T.S.Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” is a bleak, lyric poem in which he illustrates an unnamed persona’s perception of society and highlights the profound tragedy and subtle suffering that emerges after dark. The poem evokes several different potential interpretations as much of its ambiguity is presented through ambiguous allusions.
Eliot establishes the setting via subtle yet significant metaphors. His denotation of images like the moon, children, flowers, toys and women create metaphorical significance as they gradually reflect and echo the protagonists futile existence; the moon especially, as Eliot degrades her image, describing her face as cracked and washed out by smallpox - a more than unflattering way to characterise something normally perceived as beautiful.
Time is one of the biggest symbolic motifs in the poem; Eliot begins the first stanza with “Twelve o clock”, a phrase which leads the reader to link the poem to Shakespeare’s; “witching hour”. Twelve o clock is now heavily associated with the supernatural world. The verse ends with connotations of the “dark” and “midnight”, prefacing the desolate sequence of impressions and preparing the reader for what is to come.
The poem’s title unlocks a variety of potential significances; A rhapsody, when linked to music, is a one-movement piece - integrated and free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly juxtaposed moods and an air of artless inspiration. However, despite the fact the poem is written in free verse, it is the complete opposite of a rhapsody, the poem is in fact disjointed and discordant, both in structure and tone.
“Rhapsody” and “windy” both link to a sense of freedom and movement, whilst the characters in the poem are repressed and isolated through their failure to communicate. The narrator sees
“eyes in the street, trying to peer through lighted shutters”, which implies there is a potential for hope and light in the midst of the calamity, yet that hope is blocked by shutters, the shutters could symbolise society’s collective and the persona’s individual isolation.
Stanza 2 suggests a lot about the poem; mainly that Eliot has structured it around the domination of more psychological, as opposed to chronological, implications. We begin to see the poem become more fragmented as the clock strikes “half past one”; we are introduced to the street lamp, which “sputtered” and “muttered” - Eliot’s choice of verbs here suggest a struggle to communicate in the personas, as both generally mean difficulty in speaking and hearing. The inability to speak with clarity and authority is emphasised by Eliot as the characters become increasingly more detached from themselves as we see the woman’s eye “twists like a crooked pin”, this evokes a sense of insanity as well as isolation as she appears alone and misunderstood. The sequence of time marches through the poem continuously, with 4 of its stanzas beginning with the lapsing of time; the protagonist however meanders through the night in a somewhat meaningless fashion. Time could be a literary device used by Eliot to represent the persona’s sanity deteriorating as more time elapses and he becomes increasingly more isolated from what is going on around him.
In stanza 2 we are introduced to the first of two female personas in the poem; for example the woman who hesitates toward you in the light of the door”. Eliot presents this woman to us as a prostitute as he describes her dress as “torn and stained with sand”, a stereotypical image of a lady of the night. The moon however contrasts this, symbolising something much more sincere. We become familiar with the persona of the moon in stanza 6, when Eliot supposes we “regard” her, proposing we feel sympathy for “her”. The phrase “La lune ne garde aucune rancune”, translated from French; often considered a beautiful language of love, to “The moon bears no