Rhapsody On A Windy Night : Summary and Analysis

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       The atmosphere of the poem : The poem Rhapsody on a Windy Night records the memory and fancy of a young man, returning to his lodgings between twelve and four at night. His memory does not function normally. It is confused and therefore his impressions do not follow any system and pattern. It is possible that the night-walker is drunk and therefore his impressions are disorganised. The poem evokes a mood of horror due to the squalor, rottenness and corruption of the night life in urban centres. The total impression given by the poem is ugly and disgusting. Its smell of the dirty drain and gutters of modern city life, the disordinaries of ideas appear quite natural because his mind is in a disintegrated state. This may be partly due to his being moon-struck. But there is an undercurrent of horror and degradation arising out of the scene in the street corners. The prostitute inviting her customers with eye-gestures, the cat devouring rotten butter, the child stealing a toy, the sex-hunter peeping through lighted shutters and the moon looking like an old prostitute, echo the atmosphere of sordidness and corruption that bedevils city life.

As the night-rambler walks through the streets of the city, he feels drowsy on account of the wine that he has drunk.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night

      Modern 'Inferno' (Hell) : There is a marked contrast between silvery moon light brightening the streets and the hellish memories of night wanderer. The night-life in a modern city, is a foul as hell. Stephen Spender writes in this connection: "Modern life is a kind of Hell, but even that view has to be modified, it is, as it were, a fragmentary Hell, a Hell devoid of consistency, too stupid to punish anyone, and without any moral severity," and adds: "The peculiar horror of this world is that the people in it are as much 'things' as the gutter, the street, the cat, the pipes, etc. They are spiritually dead, and there is a dead sameness about all their activities". The horrible scene at night evokes a feeling as painful as the sensation caused by a sudden knife attack on a passerby.

Development of Thought

      Mental confusion of the night rambler : As the night-rambler walks through the streets of the city, he feels drowsy on account of the wine that he has drunk. Moreover, his mental faculties have been exhausted on account of the activities during the day. A succession of memories passes through his mind which echo the rottenness and squalor of the city. His memories and fancies come and go at random. But they help to furnish a nauseating and repulsive picture of modern city. There is a kind of disordinariness, both in the Setting and also outside the disintegrated state of the mind. The words Whispering lunar incantation suggest a memory of whisper about crimes and sexual perversity. "The beating of the lamp" like the fatalistic drum, is highly metaphysical because the sound of the street lamp is in no way as important as the beating of the drums announces war or death. There is a similarity in inner setting and external setting. The fragments of the memory of the night-walker receive a jolt like the one that a madman gives to a dead plant, thinking it to be alive.

      Sex for sale : When it is half-past one, the night-wanderer comes across a prostitute standing at her door-step making signs to him. He observes that her dress is torn and stained as the result of her previous sex-relationship. She, however, beckons him for a sexual contract. Her eye-twist is like a crooked pin. The crooked ways of the women represent the crooked nature of the urban life. The critic, Stephen Spender, is of the opinion that 'woman', a human being has been reduced to a 'thing that is a crooked pin in the twentieth century commercial civilization. The critic feels that Eliot has interpreted the contemporary commercial civilization in an ironical manner by means of the symbol of the 'crooked pin.' Thus the 'pin' stands for the whole commercial civilization. The woman is suggestive of the corruption, of the sordid degradation, of the contemporary world. This world is further elaborated by the poet ata vast scale in The Waste Land.

      Twisted civilization : The memory of the twisted pin brings to the mind of the night-walker, images of sexual, twisted things. He remembers the twisted stick from which ice-cream has been licked and thereafter thrown on the beach. He also recalls the dry and twisted bones sucked up by dogs and cats. He also recalls the twisted broken spring, full of rust and dust thrown into the factory backyard. All these images suggest the decadence and disintegration of the modern civilization.

      Horrible Corruption : At half-past-two in the night, the night rambler sees horrible things. Firstly, he observes a cat sitting in the gutter and swallowing rotten butter. The cat stands for the modern man ready to grab anything for his advantage. Secondly, he sees a chila stealing a toy, near the dock. Thirdly, he sees a man peeping into rooms lighted from inside. Perhaps, he is in search of sex life. This man is like an old crab, who catches the end of the stick. The modern man may be compared to a crab, lusty and rapacious, ready to feather his own nest.

      Modern interpretation of the man : According to the romantic tradition, moon is an embodiment of beauty and charm. However, in the modern towns nobody cares for the moon. The moon is regarded as an old degraded woman, winking with the feeble eye and smiling into corners which suggest ugliness and senility. The pimples and small-poxed surface of the moon is extremely disgusting. She holds an artificial paper roll and tears it into pieces to smell eau-de-Cologne which it contains. It reminds one of the powders and perfumes used by women at night for their sexual relationship. These smells remind the night-wanderer of the other smells of city, namely, smells of the dry geraniums, dust in crevices, female smell, cigarette smell and cocktail smell. All these indicate the decadence and corruption of the modern city life.

      Life akin to Knife : At four o'clock the night-wanderer reaches his home. He remembers the number painted on the door of his house. He unlocks the door, switches on light and ascends the stairs. He enters the room and goes to bed. It is just the time when other people wake up and prepare themselves or the day's routine. However, for him day-life is like the twist of the knife, something horrible and brutal. He is disgusted with the modern life of hectic activity and would like to sleep and to forget his worries. Thus, the poet feels that the night-walker is disgusted with the life of activity. He would like to withdraw himself from it by sleeping the whole day.

      Conclusion : The poem is written after the manner of the French Symbolists like Laforgue, who followed a particular technique. They packed together a number of disjointed and random images so as to give an overall picture of ugly and corrupt life of amodern city. T.S. Eliot has tried to follow their example but he has added something which is peculiar of his own. Thus Rhapsody on a Windy Night is his own addition which makes the poem significant, rhythmic and musical composition. The poem, according to Maxwell, "is a conscious attempt to do in English what the Symbolists had done in French - to mirror a mood by a selection of images which have in common subservience to that mood, and hence act as symbols for it."

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