The following year, he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and began working in London, first as a teacher, and later for Lloyd's Bank. It was in London that Eliot came under the influence of his contemporary Ezra Pound, who recognized his poetic genius at once, and assisted in the publication of his work in a number of magazines, most notably `The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' in Poetry in 1915. His first book of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917, and immediately established him as a leading poet of the avant-garde. With the publication of The Waste Land in 1922, now considered by many to be the single most influential poetic work of the twentieth century, Eliot's reputation began to grow to nearly mythic proportions; by 1930, and for the next thirty years, he was the most dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world. As a poet, he transmuted his affinity for the English metaphysical poets of the 17th century (most notably John Donne) and the 19th century French symbolist poets (including Baudelaire and Laforgue) into radical innovations in poetic technique and subject matter. His poems in many respects articulated the disillusionment of a younger post-World-War-I generation with the values and conventions--both literary and social--of the Victorian era. As a critic also, he had an enormous impact on contemporary literary taste, propounding views that, after his conversion to orthodox Christianity in the late thirties, were increasingly based in social and religious conservatism. His major later poems include Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1943); his books of literary and social criticism include The Sacred Wood (1920), The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), After Strange Gods (1934), and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1940). Eliot was also an important playwright, whose verse dramas include Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion, and The Cocktail Party. He became a British citizen in 1927; long associated with the publishing house of Faber & Faber, he published many younger poets, and eventually became director of the firm. After a notoriously unhappy first marriage, Eliot separated from his first wife in 1933, and was remarried, to Valerie Fletcher, in 1956. T. S. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, and died in London in 1965. -- The Academy of American Poets - http://www.poets.org/ [and more] This particular Prelude, of course, may be familiar to some of you - several of the lines are used almost as is in the song 'Memory', from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'Cats' (which itself is based on Eliot's book of light verse, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats). You can't keep a good poet down :-). thomas.