'Little Gidding' by Thomas Stearns Eliot
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Ash on an 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 fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould 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 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.
Editor 1 Interpretation
"Little Gidding" by T.S. Eliot
As I sit down to write about T.S. Eliot's classic poem, "Little Gidding," I must admit to being both excited and daunted by the task ahead of me. This is a poem that has inspired countless readers and critics over the years, and it is one that continues to resonate with us today. But where to begin? How to do justice to this complex, multi-layered work of art?
Perhaps the best place to start is with a little background on the poem itself. "Little Gidding" is the fourth and final poem in Eliot's collection, Four Quartets, which he published in 1943. Each of the four poems that make up the collection was written separately, but they are meant to be read as a single work. "Little Gidding" is the most explicitly religious of the four, and it draws heavily on Eliot's own spiritual journey, as well as his deep engagement with Christian theology and mysticism.
At its most basic, "Little Gidding" is a meditation on time, death, and the possibility of redemption. It takes its name from a small village in England that was the site of a 17th-century Anglican community founded by Nicholas Ferrar. Eliot visited Little Gidding in 1936, and the experience left a profound impression on him. In the poem, he uses the village as a symbol of a spiritual ideal, a place where past, present, and future are united in a single moment of transcendence.
But "Little Gidding" is much more than a simple allegory. It is a work of deep spiritual insight, one that draws on a wide range of literary and theological sources in order to explore some of the most profound questions of human existence. At its heart, the poem is about the search for meaning in a world that often seems senseless and chaotic. Eliot suggests that this search is a lifelong quest, one that requires us to confront our own mortality and to grapple with the mysteries of the divine.
One of the most striking features of "Little Gidding" is its use of language. Eliot's poetry is renowned for its complexity and erudition, and this poem is no exception. The language is dense, allusive, and often difficult to decipher. But it is also beautiful, full of rich imagery and startling metaphors that capture the depth and complexity of the human experience. Take, for example, these lines from the opening stanza:
"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."
These lines are at once profound and mysterious. They suggest that the search for meaning is never-ending, that it is a journey that will take us back to our starting point, but that this return will be marked by a new understanding, a new way of seeing the world.
Throughout the poem, Eliot draws on a wide range of literary and theological sources to deepen his exploration of these themes. He references the Bible, the works of Dante, and the writings of the mystical theologian, Julian of Norwich. He also draws on the imagery of fire, water, and the natural world to convey his ideas about the nature of time and the possibility of redemption.
One of the most striking images in the poem is that of the rose. Eliot uses the rose as a symbol of the divine, suggesting that our search for meaning is ultimately a search for communion with God. In the final stanza of the poem, he writes:
"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."
These lines are at once haunting and beautiful, suggesting that the ultimate goal of our search for meaning is to achieve a state of being in which we are at one with the divine. The image of the "hidden waterfall" and the "children in the apple-tree" is particularly powerful, suggesting that the divine is present in the natural world, and that it is accessible to us if we are willing to look for it.
Overall, "Little Gidding" is a work of tremendous power and depth. It is a poem that rewards careful reading and contemplation, and one that offers profound insights into the nature of human experience. Eliot's use of language and imagery is stunning, and his exploration of themes such as time, death, and redemption is both deeply personal and universally resonant. As I finish writing about this extraordinary work, I am left with a sense of awe and wonder at the depth of Eliot's vision, and the enduring power of his art.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Little Gidding: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry
Thomas Stearns Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, wrote Little Gidding in 1942, as the final part of his Four Quartets. This poem is a masterpiece of modernist poetry, exploring themes of time, memory, and spirituality. Eliot's use of language, imagery, and structure creates a powerful and evocative work that continues to captivate readers today.
The poem is named after a small village in England, where a group of Anglican monks established a community in the 17th century. Eliot visited Little Gidding in 1936 and was inspired by the history and spirituality of the place. The poem is divided into five sections, each exploring different aspects of the human experience.
The first section of the poem, "Midwinter spring," sets the tone for the rest of the work. Eliot uses paradoxical language to describe the changing seasons, highlighting the cyclical nature of time. He writes, "A time for being and a time for not being / A time for living and a time for dying." This juxtaposition of opposites creates a sense of tension and uncertainty, reflecting the human experience of living in a world of constant change.
The second section, "East Coker," explores the theme of memory. Eliot reflects on his own past and the history of his ancestors, using vivid imagery to evoke a sense of nostalgia and loss. He writes, "In my beginning is my end / In succession houses rise and fall / Crumble, are extended." This passage highlights the cyclical nature of time and the inevitability of change.
The third section, "The Dry Salvages," is perhaps the most complex and enigmatic part of the poem. Eliot uses maritime imagery to explore the theme of spirituality, drawing on his own experiences as a sailor. He writes, "The sea is the land's edge also, the granite / Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses / Its hints of earlier and other creation." This passage suggests that the sea represents a connection to the divine, a force that transcends human understanding.
The fourth section, "Little Gidding," is the heart of the poem. Eliot reflects on the history and spirituality of the village, drawing on the writings of the Anglican mystic, Nicholas Ferrar. He writes, "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." This passage suggests that the journey of life is a process of discovery, leading us back to our spiritual roots.
The final section, "The Fire Sermon," explores the theme of desire and its relationship to spiritual enlightenment. Eliot draws on the Buddhist concept of the "fire sermon," in which the Buddha teaches that all desires are ultimately unsatisfying. He writes, "Desire itself is movement / Not in itself desirable; / Love is itself unmoving, / Only the cause and end of movement." This passage suggests that true spiritual enlightenment comes from letting go of our desires and finding peace in the present moment.
Overall, Little Gidding is a powerful and evocative work of modernist poetry. Eliot's use of language, imagery, and structure creates a complex and nuanced exploration of the human experience. The poem reflects on themes of time, memory, spirituality, and desire, drawing on a range of literary and philosophical traditions. Little Gidding is a testament to Eliot's mastery of the poetic form and his ability to capture the complexities of the human condition.
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