What are Eliot’s thematic concerns in ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’? Aleena Khan ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ is a poem by T.S.

Eliot about a man strolling down an empty street at midnight. Submerged in his memories, he reflects on his life as he encounters characters such as a prostitute and the moon. The poem provides insight into the mind of the narrator- the persistence of memory, the decay of society and the breakdown of communication, leading to an overall feeling of isolation. Many literary features are used in this poem, especially symbolisms, allusions, dark imageries, and personifications. Lastly, it is important to note that this poet persona is not intended to represent Eliot himself but instead as a fictional construction that brings together the formal and thematic elements of the poem. ‘Rhapsody’ is, by definition, an enthusiastic expression of feeling- or a song. This implies a free verse with an upbeat tone. On the other hand, the overall tone of the poem is bleak, and is an expression of hopelessness rather than ecstasy. ‘Windy’ signifies chaos, as the swift movement of wind displaces and destroys. ‘Night’ suggests isolation and loneliness, which the narrator expresses throughout the poem. Already Eliot is alluding to the themes of the poem. The irregular verse suggests a stream of consciousness. The first mention of the moon is presented through the persona’s delirium of memories, ‘Held in a lunar synthesis, Whispering lunar incantations.’ The moon appears to be in the middle of two opposing forces: unconsciousness and consciousness, or dream and reality. It plays an effective role in resurrecting forgotten memories in the past. Through his thoughts, the past and the present blend together, ‘Dissolve the floors of memory.’ Memory, as an entity, exists in the poem. Eliot refers to ‘The memory’ instead of ‘a memory’ or ‘my memory.’ This separation marks the strength and control of the persona’s memories over him, as well as emphasises upon the theme of isolation. However, one could say that, despite its permanent presence in the persona’s mind, it is a fleeting thing, ‘throws up high and dry.’ This could reflect the idea of tides receding and coming in again, bringing chaos. Memories flood our minds when they are unwanted, but can elude us when we wish to remember them. Whilst the moon represents dreams, the motif of time represents reality. ‘Twelve o’clock.’ Midnight. The beginning or the end of a day. It symbolises mystery and spirituality, which is why it is associated with the ‘lunar synthesis.’ Time, however, is represented through the character of the crab, ‘And a crab one afternoon, in a pool, An old crab with barnacles on his back.’ Here, Eliot shows us that time is in fact passing. The ‘afternoon’ he speaks of is the past, which he cannot escape. This is emphasised in the metaphor of ‘a broken spring in a factory yard.’ The ‘spring’ represents the persona- or society in general- and the ‘rust that clings’ is the past that never lets go. You cannot escape it. This realisation perhaps leads to the transition of the moon-of dreams- to ‘a washedout smallpox cracks her face.’ This unromantic imagery suggests disease and underlines the tone of hopelessness in the poem.

‘Regard that woman Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door. The final stanza is structured in short phrases. There was a severe lack of hope in society. another significance of this simile can be related to a historical context of the society during WWI. where they believed that God set their path in life. the child that Eliot mentions cannot see through the soul. and all the while the ‘fatalistic drum’ replicates a funeral march that echoes their futile existence. and is emphasised by the next stanza.’ This is a biblical allusion where the eyes are considered to be the windows to one’s soul. ‘The street -lamp sputtered…muttered. she is unable to make human contact. They cannot escape their lives. A crab denotes a hard-shelled and evasive creature. However. hence suggesting the child to be deformed by immorality. ‘I could see nothing behind that child’s eye. Prostitution is an immoral profession. Identity is questioned again as Eliot reduces this menacing image to ‘And you can see the corner of her eye Twists like a crooked pin.’ is a reflection of the persona.but Eliot stresses upon the eyes. Eliot raises a question of morality in the poem. a social outcast.’ The first human encounter the persona has is one of a madman.The poem was written after the First World War. The awkward actions of the personification imitate the awkwardness of our narrator. This is significant as we can relate this theme of hopelessness and the lack of meaning in life as an extensive commentary of 20th century society in Europe. The decay of society and theme of isolation occurs in the metaphor. The prostitute in the line. The persona returns home. ‘As a madman shakes a dead geranium. and yet. almost like a list of instructions. The word ‘grin’ is a sinister image. ‘Which opens on her like a grin.’ Her morality is deformed. ‘Every street lamp that I pass Beats like a fatalistic drum. as it ‘devours a morcel of rancid butter’ emphasises this desperation felt due to poverty.’ This poignant simile suggests that the lives of the people in the poem are set on their predetermined path.” which both suggest harsh. This reflects the breakdown of communication in society.‘crooked’. It is an irony that she ‘hesitates’ since a prostitute’s job is to confront men.’ is another example of how society has changed. ill-tempered characters. though the robotic rhythm implies that it is not a . and it has a connotation of being “crusty” and “crabby. Eliot writes of an ‘old crab with barnacles on his back’. Yet. This suggests the lack of communication in society. The cat in the fourth stanza. with people questioning their identity. suggesting that the crab has been aging and neglected as time passes. and we feel sympathy for the prostitute.’ and Eliot uses disturbing imagery to emphasize this. This shows that he sees hopelessness in humanity and could be seen as a symbol of his future. It ‘Gripped the end of a stick’ implying that it craves human contact as much as the persona. which contributes to its overall deterioration. The predetermined nature of the drum juxtaposes to the perception of European society before WW1. The connotation of the crab as well as the imagery of the barnacles on its back is used to characterise humanity and their alienation in society.

contrasting with the final ironic thrust. and move on from the mundane present we live in. Through personification and imagery. The repetitive routine of ‘prepar(ing) for life’ is hopeless. and Eliot uses the persona in the poem to emphasis the consequences of being hopeless in this world.“happy home.‘The last twist of the knife. whether this is all we truly are. It is an ordinary act. disturbing image of society’s woes. and Eliot uses this last line to emphasise on the dark.’ Eliot compares this mundane.” The ‘tooth-brush hangs on the wall’ implies that he lives alone. but Eliot stresses upon the fact that time still passes and we cannot be caught in this repetitive routine or we will not be able to go on. separate from the world. Memory seems to haunt us with its bitterness. The descent of society into a hole of immorality has Eliot questioning our identities. The monotony of life and the desperation of survival are addressed. Perhaps Eliot is asking the reader to find hope. Eliot successfully evokes the realisation that we must let go of the past. . non communicative life with death.

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