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Dear CR,

I do agree - there seems to be unity in the speaker's response to his/her everyday
("in spite of the apparently differing identities he/she puts on").

However, I would not agree that the response is unambigously deprecating.
I think that the speaker is already BEYOND such a superficial evaluation, or if you like,
beyond the frustration of a romantic idealist.                                    

The speaker is deep within the sordid. He/she is of the sordid "constituted"...

Yes, he/she smells the obnoxious effluvia of the passageways at six.
Yes, he/she did see and does hear the "muddy feet".
Yes, he/she did hear"the sparrows in the gutters", and did have
a vision of some kind (which is incomprehensible for the street);
Yes, his/her soul is at the same time "stretched tight across the skies"
(his/her idealistic longings), AND trampled by "insistent feet",
AND it is "the conscience" of a repulsive street, AND "impatient to assume
the world" (impatient to create the ideal).


BUT, at the same time, no matter how repulsive the street seems to him/her,
he/she is there and within;
 one among many "raising dingy shades";
"sitting along the bed's edge", yellow-soled, dirty-handed;

All in all,  he/she is by no means a frustrated idealist.

The worlds of both an idealist and of the sordid street
"revolve [within him/her] like ancient women / Gathering fuela in vacant lots."
These "worlds" are merely "constructions", merely "points of view",
which can be laughed at  for their  pretensions to exclusivity.

[the very laugh which reminds me of Mozart in Hesse's Steppenwolf]

Therefore, I do not agree that the speaker deprecates the obnoxious aspects of
his/her existence. I would rather think that, all in all, what he/she does is
- he/she is contemplatively prestent to the world.
Which is an attitude far from an aesthetic/idealistic/romantic prejudice.

I imagine that this is what Eliot has in mind writing in his essay on Dante: 

‘The contemplation of the horrid or sordid or disgusting, by an artist,
is the necessary and negative aspect of the impulse toward the pursuit of beauty.
[…] The negative is the more importunate.’

There is no gainsaying that the dichotomy between the ideal and the real
is the central dichotomy which informed TSE's thought and sensitivity.
I agree with Harriet Davidson, that TSE in both his poetry and thought was
trying to resolve dichotomies of various kinds, by "hermeneutic [...]
circular grounding of seeming opposites in each other".

--- Looking forward to you response.
Marcin




 

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Thanks, Marcin, for this engaging discussion on 'Preludes".
 
I'm afraid I do not find any evidence in the poem that could
substantiate your following remark:
 
// Thus being "moved" by the "fancies", in itself, would be
symptomatic of sympathy on the part of the speaker.
He/she seems to sympathise with the "hands", the "feet",
the "eyes" with all the synecdochically mutilated
inhabitants of his/her world. //
 
The narrator does assume different (not differing)
identities -- from "The grimy scraps / Of withered leaves
about _your_ feet", in Prelude I,  to the impersonal 
"_One_ thinks of all the hands..." in Prelude II,  to
" _You_ had such a vision of the street..." in Prelude III.
Prelude IV makes a departure in that it begins with
" _His_ soul stretched tight across the skies..."  but
concludes with "_I_ am moved by fancies..." as well
as "Wipe _your_ hand across your mouth, and laugh..."
 
Marcin, I take note of the _deprecating_ note in each of the
Preludes irrespective of the identity the speaker assumes.
And I find no evidence of his/her _sympathy_ with the social
scene he/she depicts. In Prelude I, there are adjectives like
"burnt-out", "smoky", "grimy", "withered", "vacant",
and "broken". The speaker's impatience with this mundane
reality is signified in the image of a lonely cab horse that
"steams and stamps". It is disillusionment such as this
that is ancillary to the metaphoric "lighting of the lamps".
 
The note of deprecation continues in Prelude II that
depicts the other "masquarades" of time with qualifying
adjectives like "stale", "muddy" and "dingy".
 
In Preludes III, in the "thousand sordid images of which
your soul was constituted", the qualifier "sordid"
underscores the speaker's sense of disgust with
his/her existence -- the image of "sparrows in the
gutters" does not merely describe the scene. These
images induce in the speaker "a vision of the street..."
 
Preludes IV tells us of the impact of this sordid reality
on the soul of the speaker --- "His soul stretched tight
across the skies" vis-a-vis the "conscience of a
 _blackened_ street..."
 
The lines "I am moved by _fancies_ that are curled /
Around these images, and cling" hardly indicate any
sympathy for them. For, these only engender "The
notion of some infinitely gentle / Infinitely suffering
thing."  This "infinitely gentle" being obviously owes
his/her infinite suffering to the impact of this dismal 
social scene on his/her psyche.
 
Finally, the speaker laughs away the emotion in the
manner of Laforgue, not  without the parting comment
about the timeless nature of the world's futile and
debasing engagements.
 
I, therefore, find a note of unity in the speaker's response
to his/her sordid and dreary existence, in spite of the
apparently differing identities he/she puts on.
 
Incidentally, those who are familiar with the chronology
of the Preludes' composition, know that Preludes I & II
were written in October 1910, Preludes III (begun in
Paris, 1910; completed in July 1911 ), and Preludes
IV (Cambridge, Mass., 1911).
 
In bringing them together as one poem, the poet seems
to have deliberately chosen to retain differing pronouns
-- it would lend a wider validity to the experience of
continued disillusionment with the sordid reality
of the social scene.
 
I'm not sure if my arguments hold. But they're there :)
 
Regards.
 
~ CR



 


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