Friday, November 22, 2013

Of all days

         What is the late November doing
         With the disturbance of the spring
         And creatures of the summer heat,
         And snowdrops writhing under feet
         And hollyhocks that aim too high
         Red into grey and tumble down
         Late roses filled with early snow?

          .. The poetry does not matter
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to ..?

.. There is, it seems to
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.

T.S. Eliot
Four Quartets
  East Coker
Harcourt, Brace, 1943©


  1. I appreciate very much your sharing of this impression. I think you know, I admire your creative eye and sustaining text, and I realize there could be objection to "enlisting" a poet to seem to remark on topical concerns of others.

    But this was not Mr Eliot's perception of poetry or of why he was writing it, and it was not the opinion of the Nobel Prize committee who singled him out, 5 years after this poem was published. In his speech at the Nobel banquet, he accepted "the function of serving as a representative, so far as any man can be of [a] thing of far greater importance than the value of what he himself has written."

    T.S. Eliot was a wonderfully "useful" man, and remains enormously so to this day. His speaking for the soul in distress was eloquently authentic, and even at his darkest, gave proof of how it could be salvaged. The Nobel committee impressively perceived this:

    "For you the salvation of man lies in the preservation of the cultural tradition, which, in our more mature years, lives with greater vigour within us than does primitiveness, and which we must preserve if chaos is to be avoided. Tradition is not a dead load which we drag along with us, and which in our youthful desire for freedom we seek to throw off. It is the soil in which the seeds of coming harvests are to be sown, and from which future harvests will be garnered."

    "Of all days" extracts from Eliot certain prescient forebodings of the day, November 22, in the country of his birth. It is proper to regard the call to get beyond that date as impetuous and impertinent. It is a national necessity, certainly a spiritual one, to keep Eliot's synopsis before us, exactly as he was willing to allow, exactly as the Nobel committee was right to acknowledge.

    Finally, of course, this is not merely local, as much as Eliot prized the unique property of poetry, to be "local" (in the same speech). It is supra-national, as he also described, and as your reception shows. Thank you for helping, as always.

  2. that confluence of events-that disproportionate-that disruption of a thing that is lovely, on that day, and for someone somewhere it is that day every day. as to JFK, that day began our first day on the couch-as a nation, we never have been cured-because majority rules that we are not sick.
    As always what you present here is for thinking man-and sometimes there are few to be found, but I am satiated when I come to drink.

    1. How better to experience Thanksgiving (the American caesura) than to converse with a soul on the road? Your image of the couch helps one to understand why we cringe at our therapriests, reminding us always in their NRA drawl that Mannlicher-Carcanos don't sin, people do. "Yes, and therefore arm us exorbitantly and redundantly to display that distinction with nothing less than the gaudiest triumph of superstition over the sane discourse you deny us," one could almost reply, to the closed feedback loop of a doomed politics. Is the madness of expectation, in Eliot's reference, less a reliance on a promise than on an occurrence of something different?

      I am thankful to find you on the path today. As Thorny says, less clomp, more romp ~