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T.S. Eliot: Rhapsody on a Windy Night

Twelve o'clock.
Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,
Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.
Half-past one,
The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, "Regard that woman
Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.
You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin."
The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.
Half-past two,
The street lamp said,
"Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter."
So the hand of a child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.  
I could see nothing behind that child's eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.
Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.
The lamp hummed:
"Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smoothes the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain."
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars."
The lamp said,
"Four o'clock,
Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."
The last twist of the knife.

Public Doman. “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” was first published in Blast, July 1915.

T.S. Eliot (photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1934)

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was a poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor. Considered one of the 20th century’s major poets, he is a central figure in English-language Modernist poetry. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a prominent Boston Brahmin family, he moved to England in 1914 at the age of 25 and went on to settle, work, and marry there. He became a British citizen in 1927 at the age of 39, subsequently renouncing his American citizenship. Eliot first attracted widespread attention for his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1915 which, at the time of its publication, was considered outlandish. It was followed by “The Waste Land” (1922), “The Hollow Men” (1925), “Ash Wednesday” (1930), and Four Quartets (1943). He was also known for seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and The Cocktail Party (1949). He was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature, “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”. (bio adapted from Wikipedia)

8 comments on “T.S. Eliot: Rhapsody on a Windy Night

  1. Noelle Canin
    December 10, 2022

    I have many loves among the poets, but Eliot moves me in ways I have no words for, no words at all. Thank you for this poem.


    • Vox Populi
      December 10, 2022

      Me too, Noelle. The modern poets Eliot, Pound, Williams, Stevens were among the first poets I read.



  2. vengodalmare
    December 10, 2022

    Read and re-letta aloud and, although I believe it is a beautiful poem even in the Italian language, in the English one today I have tasted new rhythms and musicalities, the words are more sonorous and meaningful.


  3. Sean Sexton
    December 9, 2022

    Sorry about my terrible misspellings and typos in my previous post.


  4. Sean Sexton
    December 9, 2022

    The first thing is how necessary it is to read and reread this poem to get it—llke Rufrock—there is the ingratiating dimension of “epic.” I’ve always loved and emulated him where something had arisen in my experience that connected to those “rythmics” both out of and in in the field of vision. He ultimately goes deep inside any voice aware of him and most of those voices are grateful of such knowledge. I wonder about the verbal genetics extant between this poem and “Preludes,” so keenly developed and succinct in its music, like a perfectly made bomb. It explodes upon impact, ongoes and completes its damage fore and aft. Though I can’t recite it, I remember all of it vividly and shall the rest of my life. Might this poem be an older sister?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      December 9, 2022

      Thanks, Sean. I hadn’t thought about the resemblance between this poem and Prufrock, but you’re right, they are like sisters.

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on December 9, 2022 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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