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Posts Tagged ‘t.s. eliot’

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

    The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

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I first read T.S. Eliot as a precocious teenager already in college; I must have been thirteen or fourteen. I didn’t like his poetry, but it made a deep impression on me all the same. I remember writing at least one long rambling poem full of Biblical and liturgical allusions that was, consciously or no, an imitation of him.

When I re-discovered Eliot on my own, in my late teens and early twenties, I had read Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, entirely on my own. Now Eliot made sense; I felt that I hadn’t had the tools to grasp him before, especially to grasp something like “Little Gidding” where Julian and Dante are his twin muses and their words interweave with his own from first to last. I had appropriated Julian and Dante for myself, out of a genuine attraction and not because I was required to read them; having done that, I was ready to appropriate Eliot for myself as well. I still love him; I also love the joke that Raissa (or was it Jacques?) Maritain made, when asked if they thought Eliot might become a Roman Catholic: “Oh no, Eliot exhausted his capacity for conversion when he became an Englishman.”

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I
Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?
              If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
              If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

II

Ash on and old man’s sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house—
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
       This is the death of air.
There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
       This is the death of earth.
Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
       This is the death of water and fire.
In the uncertain hour before the morning
     Near the ending of interminable night
     At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
     Had passed below the horizon of his homing
     While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
     Between three districts whence the smoke arose
     I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
     Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
     And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
     The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
     I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
     Both one and many; in the brown baked features
     The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
     So I assumed a double part, and cried
     And heard another’s voice cry: ‘What! are you here?’
Although we were not. I was still the same,
     Knowing myself yet being someone other—
     And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
     And so, compliant to the common wind,
     Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
     Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
     We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: ‘The wonder that I feel is easy,
     Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
     I may not comprehend, may not remember.’
And he: ‘I am not eager to rehearse
     My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
     These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
     By others, as I pray you to forgive
     Both bad and good. Last season’s fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
     For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
     And next year’s words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
     To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
     Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
     In streets I never thought I should revisit
     When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
     To purify the dialect of the tribe
     And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
     To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
     First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
     But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
     As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
     At human folly, and the laceration
     Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
     Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
     Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
     Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
     Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
     Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
     Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.’
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
     He left me, with a kind of valediction,
     And faded on the blowing of the horn.

III

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of no immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.

IV

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
     Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
     To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
     We only live, only suspire
     Consumed by either fire or fire.

V

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
     Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
–T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”, Four Quartets

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I alluded to this segment of Eliot’s “East Coker” the other day when I quoted Rowan Williams, and thought of posting it today. Ironically, Dogo Barry Graham beat me to it, but I shall post it anyway.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

And if you are interested, here is a short video illustrating Eliot’s own reading of this work.

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And in honor of National Poetry Month, I present that vitally important 20th-century masterpiece, The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot…

In LOLspeek.

i seez cumean sybil
sybil can has bukkit?
sybil wantz DIE

1. IM IN UR WASTELAND BURYING UR DEAD

april hates u, makes lilacs, u no can has. (1)
april in ur memoriez, making ur desire.
spring rain in ur dull rootzes.

earth in ur winter, covered in snow
can has potato. PO-TA-TO.
INVISIBLE SUMMER! RAININGZES!
im in ur hofgarden, drinking ur coffeez.

at archduke’s haus, invisible sled!
im in ur moutainz, holding on tight.
no can has cheezburger.
oral sex metaphors in ur poem.

in ur stones, whar r treez? (19)
whar r bushez?
ceiling cat cannot say.
im in redrock, hiding from sunz.
commin ze redrock.
im in ur handfull of dust,
showing ur fear.
redrock, redrock.

whar r wind?
INVISIBLE IRISH GIRL
in ur homelandz, freshening ur windz

can has hyacinths,
no can has tongue.
Isolde u down teh rivers.

Sosotris Cat has smartz, (43)
can see bukkit,
dead sailorz in bukkit,
hooked on fonicians.
belladonna in ur rocks,
situating ur situations.
man has three staves,
turning wheelz,
INVISIBLE CARD.
Sosotris Cat no can has hanged man:
avoid bukkit or u drownz.

INVISIBLE CITY (60)
i see dead peoplez under bridge,
i see dead peoplez on der streets,
walrus has clocks, says NEIN.
bodiez in ur garden, sprouting ur zombies
dog no can has zombies!

II. U WANTS TO PLAY A GAME? (79)

She has shiny chair,
with tacky decor.
ornate fornicate apellate,
king in teh philomel,
shoutin up teh desert.

world cries ‘jub jub bird,’
or is diffrent poem?
INVISIBLE BANDERSNATCH!
time killing everythingz,
platos cave wall,
forms in teh cave,
shuffling in teh stairs,
hushing teh room,
ushering teh fatez.

“i has bad nerves.
u can has speeches?
u can has thoughts?
u can has thinkings?”

OMG WTF RAT ALLEY (115)
dead manz no bonez!!!?!

OMG WTF NOISE?
INVISIBLE WIND!
OMG WTF NOISE?
ceiling cat is watching you masturbate.
OMG WTF? WTF U SEE? WHAT U NO?
no see, no know, no remember butt.

o o o o (125)
shakespeare rag is smartness.
im in teh street, walkens.
im in ur schedule,
measuring out ur life in teh coffee spoonz.

LOL hurry.
LOL can has fake teeth?
LOL ur husband back from war,
wants some more.
LOL hurry.
LOL in your bed, makinz teh kiddles.
LOL drugz LOL!
LOL eating lambz.
LOL SPEEDY LOL!
LOL goodnight

III. TEH SERMON, IT BURNZ (173)

if teh river running, why not moving?
INVISIBLE WIND.
nymphoz gone.
river has trash no more.
nymphoz and friends left,
no can find.
shakey bones with big laughs r here!

rat creepin in teh banks, (186)
fisher kingz has no fishies!
rat eatin kingz relatives.
king sees mrs potter, standing in teh bubbles.
potter daughter hotter.

twitter twitter
jub jub bird.
still in rong poemz
TRUE!

INVISIBLE CITY
eugenideez has raisin pockets,
no can parly francay,
wants lunch at cannon,
wants weekend at pole.

teh day is done,
teh crowd is throbbing.
tiresias iz teh hermafrodite!
tiresias sees:

teh sailor sails home
teh typist makes tea
teh house agent feelz typists
teh house agent can has nookiez
teh typist no has sensation
putting teh needle on record
omg hole in the wall

tiresias in teh thebes (grecian), speeking to deaders, sees on in!

thames has music,
city has shiny decor,
mandoline rains.

sweaty river
drifty barges
turny tides
it all goes downhill,
or at least downstream

hawaiian music

liz and lester
beating ‘ores,
stern, swell, ripple,
all downstream,
big white towers

in teh canoe, (291)
i r laying, begin again.
INVISIBLE ANYTHING.
no can has anything!

carthago can has delenda (307)
fire! fire! fire!

IV: IN TEH WATERS, DYING.

dead fonician,
forgotten bukkit, gulls,
seas, moniez.
fonician hooked on current.
fonician in teh whirlpoolz, spinny
spinny fortunes’ wheel.
in teh fonician, ponder ur fate!

V: U LISTEN THUNDERS OR ELSE!

after torchlight shiny in quiet gardens (322)
after sweaty faces in stony agony:
teh screamz and teh cries!
thunder in teh mountains, shaking all.
if u lives, u dies.
just wait.

u can has bukkit, (331)
no can has water,
ha ha no can has bukkit,
just rock and sand.
no stand, no sit,
no shirt, no shoes, no service,
just thunder shaking moutainzes.
no can has water.
no can has water.
actually, no can has rock either.
no can has water or rock,
or for that matter sand.

ceiling cat is watching you masturbate (360)
u and ur dirty friend.

what r sound?
who r teh hordes?
teh hordes on teh plains rushing.
what r teh cities?
INVISIBLE CITIES.

woman pulls out hairs tight,
and fiddles teh hairs.
teh bats r freaking!
towers ringing bells,
voices singing in wells.

rotten hole in mountains, (385)
moon shining on grass and gravez!
chapel is empty, only with chickens!
cockadoodle doo!
here comez the rains again.

teh metaphorz are thick and fast, (395)
no can has literal translationz.
ganga cat is watching ur fourth wall.
waiting for rainz.
cloudz in teh sky ar far ways.
THUNDERS!
datta means give!
in a moment u lives, transitory,
no can has recording.
dayadham means be compassionate!
u thinks bout prisoner,
thnks ur in prison,
damyata means have self-control!
u r boat on calm seas,
at least on good day

London bridges falling down! (425)
falling down! falling down!
fall down long time!

you get burned clean
or you goes hell!
burny burny burny!
prince at ruined tower,
storing pieces against ruin.
Hieronymo’s goin crazeee cat!
dada dada dada

VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEACE.

© 2007 Corprew Reed, some rights reserved.

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Little Gidding Church in winter

Little Gidding Church in winter

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

Eliot’s “Little Gidding” from Four Quartets is a poem I come back to again and again.  I read Eliot in college, under requirement and before I was ready for him, and I got neither pleasure nor understanding from him.  I read Eliot again after I’d absorbed Dante and Julian of Norwich and discovered that I had the keys to his language, and that I understood what he was writing about.

Americans may not know that “Little Gidding” is named after a place: an English village and its church.  There, in the seventeenth century, a deacon of the Church named Nicholas Ferrar established something not unlike a monastic community, except that celibacy was not a requirement, something that we might call an intentional community today.  Ferrar and his associates distinguished themselves in works of charity and mercy to their neighbors and in a regimen of daily prayer that included, over and above the usual Morning and Evening Prayer, the recitation of the entire Book of Psalms every single day.  King Charles I visited there shortly before he was defeated by Cromwell, and Eliot alludes to this in his poem.  The triumphant Puritans forcibly dissolved the community a few years later.

By the time I learned about Little Gidding, I had already been enchanted by a novel I discovered as a girl, Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede. Godden’s book is the story of Philippa Talbot, who gives up a high post in government to become a cloistered Benedictine nun at Brede Abbey, and of her sister nuns, the men in their lives, and a community life devoted to God.  Godden’s portraits of women who were deeply committed to the Divine, and of a group life ordered to that end, primed me to appreciate the romance of Little Gidding, a monasticism without the celibacy, a religious order both active in good works and contemplative in constant prayer.

I know I am not alone among Neopagans in wishing that there might be some sort of pagan equivalent to the Little Gidding experience.  I am not alone among Christians, either, as interest in daily prayer, Benedictine spirituality, and disciplines once relegated to priests and monks has risen steadily in the past forty years.  Cauldron Farm has created a pagan Breviary with two rituals for every day of the year, available online or in print.  The Grand ArchDruid of my Order has kicked around the idea of Druid Chapterhouses, small intentional communities or druid households that would teach druidry as well as celebrate the holy days together.  More and more people, Christian and Pagan, have been moving toward the idea of a spirituality that is centered where one lives and takes place in daily practice, rather than being an occasional activity in a place one visits, and I suspect that more and more Pagans as well as Christians are turning over ideas like meditation, contemplation, stillness, and silence and finding ways to weave them into pagan contexts.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

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