Walking through the city streets from midnight to 4 AM, the speaker is subject to twisted impressions and memories.
The street lamps are personified: they beat like a drum, sputter, mutter, and talk to the speaker about the woman, the cat, the moon, and the door.
The woman the speaker meets is likely a prostitute. She moves towards the speaker, but hesitates: her relationship to him is transactional and somewhat unwilling. The simile comparing the door opening to a “grin” is grotesque and sexual, suggesting an inappropriately garish open mouth. The lamp points out details of the man’s perception of the woman, all with negative connotations. Her dress, meant to be attractive, is “torn and stained with sand.” This sand indicates that the woman has been outside of the city, active enough to tear her dress on the beach. This transports her in a surreal fashion to an entirely different landscape. Her eye “twists like a crooked pin,” suggesting that she is not what she appears, and is also sharp, and able to cause pain.
The street lamp directs the speaker to notice a cat in the gutter. This location represents the debasement of living beings in modern urban life. That the cat “devours...rancid butter” implies that he is starving, and willing to eat something rotten. It symbolizes the struggle for survival in cities.
At the beginning of the poem, the moon is described in such a way that it seems to holds together the world, performing a "lunar synthesis" that transforms the speaker’s perceptions and memory into an imprecise, undivided, irrational whole. In a quotation from French, we learn that “The moon bears no grudge.” The moon is personified as an old, weak, sick woman who has “lost her memory.” In losing her memory, she has lost her history, meaning, and identity too, as the romantic symbol of innocence and love. She is kindly, but lost. The craters of the moon are figured as pox marks. The moon here represents the connection between human culture and the natural world, which has decayed. The speaker’s nocturnal encounters have revealed that as the moon has lost her memory: there is no connection to the transcendent to be found anymore, and the city at night is filled with mere vice.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Rhapsody on a Windy Night is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.