Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot wrote a poem which keeps coming up in my life — four poems, actually, called the Four Quartets.  I must admit, I know very little about how they were written or came to be, but I found them relevant earlier today and figured I’d pass them along.  The one that spoke to me today was “Little Gidding”, and it’s good enough that I may have to memorize it shortly.

This is not the whole poem, but it’s the part relevant today: (Text borrowed from this website).

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?

There’s then a long series of stanzas, and then this passage at the end.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

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.

The whole piece is worth reading, because it’s a masterpiece of English literature, and because it’s T.S. Eliot, and because it’s a midwinter spring this year.  But I think it speaks to what’s going on in my life, this ceaseless exploration and the adoration that comes from rediscovering ones’ own favorite places anew.

The fire and the rose.

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One comment

  1. Hi Andrew – loved this post! THANKS

    The Four Quartets is one of the most sublime poetic expressions I have come across. Despite his establishment views and conservative politics and (from memory) antisemitism, Eliot is so, so very good in these poems, touching on the Infinite.

    With a bit of self-reference, in case you missed it, here is a link to a post about my Confirmation, where I asked the Bishop to include lines from ‘Little Gidding’. It worked perfectly. I have also used lines from the Four Quartets in several rituals we have written. Such beauty!

    Thanks again.:)

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