Preludes Essay Questions

  1. 1

    "Preludes" seems like four distinct poems written in free verse. But patterns emerge across all four parts that tie the poem together as one. What are some examples of patterns that perform this function?

    The repeated return to iambic tetrameter conveys the orderly nature of urban life amidst the fractured free verse. The theme of time structures and links the sections. Personification of the time of day brings it to life. Sibilance conveys the sinister quality of the city. Rhyme ties images together. The synecdoches of hands and feet create familiar close-up images of urban workers throughout the poem. These comforting repetitions make the dissonant ending all the more startling.

  2. 2

    What does the street represent in "Preludes"?

    The street represents the world. The meaning of the world, and so the street, changes throughout the poem. The street is degraded and ignored by being “trampled” upon twice and “blackened.” It “hardly understands” itself. It is personified in the second prelude, as “the sawdust-trampled street/With all its muddy feet,” meaning that the people of the city belong to the world. In prelude III, for a moment, a woman has a vision of it. In the final prelude, Christ is imagined to bring a “conscience,” an ethical spiritual presence, to the street, for a moment.