Analysis of Morning at the Window by T.S. Eliot


Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in 1888 in St Louis Missouri in the U.S. and later settled in England. He is considered as a modernist poet whose poems with unique style and technique demonstrated the backwater of the changing European society due to industrial invasion and World War I.

‘Morning at the Window’ was written in 1914, some months after the outbreak of World War I. It was published in 1917 in T. S. Eliot’s first poetry collection - Prufrock and Other Observations. Eliot captures the poverty, alienation and unhappiness due to the adverse living conditions in urbanized cities at the time. The industrial development and rapid urbanization in western countries led to the growth of large cities which were overcrowded and had very poor living conditions. Europe lost an entire generation of young men due to the World war leaving many women to shoulder the economy of the families. Here, Eliot brings the agony of such women workers as housemaids in the poem. The poet unveils the adverse effects of those which damaged entire humanity collectively, making people isolated in a deteriorating socio-cultural backdrop suspecting each-other.

 

Overview

Title: Title is paradoxical to the poem as ‘morning’ and ‘window’ are naturally used to express about the pleasant sunrise, nature and invigorating feelings but the poem is not about a pleasant thing. The word ‘morning’ can be taken as a wordplay to ‘mourning.’

Form: Follows the Spenserian stanza. (nine lines, ending with an Alexandrine.) This type of form was used by Edmund Spenser to write The Faerie Queene, one of his most recognized works in which heroic deeds are narrated in an idyllic pastoral fairyland. (Eliot uses this to convey about an urbanized city.)

Rhyme scheme: Unrhymed

Tone: sympathetic and nostalgic

Theme: poverty, ill-effects of industrialization and urbanization

Narration: Objective observer about the events whose emotions are conveyed indirectly through his diction. (choice of words) The speaker may be the poet himself or an upper class citizen in the city.(he has a window!)

Main technique: visual imagery

 

Deep-end Analysis

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,

And along the trampled edges of the street

I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids

Sprouting despondently at area gates.

 

onomatopoeia: rattling (rattling of plates may show the rush of their work; finish the breakfast quickly and wash the plates before going to work)

alliteration: breakfast, basement (creates an unpleasant feeling) /souls of housemaids, sprouting (generates a feeling of desperation, like sighing)

metaphor: damp souls (unhappy state of mind/ burdened lives, heavy with desperation, unable to be free)

symbol: basement (poverty, poor life conditions)

visual imagery: basement kitchen, trampled edges of the street (images reflect the poverty and deterioration)

kinesthetic imagery: sprouting (just like blades of grasses raising their heads from the soil; similarly, the housemaids are coming out of nowhere, just as they are coming out of the earth)

 

First stanza illustrates the distant observation of the speaker about the day to day life of poor housemaids in a setting of poor life conditions. His emotions are revealed by the use of the negative words and imagery like: ‘trampled edges of the street’, ‘damp souls of housemaids’ and ‘sprouting despondently.’ His sympathy and awareness of the hard life of poor housemaids is shown by the use of metaphor ‘damp souls.’ The devastating effect of 1st world war which stole male labor is reflected through the number of housemaids ‘sprouting’ at area gates.    

 

The brown waves of fog toss up to me

Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,

And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts

An aimless smile that hovers in the air

And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

 

symbol: fog (confusion/ blurred view) brown waves of fog (ill-effects of industrialization) may be because of the amount of workers walking along the dusty road.

repetition: and (shows the continuity of the vicious circle of suffering and poverty)

personification: fog toss up to me (his mental state; the ill effects of urbanization, industrialization and poverty hurt the upper-class people too)

metaphor: twisted faces (unhappy workers)

visual imagery:  brown waves of fog, twisted faces, muddy skirts, aimless smile

alexandrine: last line (longer 12 syllable line, the standard pentameter one) use of the Spenserian style to describe the backwater of urbanization opposite to the use of the style which is used to describe pastoral beauty.

 

Second stanza further describes the setting and the passers-by of the window. His eyes penetrate through the dirty outfits of workers and their remorseful faces as well as occasionally catch a transient smile. The fog and muddy skirts show the pollution of the environment in an industrialized setting which is highly populated; just like a shanty. Speaker tries to grasp a smile which quickly ‘vanishes along the level of the roofs’ suggesting happiness is something hard to find in a society burdened with hard work and poverty. The ‘twisted faces’ and ‘tear’ are clear depictions of the suffering of the poor in the city.

Eliot may be describing the city of London at the early ninetieth century where industrialization out broke and the darkness of first world war was lurking. However, Eliot mainly tries to reveal the sufferings of the poor in the industrialized-modern world.

If we draw parallels the poem to the Sri Lankan context, this can be seen in industrialized settings like garment factories where women workers lead a hard life under poor life conditions at their boarding houses.

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