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In T. S. Eliot’s poem Preludes he portrays the alienation of the individual from society. His imagery is sharp and clear and he uses many techniques to achieve this. A clear description of what something is, can be pictured in the mind by his precise use of imagery. For example, the words, “…withered leaves”(7) gives a clear image, as does, ”…dingy shades”(22). The effect is achieved through descriptions of the human influence, word choice, syntax, and rhythm. Eliot uses descriptions like, “the faint smell of beer”(15). This definitely brings a smell to your mind.
The first stanza begins with a familiar setting, a “… winter evening”(1). This is associated with a lack of growth and a loss of vitality. It also describes death and desolation. This does not last long when we are confronted,” with smells of steaks in passageways”(2) paints a picture of a polluted and mundane environment. The precise use of descriptive words composes this mood of decline and despair. As seen when you read ” …the burnt-out ends of smoky days”(4).
The mood is vital to understanding Eliot’s vision of anguish and despair of the individual that is alienated from society. These moods are expressed throughout with the careful use of imagery, diction and repetition. His distinctive syntax and use of rhythm also enhance the effects of his poetry. Only in stanza III does he actually describe a person and not a body part, as he does in the stanzas before and after. Example of this is “withered leaves about your feet”(7), and “one thinks of all the hands”(21). He also uses the human presence to describe them in the poem, an example of this is, “the smell of steaks”(2) and “to early coffee-stands”(18). He makes inanimate objects the topic of his sentence and more important then the people, for example “ The winter evening settles down/ With smell of steaks in passageways.”(1-2). He makes the winter evening the topic of the sentence, not the human presence. In “of withered leaves about your feet/ and newspapers from vacant lots…”(7-8), he makes the non-living, unimportant objects, the focuses of his sentences.
Most of the poem is described outside, ”the winter evening…”(1) where it is cold and desolate. In stanza III we go inside, where it proves that it is no cleaner, “or clasped the yellow soles of feet/ In the palms of both soiled hands”(37-38), than outside.
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Eliot, T. S. “Preludes.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001. 759.