Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Poem of the Week 4/9/2007: from Ash Wednesday

from Ash Wednesday


Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savor of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

TS Eliot 1930

(please know that I am riffing ideas in much of this analysis, and that Eliot requires more research, work, and time than I have given him. Esp. as regards the symbolism. This is one of those close reads that frustrates me because I can't get you to see what's going on; I can only talk about it, which can be really unhelpful sometimes)

I have written in my notes for the second to last line, "a cry for wholeness," and indeed this seems to partake in much of Eliot’s vision of the human condition. In this last part of his poem Ash Wednesday, we see that this is one of constant cycling, circling suffering and change. Against the twisting run of thoughts and self, the poem expresses the longing for something still and stable and whole. We are hungry and sad for the truth underlying things; our thoughts waver between the profit and the loss--things we get (pleasure, iPods, attention) and losses (pain, whatever thing we were entitled to.) We are never whole and engaged in the world, just worried about the accumulation of things.

"The dreamcrossed twilight between brith and dying" addresses the fundamental unreality of our experience now--we daydream and plan our way through life. So little of it is here. We miss what is, we try to catch up, and only moments of life are given to us, only tiny scraps of existence to we care to engage in. I had never understood why people want to talk about dreams all of the time, because my life felt real enough, but when I started to pay attention, I found that most things I cared about and thought of pass, slow, fade, or die. Things leave (the center cannot hold)--we cannot hold ourselves to anything, at least not at this stage.

With the line “(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things,” Eliot expresses his pure grief (brokenness?) at this turning. He does not hope to turn again, and yet here he is. Meekness. Humility. Small sad broken thing. Or rather, “unbroken” thing. This reference keeps things always gauged against a state of brokenness: "Wholeness," then, is just this side of broken, the state in between breaks.

Finishing the seven part poem, the final stanza is the last plea for wholeness, the final prayer to collect oneself, to overcome the smallness and dryness of the air now…By way of commenting on the final stanza, I give you a stanza from the first part of the poem:

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

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