Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ash-Wednesday V

by T.S. Eliot

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

        O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

        O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

        O my people.

* * *

Here, near the end of the poem, it starts to come to a climax. We're not so much talking about the speaker now as about the whole world. (Perhaps that's what we've been talking about all along.) It's a perfect time to post it, too, as Lent comes to a climax. The lines from the Reproaches echo what we hear on Good Friday.

Here's the important part about the "word" I warned you about. It begins by mentioning that if no one speaks the word, the world will still remain. The rest is reminiscent of the beginning of the Gospel of John. The world is "unstilled," but whirl as it might, it still whirls with the Word as the centre. "The silent Word" is an immense paradox, but perfect.

The Word asks a just question: why, when He is the centre of all, do they reject Him? What has He done?

There is no room for the Word, not here. The world is not silent enough to hear it, even though it is the most crucial thing there is. "Those who walk in darkness" -- those in the state the speaker was at the beginning -- need to hear the Word, but they deny it.

The sister prays for these. The descriptions of those walking in darkness show the contradiction they are in. They feel the attraction of the garden, but they can't bring themselves to pray. Instead of what you would expect from frightened souls, who affirm among those of faith and deny before the world, those who walk in darkness are quite willing to attach themselves to the Faith before the eyes of others, but when it comes to the "rocks," which I think are some sort of suffering associated with the Faith, that is when they flee and deny it.

"The desert in the garden the garden in the desert" is rather deep. I think of the parallelism between Adam and Eve's temptation in the garden and Christ's temptation in the desert. Adam and Eve made a desert of a garden, and Christ made a garden of a desert. Thus the reference to the withered apple-seed, the dry dead effects of original sin.

Ash-Wednesday I

Ash-Wednesday VI

8 comments:

Santiago said...

the Word as the centre


Uhh, excuse me, here in America, we spell the word center, that's C E N T E R. None of that anglo nonesense. And we don't have no kings or parliaments, either.

And T. S. ELIOT WAS BORN IN MISSOURI--HE CAN TRY BUT HE CAN NEVER ESCA{E THE SIMPLE FACT!!!!!!


Haha just joshin', happy Easter.

Sheila said...

He *did* try, you know -- simple facts be darned.

Sheila said...

Oh, in case you missed it: Eliot does say "centre," you know: "About the centre of the silent Word."

Santiago said...

I know he does... but this is AMERICA.


JK

Sheila said...

No, actually it isn't. It's the Internet. ;)

Santiago said...

that's actually a very interesting point.

unfortunately, our chinese brothers and sisters have yet to enjoy a completely free and open internet. oremus.

Santiago said...

PS I can't think of any Ressurrection poem by Eliot. There is the bit about Good Friday in the Quartets. What about Easter?


also, I think you'd find this essay about Mr Eliot highly provocative and interesting:

http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9508/bottum.html

Happy Easter. Your blog is a nice respite from my most unpoetic environment.

Santiago said...

subtract an 's' from that resurrection.