Rhapsody on a Windy Night
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The Hollow Men
The Journey of the Magi

When were the Preludes written?

1910 – 1911


Who is the subject of this poem? What are they doing?

Unnamed speaker who is walking down a street at night. The moonlight and darkness is menacing. The speaker’s memories bubble unbidden to the surface.


The epigraph features an allusion to...

Dante's 'Inferno.' The character Guido agrees to confess his crimes because he believes no one can return to earth and shame him for the evil he committed in his life.


Explain how ‘The Hollow Men’ depicts modern humanity

People are hollow shells, lacking character or substance. They are incapable of action.


When did Eliot write this poem?   

1927 – after his conversion to Christianity


Describe the tone of the poem

Cynical, philosophical, depressing…


How is the poem structured? Why is this significant?

Most stanzas begin with a statement of the hour, marking the passage of time. This creates a sense of anxiety and the feeling that life is slipping away.


What technique is used in the following line, "When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table"? Explain its meaning.

Simile - suggests Prufrock feels trapped and is also filled with dread. He also needs to numb himself to face the social situation he's about to enter.


Recite the last stanza

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper


Name three of the main ideas in this poem

  • Death and birth
  • Rejuvenation through newly found faith
  • Alienation
  • Journey of faith

Summarise the focus of each of the four stanzas

I – streetscape setting the scene of urban squalor

II – focus on communal society and daily habits

III – Individual focus, how people are plagued by the emptiness of life during the night

IV – Philosophical questioning – how do we continue if we realise the routine is meaningless?


Name the technique in this quote and explain the importance: “Every streetlamp I pass / Beats like a fatalistic drum.”

Simile – emphasises one of Eliot’s key points that fate is inevitable and time marches on. The speaker feels hopeless as there is nothing he can do to change the future.


List two main ideas in the poem

Birth of the modern anti-hero

The futility of modern existence

Life as a masquerade

Other answers also accepted.


Name and explain the significance of one of the allusions in the title or epigraph.

  • Hollow Men – allusion to Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. References men who are noble on the outside but lack inner strength to act.
  • Mistah Kurtz – allusion to ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad. Kurtz is a character who has a veneer of civilisation but has an empty and brutal nature.
  • A penny for the Old Guy – allusion to Guy Fawkes who attempted to blow up Parliament. To this day, the British population celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Day where they let off fireworks and burn a straw effigy of Fawkes.

How is this poem different to Eliot’s other ones?

It has a more hopeful tone and offers an antidote to the hopelessness described in modern humanity


Explain the significance of the title of this poem

Preludes are a short introductory piece of classical music, intended to introduce the greater theme of a larger piece. In a similar way, this poem is Eliot’s introduction to some of the most significant themes in his poetry – the urban wasteland, Modern metropolis, and the despair, monotony, and sorrow of human life in the modern world. The musical motif is also continued in his later poems (Rhapsody, Love Song, The Four Quartets)


Explain the irony of the final line.

The poem ends on a fatalistic note – ‘the last twist of the knife.’ The speaker has tried to avoid different snares during the night and has arrived home in apparent safety, but ironically this is the ultimate destruction. The speaker is resigned to going through the motions of daily life all the while knowing they’re devoid of meaning or purpose.


What is the irony of 'Prufrock'?

The poem is meant to be a love song (presumably to one he loves), however, the poem is largely a self-obsessed commentary on himself. He is too focused on his inadequacies and social paralysis.


The opening stanzas develops the idea that modern man is like the ignavi – who are they?

A category of sinners who Dante encountered in the ‘Antinferno’ (the place in the afterlife that precedes the entrance to the real hell). These sinners never acted either for good or for bad (lukewarm) and never dared have an idea of their own. Dante says they “were never alive.”


Explain the meaning of the last four lines: “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms / But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, / with an alien people clutching their gods. / I should be glad of another death.”

Echoes the difficulties Eliot may have faced in his own conversion. He found his newfound faith to challenge his modernist intellectualism and he found it difficult to fit into his old circle of modernist writers and artists, just as the Magi would have been isolated when they returned to their homeland with a newfound belief. The last line perhaps foreshadows the hope entwined with death in Christian belief – that death brings reunion with God.


How has Eliot used techniques to communicate a perspective of the modern metropolis as an urban wasteland?

Imagery of decay and neglect – ‘grimy scraps,’ withered leaves,’ ‘sawdust-trampled street,’ etc. Also motif of masquerades to introduce the social wasteland. People are faceless and undefined – ‘hands,’ ‘muddy feet,’ and ‘soiled hands.’ This expresses the social alienation.


Explain one of the two key motifs (recurring images) in the poem

  • Moon – illustrates the feeling of losing control and the disintegration of one’s identity. For centuries, humans have believed in the ‘lunar effect’ on human behaviour – induce temporary madness. It’s where we get the word ‘lunacy’ from. The speaker’s mind is destabilised.
  • Flowers – flowers are usually symbols of vitality and beauty. But the opposite is true in this poem – they represent decay and the inevitability of mortality. Everything will fade and die (e.g. the dead geraniums, the paper rose).

Name and explain three allusions in the poem, focusing on how they contribute to the underlying themes.

Dante’s ‘Inferno’


Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’

Hesiod’s ‘Work and Days’

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

John the Baptist



Mermaids/sea-girls (sirens in ‘The Odyssey’)


Explain the allusion to the ‘Multifoliate rose.’

Allusion to Dante’s vision of the highest heaven as a rose with the saints forming the petals. The hollow men cannot access it because they refuse to face the judgement.


List at least three of the references to Christ in the second stanza

  • Running stream – water of life
  • Three trees – crucifixion
  • Old white horse – Christ rides a white horse in glory (Revelation)
  • Vine-leaves – “I am the vine, you are the branches”
  • Dicing – soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes
  • Pieces of silver – Jesus sold for 30 pieces of silver
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