Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Poet: T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

“Little Gidding”
by T.S. Eliot

“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 honor 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."

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