T.S. Eliot
East Coker (1940)

 

I

 

In my beginning is my end. In succession

 

Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,

 

Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place

 

Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.

5

Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,

 

Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth

 

Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,

 

Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.

 

Houses live and die: there is a time for building

10

And a time for living and for generation

 

And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane

 

And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots

 

And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

 

 

 

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls

15

Across the open field, leaving the deep lane

 

Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,

 

Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,

 

And the deep lane insists on the direction

 

Into the village, in the electric heat

20

Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light

 

Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.

 

The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.

 

Wait for the early owl.

 

 

 

In that open field

25

If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,

 

On a summer midnight, you can hear the music

 

Of the weak pipe and the little drum

 

And see them dancing around the bonfire

 

The association of man and woman

30

In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—

 

A dignified and commodiois sacrament.

 

Two and two, necessarye coniunction,

 

Holding eche other by the hand or the arm

 

Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire

35

Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,

 

Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter

 

Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,

 

Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth

 

Mirth of those long since under earth

40

Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,

 

Keeping the rhythm in their dancing

 

As in their living in the living seasons

 

The time of the seasons and the constellations

 

The time of milking and the time of harvest

45

The time of the coupling of man and woman

 

And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.

 

Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

 

 

 

Dawn points, and another day

 

Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind

50

Wrinkles and slides. I am here

 

Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.

 

 

 

II

 

What is the late November doing

 

With the disturbance of the spring

 

And creatures of the summer heat,

55

And snowdrops writhing under feet

 

And hollyhocks that aim too high

 

Red into grey and tumble down

 

Late roses filled with early snow?

 

Thunder rolled by the rolling stars

60

Simulates triumphal cars

 

Deployed in constellated wars

 

Scorpion fights against the Sun

 

Until the Sun and Moon go down

 

Comets weep and Leonids fly

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Hunt the heavens and the plains

 

Whirled in a vortex that shall bring

 

The world to that destructive fire

 

Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

 

 

 

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:

70

A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,

 

Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle

 

With words and meanings. 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,

75

Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity

 

And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us

 

Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,

 

Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

 

The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,

80

The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets

 

Useless in the darkness into which they peered

 

Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,

 

At best, only a limited value

 

In the knowledge derived from experience.

85

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.

90

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

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Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,

 

Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,

 

Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

 

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

 

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

 

 

100

The houses are all gone under the sea.

 

 

 

The dancers are all gone under the hill.

 

 

 

III

 

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,

 

The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,

 

The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,

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The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,

 

Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,

 

Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,

 

And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha

 

And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,

110

And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.

 

And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,

 

Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.

 

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you

 

Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,

115

The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed

 

With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,

 

And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama

 

And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—

 

Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations

120

And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence

 

And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen

 

Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;

 

Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—

 

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

125

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

 

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

 

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

 

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

 

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

130

Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.

 

The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,

 

The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

 

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony

 

Of death and birth.

 

 

135

You say I am repeating

 

Something I have said before. I shall say it again.

 

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

 

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

 

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

140

In order to arrive at what you do not know

 

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

 

In order to possess what you do not possess

 

You must go by the way of dispossession.

 

In order to arrive at what you are not

145

You must go through the way in which you are not.

 

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

 

And what you own is what you do not own

 

And where you are is where you are not.

 

 

 

IV

 

The wounded surgeon plies the steel

150

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

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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

160

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,

165

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,

170

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.

 

 

 

V

 

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—

175

Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres

 

Trying 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

180

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

185

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 again: and now, under conditions

190

That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.

 

For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

 

 

 

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

 

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated

 

Of dead and living. Not the intense moment

195

Isolated, with no before and after,

 

But a lifetime burning in every moment

 

And not the lifetime of one man only

 

But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

 

There is a time for the evening under starlight,

200

A time for the evening under lamplight

 

(The evening with the photograph album).

 

Love is most nearly itself

 

When here and now cease to matter.

 

Old men ought to be explorers

205

Here or there does not matter

 

We must be still and still moving

 

Into another intensity

 

For a further union, a deeper communion

 

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,

210

The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

 

Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.