Thursday 19 January 2012

Poetry on my iPod...

I'm currently listening to PRELUDES by T.S. Eliot,
as read by Richard Armitage for Symphony of the City on BBC Radio 3 in 2010.
Even though I studied English at university and had to analyse many aspects of English and American literature and culture, I was never really interested in poetry. This poem, however, speaks to me in a way that very few texts ever have. I keep going back to it and love to listen to these beautiful words while I walk to the train station after a long day at work, or on a cold and dark winter morning when the city is still half asleep. Beautiful words, yes, read by a beautiful voice, but not a beautiful subject. And it’s exactly that contradiction between the sad and soulless city and the beauty of the description that continues to fascinate me.

John Thornton (Richard Armitage) walks the dingy streets of Milton in the BBC's adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North & South

I don’t want to go into a detailed analysis of the poem, but here’s a short description of my own interpretation:
T.S. Eliot wrote the four sections of his Preludes between 1909 and 1911. It describes the degradation and sadness of modern city life.
The first section describes an evening, a rainy day coming to an end with more rain on empty streets.
The second section describes a cold morning. The city wakes up, but the smell of the drunken night before is still in the air. People flock to coffee stands and put their ‘work face’ on, hoping that that will give them the strength to survive another hard day.
In the third section, a woman is lying in bed, thinking about her sorry excuse for a life and the cold world that she has to live in. It seems like she’s not quite ready yet to get out of bed and start the day.
Section four is really the most depressing of all. The hollow, dirty city gets trampled by insistent feet of people who want to get home as soon as possible. They are isolated as they hide behind their newspapers and they only care about financial gain (‘certain certainties’). They want to rule the world, but they don’t care about the person next to them. Although they might think that the world revolves around them, it really doesn’t and life goes on as it always has. People remain nameless, depressed, isolated and soulless.
The morale of the story: Life goes on, so make the most of it!
Depressing, right? Not really, and that’s the genius of T.S. Eliot!

You can listen to Richard Armitage’s reading of T.S; Eliot’s Preludes here:
and here:

Preludes (T.S. Eliot)
        The winter evening settles down
With smell 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 about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken 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.

II        The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

III       You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters,
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed's edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

IV       His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.


  1. I love poetry and with Richard reading, ahhhh!

  2. This is a lovely essay. And I second Jeannie's comment.
    Cheers! Grati ;->

  3. Lovely blog piece & a beautiful poem, Inge - thanks for sharing. The language is so delicate and precise and Richard reads it so beautifully. His voice was just made for peotry, don't you think? His readings really enhance the original works. The care and attention with which he pronounces the words, that wonderful intonation of the lines & the emotion in his voice just really open up these wonderful pieces and really transport you there and make you feel it.

    I downloaded the complete reading from RichardArmitageNet and had to smile a little at that poem he reads in an American accent. It sounds totally convincing to me - if a little strange to think of RA as American - but it reminded me of something he said in an early interview. I think he was in the States for an audition and he read for the part in his best American accent. After he'd finished the director said something along the lines of 'yeah, that's great. Now can you do it in an American accent?'. Bless!

    I like your blog entries - keep 'em coming :-)