ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

T. S. Eliot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night"

Updated on May 12, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

T. S. Eliot

Source

Introduction and Text of "Rhapsody on a Windy Night"

The speaker of T. S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” goes for a four-hour walk at midnight in the city. The poem consists of 78 lines contained in eight versagraphs. Rime is sporadic as is rhythm, and the theme is mocking desecration of the city coupled with drunken fantasy.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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.
Memory!
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
Mount.
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.

Reading of Eliot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night"

Commentary

The speaker turns a four-hour walk into a social commentary.

First Versagraph: Describing the Sights of the City

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.

In the first versagraph, the speaker reports that it is “Twelve o’clock.” He dramatizes his walk through the streets, describing what he sees: “Along the reaches of the street / Held in a lunar synthesis.” The “lunar synthesis” is the important backdrop for the streetscape. The moon is “Whispering lunar incantations” that “Dissolve the floors of memory.” The speaker is finding his ability to remember where he is a bit difficult; the reader might suspect that the speaker is considerably inebriated.

The drunken portrayal of the street lamps offers further evidence that the speaker is possibly so drunk that his thoughts and memories are misaligned: “Every street lamp that I pass / Beats like a fatalistic drum.” It’s likely that it is the speaker’s head that is beating like the “fatalistic drum.” Then the speaker offers the hilarious image: “And through the spaces of the dark / Midnight shakes the memory / As a madman shakes a dead geranium.” The intoxicated speaker’s memory is being shaken by midnight, and it is like a “madman” shaking a “dead geranium.”

Second Versagraph: Sporadic Rhythm and Rime

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."

By the second versagraph, the speaker has been walking for an hour and half. The reader is treated to one of the sporadic rimes that pop up occasionally: “The street lamp sputtered, / The street lamp muttered.”

The speaker encounters another person out walking, and the street lamp tells him to look at her. She’s likely a prostitute whose “dress / Is torn and stained with sand.” The speaker’s mind again is strangely interpreting things as he sees “the corner of her eye / Twists like a crooked pin." But then it’s the street lamp that says all this, so one cannot place all the blame on the speaker for reporting such gibberish.

It should be noted that T. S. Eliot was writing at the edge of postmodern gibberish, and thus he did not shy away from taking advantage of the latitude that was being offered up by that reckless and disingenuous style.

Third Versagraph: Twisted Things

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.

The third versagraph merely reports that his memory is throwing “up high and dry / A crowd of twisted things” and then cites examples of twisted things, such as “a twisted branch upon the beach.” This line alerts the reader that the speaker is walking in a coastal city.

Fourth Versagraph: Keeping Track of Time

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.

It’s now “Half-past two”; the street lamp is talking again: "Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter, / Slips out its tongue / And devours a morsel of rancid butter." The image of a cat eating rancid butter is set in another sporadic rime. Then the speaker reports seeing a street urchin, and a crab that grabs a stick.

Fifth Versagraph: More Sporadic Rime

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

It’s half-past three, time for another sporadic rime: “The lamp sputtered, / The lamp muttered in the dark.”

Sixth Versagraph: The Lamp Speaks French

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 street lamp now speaks French, as it describes the moon, telling the speaker that “La lune ne garde aucune rancune”: the moon never holds a grudge. The moon lights the corners of memory, and even though the “moon has lost her memory,” the speaker remembers grotesque smells he has experienced.

Seventh and Eight Versagraphs: Back at the Flat and As the Knife-Key Turns

The lamp said,
"Four o'clock,
Here is the number on the door.
Memory!
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
Mount.
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.

It’s now four o’clock and the speaker has arrived at a flat. He sees the number and remembers that it is his. He has the key, which becomes a knife, as he finishes his dramatic reportage with a flourish, which actually appears in the eighth versagraph: “The last twist of the knife,” which rimes with the preceding line, “Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you so much, whonu! Yes, Eliot was deeply flawed but less so than so many others, especially the postmods. And yes, I think we rightly cherish them--warts and all!

  • whonunuwho profile image

    whonunuwho 

    2 years ago from United States

    As always interesting work about the heroes we cherish or at times accept despite their little faults. Well done my friend. whonu

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)