Literal And Metaphorical Of “Rhapsody On A Windy Night”

T.S. Eliot once said poetry had to be hard. Many of his poems and Rhapsody on a Windy Night are a reflection of these sentiments. Rhapsody, taken literally, is a confusing and beautifully-written mess. But, it is possible to draw many meaningful interpretations if Rhapsody is viewed as a collection of lexicalized ideas rather than a sequence or events that tell a story. I believe that Eliot’s Rhapsody is best understood metaphorically.

This is illustrated in the title. However, the title does not directly refer to wind. But if you look at the connotations that wind has, such as change, transformation and the ephemeral then this links in with the opening line of the poem. “Twelve O’clock” is often used to indicate a period of change in literature, especially Gothic fiction. The title is a manifestion of change. This is illustrated in the repeated use and repetition of the term ‘twisted’ that runs through the poem. Twisted imagery is used as a symbol of desolation. The sea represents change. Because it erodes branches, which are a part and parcel of nature, the sea may also be used to symbolize that change has occurred. The twisted also conveys the unnatural.’smallpox cracks [the] face of the moon, her hands twist a paper rose’. The image depicting a paper rose as symbolising man-made beauty in contrast to the personifications that show the moon as a diseased, damaged woman conjures up thoughts of industry and artificial degrading nature. This makes sense, given that Rhapsody dates back to the late 1910s. That was a period of great industrial and artistic innovation.

Eliot uses personifications and reifications to blur the line between physical and metaphysical. This contributes to the ambiguous nature and somnambulatory tone. It is especially prominent to mention the reification and dissolution of memory (‘dissolve all memories’,’midnight shakes off the memory’). This “captures the essence” of an abstraction by making it more tangible. Eliot also reminds us that memory, like physical objects can be destroyed, lost, or degraded. If midnight can be taken to symbolize a time when there is change, then it may suggest that new things are’shaking’ away memory, which could lead to us forgetting. It is also possible that the floors’ and clear relations, divisions or precisions ‘disintegrate’, indicating that tradition is disappearing in the age of innovation. Santayana’s famous phrase “Those who cannot remember the future are condemned not to repeat it” might bring back memories for modern readers. It opens up several avenues for political and socio-cultural interpretations of this poem. Rhapsody on a Windy Night is metaphorically interpreted. This was how the reification and appropriation of memory led to the song Memory, which has been featured in many musicals.

Eliot personifies the moon in the poem as well as the personifications of other objects. The street-lamp forces Eliot to see a number of images (including’regard that girl’) and is the only dialogue in this poem. This reveals the loneliness of the narrator and his disconnection from the society depicted in the images. Only the anthropomorphic streetlamp, moon and sun provide light in this poem. This is important because light can be associated with positivity, happiness, and hope. But the narrator has no access to natural or reflected light. This mise-en-sc?ne gives an impression that the narrator doesn’t have a close relationship with the society and his relationships with them. It also increases the feeling of alienation.

Eliot uses creative metaphors in order to create cryptic and acroamatic imagery. In order to understand the metaphors, the reader must examine the meanings of each word in combination with connotations and context. I could not see anything behind the child’s eyes, for example. I have seen children’s eyes trying to see through the shutters. The street is full of meanings that need to be ‘unpacked. The contrast between’see nothing’ or ‘eyes’, with their contrasting literal meanings, is a sign of discordance. Culture often presents eyes as relatable to characters. In this context, idioms like eyes being ‘the windows to the soul’ or’mind’s eye’ can be used. It could also be an indication of Eliot’s inability to communicate with other people, as he can’t see anything behind the child’s eye. However, he can also see eyes ‘through the lighted shutters’. This is linked to the female smells within shuttered rooms’ mentioned at the end of this poem. Combining the connotations of light and eyes, we can conclude that the eyes he looks through the shutters are a sign that he has lost hope and a lack of connection to society. However, the fact the eyes are only trying to look’, the physical barrier’shutters ‘and the retrospect with ‘female scents’ suggest that this redemption has been lost.

Eliot presents Eliot’s poem with a stream od consciousness and stanzas that have differing lengths. This poem has a dream-like, noctambulant quality due to the combination of structural features, creative metaphors, and magic realism (‘lunar imcantations’). The penultimate line’s staccato lines, however, represent a return of reality. The poem’s final line is titled “the last twist” This is a standard metaphor and shows how the narrator has returned to reality. This use of the word “twist” and the meanings it gives; pain, suffering, indicates that reality is worse then any of the images of the twisted.

The poem juxtaposes age with the degenerate and the old. So, for instance, her dress is stained and torn by sand. Sand could be a reference either to ‘the time sands’ or to the ‘twisted tree on the beach’. Although the meaning of this image is unclear, it gives the impression that the subject has been used and outdated. It is no longer suitable for clothing use because it has been ‘torn. The broken spring’ can be described similarly as old and worn; ‘rust sticks to the form of strength that has left’. Its primary purpose is to bear tension. However, it’s become brittle. This can be seen to represent tradition’s demise and its being discarded. It could also be seen as symbolizing the narrator being cast aside from society like these useless, damaged objects. The repetitions of dust (or dust in the crevices’), is symbolic of antiquity.

Rhapsody on a Windy Night, Eliot’s poem, is clearly ambiguous. This allows for endless interpretations. Rhapsody would be lost if we were to take it as is. It is possible to look at Rhapsody metaphorically to understand its complex web of imagery, and the hidden meanings beneath. To fully appreciate Rhapsody on a Windy Night’s potential, a metaphorical stance seems necessary.


  • baileywilliams

    Bailey Williams is an educational blogger and school teacher who uses her blog as a way to share her insights and knowledge with her readers. She has been teaching for over 10 years and has a deep understanding of the school system and how to help students reach their goals. Her blog is packed full of helpful information and resources, so be sure to check it out if you're looking for help with your schoolwork!