T.S. Eliot
Little Gidding (1942)

 

I

 

Midwinter spring is its own season

 

Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,

 

Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.

 

When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,

5

The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,

 

In windless cold that is the heart's heat,

 

Reflecting in a watery mirror

 

A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.

 

And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,

10

Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire

 

In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing

 

The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell

 

Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time

 

But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow

15

Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom

 

Of snow, a bloom more sudden

 

Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,

 

Not in the scheme of generation.

 

Where is the summer, the unimaginable

20

Zero summer?

 

 

 

If you came this way,

 

Taking the route you would be likely to take

 

From the place you would be likely to come from,

 

If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges

25

White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.

 

It would be the same at the end of the journey,

 

If you came at night like a broken king,

 

If you came by day not knowing what you came for,

 

It would be the same, when you leave the rough road

30

And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade

 

And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for

 

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

 

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

 

If at all. Either you had no purpose

35

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

 

And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places

 

Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,

 

Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—

 

But this is the nearest, in place and time,

40

Now and in England.

 

 

 

If you came this way,

 

Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

 

At any time or at any season,

 

It would always be the same: you would have to put off

45

Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,

 

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

 

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

 

Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more

 

Than an order of words, the conscious occupation

50

Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

 

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

 

They can tell you, being dead: the communication

 

Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

 

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

55

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

 

 

 

II

 

Ash on and old man's sleeve

 

Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.

 

Dust in the air suspended

 

Marks the place where a story ended.

60

Dust inbreathed was a house—

 

The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,

 

The death of hope and despair,

 

This is the death of air.

 

 

 

There are flood and drouth

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Over the eyes and in the mouth,

 

Dead water and dead sand

 

Contending for the upper hand.

 

The parched eviscerate soil

 

Gapes at the vanity of toil,

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Laughs without mirth.

 

This is the death of earth.

 

 

 

Water and fire succeed

 

The town, the pasture and the weed.

 

Water and fire deride

75

The sacrifice that we denied.

 

Water and fire shall rot

 

The marred foundations we forgot,

 

Of sanctuary and choir.

 

This is the death of water and fire.

 

 

80

In the uncertain hour before the morning

 

Near the ending of interminable night

 

At the recurrent end of the unending

 

After the dark dove with the flickering tongue

 

Had passed below the horizon of his homing

85

While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin

 

Over the asphalt where no other sound was

 

Between three districts whence the smoke arose

 

I met one walking, loitering and hurried

 

As if blown towards me like the metal leaves

90

Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.

 

And as I fixed upon the down-turned face

 

That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge

 

The first-met stranger in the waning dusk

 

I caught the sudden look of some dead master

95

Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled

 

Both one and many; in the brown baked features

 

The eyes of a familiar compound ghost

 

Both intimate and unidentifiable.

 

So I assumed a double part, and cried

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And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'

 

Although we were not. I was still the same,

 

Knowing myself yet being someone other—

 

And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed

 

To compel the recognition they preceded.

105

And so, compliant to the common wind,

 

Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,

 

In concord at this intersection time

 

Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,

 

We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.

110

I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,

 

Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:

 

I may not comprehend, may not remember.'

 

And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse

 

My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.

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These things have served their purpose: let them be.

 

So with your own, and pray they be forgiven

 

By others, as I pray you to forgive

 

Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten

 

And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.

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For last year's words belong to last year's language

 

And next year's words await another voice.

 

But, as the passage now presents no hindrance

 

To the spirit unappeased and peregrine

 

Between two worlds become much like each other,

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So I find words I never thought to speak

 

In streets I never thought I should revisit

 

When I left my body on a distant shore.

 

Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us

 

To purify the dialect of the tribe

130

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

135

But bitter tastelessness of shadow 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.

140

And last, the rending pain of re-enactment

 

Of all that you have done, and been; the shame

 

Of motives late revealed, and the awareness

 

Of things ill done and done to others' harm

 

Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

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Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.

 

From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit

 

Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire

 

Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'

 

The day was breaking. In the disfigured street

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He left me, with a kind of valediction,

 

And faded on the blowing of the horn.

 

 

 

III

 

There are three conditions which often look alike

 

Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:

 

Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment

155

From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference

 

Which resembles the others as death resembles life,

 

Being between two lives—unflowering, between

 

The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:

 

For liberation—not less of love but expanding

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Of love beyond desire, and so liberation

 

From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country

 

Begins as attachment to our own field of action

 

And comes to find that action of little importance

 

Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,

165

History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,

 

The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,

 

To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

 

 

 

Sin is Behovely, but

 

All shall be well, and

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All manner of thing shall be well.

 

If I think, again, of this place,

 

And of people, not wholly commendable,

 

Of no immediate kin or kindness,

 

But of some peculiar genius,

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All touched by a common genius,

 

United in the strife which divided them;

 

If I think of a king at nightfall,

 

Of three men, and more, on the scaffold

 

And a few who died forgotten

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In other places, here and abroad,

 

And of one who died blind and quiet

 

Why should we celebrate

 

These dead men more than the dying?

 

It is not to ring the bell backward

185

Nor is it an incantation

 

To summon the spectre of a Rose.

 

We cannot revive old factions

 

We cannot restore old policies

 

Or follow an antique drum.

190

These men, and those who opposed them

 

And those whom they opposed

 

Accept the constitution of silence

 

And are folded in a single party.

 

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate

195

We have taken from the defeated

 

What they had to leave us—a symbol:

 

A symbol perfected in death.

 

And all shall be well and

 

All manner of thing shall be well

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By the purification of the motive

 

In the ground of our beseeching.

 

 

 

IV

 

The dove descending breaks the air

 

With flame of incandescent terror

 

Of which the tongues declare

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The one discharge from sin and error.

 

The only hope, or else despair

 

Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—

 

To be redeemed from fire by fire.

 

 

 

Who then devised the torment? Love.

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Love is the unfamiliar Name

 

Behind the hands that wove

 

The intolerable shirt of flame

 

Which human power cannot remove.

 

We only live, only suspire

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Consumed by either fire or fire.

 

 

 

V

 

What we call the beginning is often the end

 

And to make and end is to make a beginning.

 

The end is where we start from. And every phrase

 

And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,

220

Taking its place to support the others,

 

The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,

 

An easy commerce of the old and the new,

 

The common word exact without vulgarity,

 

The formal word precise but not pedantic,

225

The complete consort dancing together)

 

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,

 

Every poem an epitaph. And any action

 

Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat

 

Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

230

We die with the dying:

 

See, they depart, and we go with them.

 

We are born with the dead:

 

See, they return, and bring us with them.

 

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

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Are of equal duration. A people without history

 

Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern

 

Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails

 

On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel

 

History is now and England.

 

 

240

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

 

Calling

 

 

 

We shall not cease from exploration

 

And the end of all our exploring

 

Will be to arrive where we started

245

And know the place for the first time.

 

Through the unknown, unremembered gate

 

When the last of earth left to discover

 

Is that which was the beginning;

 

At the source of the longest river

250

The voice of the hidden waterfall

 

And the children in the apple-tree

 

Not known, because not looked for

 

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

 

Between two waves of the sea.

255

Quick now, here, now, always—

 

A condition of complete simplicity

 

(Costing not less than everything)

 

And all shall be well and

 

All manner of thing shall be well

260

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

 

Into the crowned knot of fire

 

And the fire and the rose are one.