THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) is considered the pioneer of modern twentieth-century poetry, as he was one of the first to write with free expression, rejecting conventional verse forms and language.
Born in St. Louis, he attended Harvard University. He moved to England in 1914 to study at Oxford, and never left, becoming an English citizen in 1927.
His early poems, such as The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (1917), The Wasteland (1922) and The Hollow Men (1925), created an uproar, as they catalogued the spiritual bankruptry of the twentieth century.
Perhaps it was the pessimism of his early works that led him to conversion and join the Church of England in 1927. His writing subsequently reflected his spiritual growth as a Christian, with poems such as Journey of the Magi (1927), Ash Wednesday (1930), his first drama The Rock (1934), and the deeply religious Four Quartets.
In Four Quartets, Eliot explores the questions of time and eternity, and their unity in Christ through the Incarnation. The Four Quartets was written in four sections,
Burnt Norton (1936), East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941), and Little Gidding (1942), named after places visited by Eliot. Burnt Norton is an estate in Gloucestershire. East Coker is in Somerset, visited by Eliot to view the burial place of one of his ancestors. T. S. Eliot was eventually buried there as well. The Dry Salvages are a group of rocks off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Little Gidding had been the home of a religious community established in 1626 by Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637). In 1646, during the English Civil War, Parliamentary troops, in pursuit of Charles I, destroyed the Church and the community.
T. S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. This page includes a vignette from the Rock, which describes the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in Eliot's unique way; and brief selections from each of the Four Quartets.
We present this page in honor of Dr. Regis Martin STD, Professor of Theology at Franciscan University, a gifted teacher noted for his great love of T. S. Eliot.
CHORUSES FROM THE ROCK
Then came at a predetermined moment,
a moment in time and of time,
A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history:
transecting, bisecting the world of time,
a moment in time, but not like a moment of time,
A moment in time but time was made through that moment:
for without the meaning there is no time,
and that moment in time gave the meaning.
Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being.
from Part II
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
from Part IV
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
The Dry Salvages
from Part IV
Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. 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.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
from Part V
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.