Eliot was an interesting poet. He gets surrounded by much confusion. He was a Modernist (despite the fact that that movement is past its prime), so he observed the world around him, made commentary on it in sparse, precise language – short sentences, very concrete imagery, nothing ornate. He was an ex-pat, one of ours until he decided to move to England and never came back. And he wrote a couple more poems beyond “the Wasteland”.
Being an ex-pat gave him a unique position as a Modern Poet, though his contemporaries who were from the country were also acting as observers. He was really able to separate the wheat from the chaff and be very precise.
I only point this out, because this is a poem about observation, watching what happens when the evening settles down. It is purely imagery, “smell of steaks”, seeing the “grimy scraps” or the “withered leaves about your feet”. You read it and feel as though you are outside watching the occupants of this London street wind down for the night.
In interpreting the poem, you might be tempted to ask out of the millions of things that you could observe at this time of day, why these particular ones? Is he making a commentary on the participants in this particular ritual? Or on the way things are done? Perhaps it’s like a haiku and these were the things that stuck him deeply as he observed them. But instead, I’d rather just sit back and experience and enjoy.
The Winter Evening Settles Down
by T.S. Eliot
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The shower beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.