Study Guide

Preludes Stanza 3

By T.S. Eliot

Stanza 3

Lines 24-25

You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;

  • The third stanza has gotten pretty direct—notice the change in tone? All of a sudden, the poem is all about us again, instead of the more impersonal "one" back in stanza 2.
  • Here we are, then, in bed. But don't get too excited about an impromptu nap; we are suffering from a little bit of insomnia. 
  • We stare at the ceiling, restless and waiting. Waiting… waiting… Waiting for what? Let's read on.

Lines 26-28

You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;

  • If it's sleep we are waiting for, it's finally arrived. It isn't the most restful sleep, though. It's full of "sordid" (a.k.a. smutty) images.
  • And we guess it isn't just the city that's a bit… seedy. Our souls are, too. They're filled with "dirty" thoughts. 
  • These thoughts are only revealed in the night, according to the speaker. But isn't it light that normally does the revealing? How can the dark reveal anything?
  • Let's read on for answers…

Lines 29-31

They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters

  • We get more light imagery in these lines. The "sordid images" are flickering, like a candle's flame. Whatever the light is revealing, it sure isn't pleasant.
  • After this image, Eliot uses an end stop. Maybe we are supposed to pause for a moment and consider our own sordid thoughts.
  • But morning comes, like always. The return of the light (at daybreak) seems to bring the whole world "back" to us. 
  • Does that mean that night brings negative things, and the day takes them away? Maybe. But notice the personification in line 31: the light "crept up." It sounds kinda… creepy (pardon the pun)—like a bug. Check out "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" for more.
  • It sure doesn't sound like daybreak does much to relieve the images that have been keeping us awake all night.

Lines 32-34

And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;

  • We might still be cozily inside, but morning is breaking. It's time to start thinking about getting up and ready for the day. But then we have a "vision" of the streets of the city. 
  • Say what? Perhaps we are imagining the day ahead of us, and we can't help but think of those dirty streets from the first stanza. 
  • It's a mental image that we can't communicate; not even the street itself could recognize itself in our image—that is, if streets could recognize things (personification, anyone?). 
  • It might be that the way we see the city is influenced by our emotions. If we feel gloomy, the streets feel gloomy, too. That's why they may not appear in our "visions" the same way they do in reality.

Lines 35-38

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.

  • We're just getting ready for the day, unrolling the newspaper strips from our hair. Sure, who hasn't hopped out of bed to do just that?
  • Actually, winding sections of hair up with strips of paper was a cheap way to get pincurls, which were popular in Eliot's time. 
  • In this stanza, we're a woman, getting ready for another day (even though we're still pretty grimy from the day before).
  • The imagery of the paper—as well as the dirty, yellow feet and hands—mirrors the imagery of the dingy street in the first stanza. 
  • The stanza ends with this grime that we can't seem to avoid. It's affected our mind and our body.