Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ash-Wednesday VI

by T.S. Eliot

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 savour 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.

* * *

Finally, in Easter week, I finally finish this series. I'm afraid it has been a little beyond me. I haven't understood all that much of the poem. But hopefully it was enough to get some of you to read it and think about it.

The last section begins like the first, with a notable difference: it is no longer "Because I do not wish" but "Although I do not wish." No longer is he following his desire not to turn again; he moves against it now.

He is still wavering. He knows what he ought to do but he is stuck, with dreams calling him on each side. There are good dreams and bad dreams, and even beautiful distracting dreams drawing him from beautiful holy dreams. He asks pardon; although he has the wrong wishes, he does not wish to wish them. This seems paradoxical, but I at least have experienced this feeling. "Unbroken wings" provides a note of hope: he realizes he may fly, that it is possible.

He awakes, he comes to life; although he is weak he is alive enough to fight. The images of birds are lovely, although I am not certain what they signify: perhaps the speaker's hopes to fly. After the emptying he has experienced through asceticism, his senses become attuned to the sight and smell of spiritual things. (I guess -- this is wild conjecture on my part.)

This is the moment of decision, the moment where he has to decide whether to die or to be reborn. I'm not sure what the three dreams are. I talked about the yew tree earlier, with the idea that these are the prayers of the nun who has won some kind of immortality. She is "speaking the Word." The speaker hopes that he will be able to reply, to speak the Word also.

The sister we have seen already. I believe the "mother" is Mary and the "spirit" is God, particularly the Holy Ghost. The speaker realizes his chasing after other things has been a mockery, and asks to be saved from it. As before, he asks "to care and not to care . . . to sit still," that is, to care about what should be cared about and not what shouldn't, to be able to find peace in caring about the appropriate things.

"Even among these rocks" -- I admit I still don't know what the rocks are. I'm quite sure they're important. They may symbolize suffering. "Our peace in His will" -- the poem is definitely one of a person of faith now; the speaker has clearly chosen the side to come down on, even though he has trouble with it. The prayers ending this section are both quite simple, a plea to be able to remain in the faith he has found, and to find help. "Thee" is specifically singular ("you" might have meant sister, mother, and spirit, but "Thee" cannot) and capitalized; it has to refer to God.

Ash Wednesday I


Leah said...

I love this line:

This is the time of tension between dying and birth

You did a good job with this.

Sheila said...


There are so many good lines in this poem. My favourites in this part are "In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices," and the lines about the voices shaken from the yew-tree.