Preludes Summary

The poem is divided into four parts, or four preludes. The first prelude is set on a winter evening in a city during a rainstorm. It’s a dirty, sinister, pungent, lonely place filled with waste. Motifs of time, light, newspapers, discarded and broken objects, the street, and vacant lots are introduced. The cozy domesticity and occasional rhyming meter is disrupted by images of desolation and routine depersonalization. The second prelude takes place in the morning, which smells and looks disgusting. City dwellers are reduced to symbols of their work: feet and hands, moving repetitiously. They act as if in a play, with a pretense of meaning. And their lives are all the same. The third prelude introduces a character who the speaker addresses directly as "you." She lies awake at night, thinking of her debased life. Then at dawn, she experiences a consciousness of the world as she prepares for her day. In the fourth prelude, Christ is imagined in the sky, blocked by the city, and in the street, trod upon by pedestrians. The poem returns to the evening routines of the working class, numbed by nicotine and news. The speaker then gets personal about his emotional experience of a religious impulse intertwined with his poetic imagination. He dismisses these “fancies” with an embarrassed gesture, and ends with an image representing a spiritual void.