Friday, September 12, 2008

From East Coker, by T.S. Eliot

There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to one another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

The houses are all gone under the sea.

The dancers are all gone under the hill.

***
V

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

***

[Also, here are a few lines from one of the other of the Four Quartets, "Little Gidding." At a time when the election swells every thought I have with its own maddening pulse, I could not help but read this as a fair description of the recent liberal reaction to the Palin Surge—yet another bout of self-recrimination brought on by the irritation of being unable to keep the Republicans from lying successfully:]

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 shallow 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…

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