Morning at the Window was written in 1914, some months after the outbreak of World War I. It was published in 1917 in T. S. Eliot’s first poetry collection, Prufrock and Other Observations. This book is widely known and recognized for featuring one of Eliot’s most famous poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Morning at the Window depicts the impressions of the lyrical voice as he/she looks outside his/her window and observes the streets.
The form of the poem, although unrhymed, follows the Spenserian stanza. That means that the poem has nine lines, ending with an Alexandrine. This type of form was used by Edmund Spenser to write The Faerie Queene, one of his most recognized works in which heroic deeds are narrated in an idyllic pastoral fairyland. Yet, Eliot uses this form to convey impressions of a modern city, most probably London.
T. S. Eliot was strongly influenced by French poets, especially by Charles Baudelaire and Jules Laforgue. Hence, in Morning at the Window, T. S. Eliot presents observations and scenes from the modern urban life. These can be related to Baudelaire’s portrait of modern Paris. According to Eliot, in poetry it is crucial to elevate everyday life and to accentuate the quasi-transcendent qualities of modern life. You can read the poem in full here.
Morning at the Window Analysis
They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
Sprouting despondently at area gates.
The first stanza sets the scene and the setting of the poem. The lyrical voice starts talking about a “They”. Thus, the lyrical voice appears to be an observer who looks at this scene with distant sight (“They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens”). The images that the lyrical voice describes are object correlatives, meaning that the objects and situations depicted correspond to certain ideas and emotions in the lyrical voice’s and the reader’s mind. Then, the lyrical voice will state that he/she is in the street and aware of what goes on around him/her: “And along the trample edges of the street/ I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids/Sprouting despondently at area gates”. The lyrical voice shows images of poverty in modern London and describes them as everyday scenes, without describing individualities or moralizing his/her surroundings. This first stanza presents a very human, but distant picture; everyday life is narrated but not in individual depth. The lyrical voice chooses to narrate what he/she observes, and focuses on his point of view.
The brown waves of fog toss up to me
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.
The second stanza furthers on the characteristics and occupants of the modern city. The lyrical voice describes the air and its pollution (“The brown waves of fog toss up to me”), being a consequence of the industrial and modern city. Just like the air comes to him in a particular way, he/she sees people in the streets accordingly. Notice how they are described: “Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,/ And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts”. People appear to be sad and dirty; nothing in this portrait of modern London seems to be cheerful or positive, as poverty reigns in the streets. Furthermore, the lyrical voice describes a possible attempt to revert the picture in the city, but it is useless (“An aimless smile that hovers in the air/And vanishes along the level of the roofs”). This stanza, and the entire poem, present a distinctly modern view of a city, most probably London, by focusing on the small details of everyday life and elevating them to “quasi-transcendent qualities”.
About T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in 1888 and died in 1965. He was a British poet, playwright, essayist, publisher, and literary critic. T. S. Eliot was born in the United States, and spent the first eighteen years of his life in St. Louis. He attended Harvard University, and earned both an undergraduate and a graduate degree before going to the Sorbonne. In 1914, he moved and settled in England. A year later, he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, but he divorced her after some years and remarried in 1956 to Valerie Fletcher. T. S. Eliot became a British citizen in 1927.
When T. S. Eliot moved to London, he came under the influence of Ezra Pound, who convinced him of his literary talent and helped him publish several poems. His first poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations, collection was published in 1917 and established him as a leading poem of the avant-garde literary movement of that time. In 1922, he published The Waste Land. The Waste Land is considered to be one of Eliot’s masterpieces and one of the most influential works of the twentieth century. T.S. Eliot’s reputation grew to immense proportions and, in the following years, he established himself as one of the dominant figures in English poetry and literary criticism. In 1948 he received the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize in Literature.