Thursday, September 15, 2011

If you came this way.


Here is Eliot for Thursday. Ten years ago, I was studying in England and coping with being abroad for 9/11. I will always think of England as "the end of the world" and of Eliot as my voice of those days.

From "Little Gidding," No. 4 of 'Four Quartets'

"I. .... 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."

Image source.

3 comments:

Melanie B said...

I have always loved that line: "You are here to kneel / Where prayer has been valid" That sense I had especially in old European churches of generations upon generations of people kneeling to pray in the same place. There was one church somewhere in Italy where there was a column that had been worn away at shoulder level from generations of people leaning against it. How awesome to think how long it took for that stone to be worn away.

But I don't think I ever read the line about "other places which are the world's end" in the way you're reading it here. It gives me a lovely shiver, which sounds funny given the context. But I guess I simply mean the loveliness of how poetry can fit us in so many situations and give us a way to grapple with the terrible as well as the beautiful. I don't think I'll ever again be able to read that passage without thinking of you in England on that fateful day. And that is another of poetry's gifts: the way it draws us close in imagination even when we are far away.

Forgive me for going on. Eliot has that affect on me.

Erika Ahern said...

Melanie, Eliot does that to me, too. :) "Little Gidding" and "Burnt Norton" became real to me only in life--they are (almost, almost) like Scripture that way. They have a meaning for the ages and a meaning for me, both meaning blessed. Ah. I sort of wonder if in heaven I'll finally be able to write like that...

lissla lissar said...

"But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless/With time, is an occupation for the saint—/No occupation either, but something given/And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,/Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended/Moment, the moment in and out of time,/The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning/Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply/That it is not heard at all, but you are the music/While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,/Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation."
-The Dry Salvages

Eliot has that effect on me, too. I love the Quartets. I actually memorised the first two and a half, ten years ago. I'm losing bits of them gradually, although I used to recite them to my oldest when he was a baby.