T.S. Eliot
The Dry Salvages (1941)

 

I

 

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

 

Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,

 

Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;

 

Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;

5

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

 

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten

 

By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.

 

Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder

 

Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated

10

By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

 

His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,

 

In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,

 

In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,

 

And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

 

 

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The river is within us, the sea is all about us;

 

The sea is the land's edge also, the granite

 

Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses

 

Its hints of earlier and other creation:

 

The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;

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The pools where it offers to our curiosity

 

The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.

 

It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,

 

The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar

 

And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,

25

Many gods and many voices.

 

The salt is on the briar rose,

 

The fog is in the fir trees.

 

The sea howl

 

And the sea yelp, are different voices

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Often together heard: the whine in the rigging,

 

The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water,

 

The distant rote in the granite teeth,

 

And the wailing warning from the approaching headland

 

Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner

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Rounded homewards, and the seagull:

 

And under the oppression of the silent fog

 

The tolling bell

 

Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried

 

Ground swell, a time

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Older than the time of chronometers, older

 

Than time counted by anxious worried women

 

Lying awake, calculating the future,

 

Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel

 

And piece together the past and the future,

45

Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,

 

The future futureless, before the morning watch

 

When time stops and time is never ending;

 

And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,

 

Clangs

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The bell.

 

 

 

II

 

Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing,

 

The silent withering of autumn flowers

 

Dropping their petals and remaining motionless;

 

Where is there and end to the drifting wreckage,

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The prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable

 

Prayer at the calamitous annunciation?

 

 

 

There is no end, but addition: the trailing

 

Consequence of further days and hours,

 

While emotion takes to itself the emotionless

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Years of living among the breakage

 

Of what was believed in as the most reliable—

 

And therefore the fittest for renunciation.

 

 

 

There is the final addition, the failing

 

Pride or resentment at failing powers,

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The unattached devotion which might pass for devotionless,

 

In a drifting boat with a slow leakage,

 

The silent listening to the undeniable

 

Clamour of the bell of the last annunciation.

 

 

 

Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing

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Into the wind's tail, where the fog cowers?

 

We cannot think of a time that is oceanless

 

Or of an ocean not littered with wastage

 

Or of a future that is not liable

 

Like the past, to have no destination.

 

 

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We have to think of them as forever bailing,

 

Setting and hauling, while the North East lowers

 

Over shallow banks unchanging and erosionless

 

Or drawing their money, drying sails at dockage;

 

Not as making a trip that will be unpayable

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For a haul that will not bear examination.

 

 

 

There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,

 

No end to the withering of withered flowers,

 

To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,

 

To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,

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The bone's prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable

 

Prayer of the one Annunciation.

 

 

 

It seems, as one becomes older,

 

That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence—

 

Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy

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Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,

 

Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.

 

The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being,

 

Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,

 

Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—

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We had the experience but missed the meaning,

 

And approach to the meaning restores the experience

 

In a different form, beyond any meaning

 

We can assign to happiness. I have said before

 

That the past experience revived in the meaning

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Is not the experience of one life only

 

But of many generations—not forgetting

 

Something that is probably quite ineffable:

 

The backward look behind the assurance

 

Of recorded history, the backward half-look

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Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.

 

Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony

 

(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,

 

Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,

 

Is not in question) are likewise permanent

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With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better

 

In the agony of others, nearly experienced,

 

Involving ourselves, than in our own.

 

For our own past is covered by the currents of action,

 

But the torment of others remains an experience

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Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.

 

People change, and smile: but the agony abides.

 

Time the destroyer is time the preserver,

 

Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops,

 

The bitter apple, and the bite in the apple.

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And the ragged rock in the restless waters,

 

Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;

 

On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,

 

In navigable weather it is always a seamark

 

To lay a course by: but in the sombre season

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Or the sudden fury, is what it always was.

 

 

 

III

 

I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant—

 

Among other things—or one way of putting the same thing:

 

That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray

 

Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,

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Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.

 

And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.

 

You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,

 

That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.

 

When the train starts, and the passengers are settled

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To fruit, periodicals and business letters

 

(And those who saw them off have left the platform)

 

Their faces relax from grief into relief,

 

To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.

 

Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past

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Into different lives, or into any future;

 

You are not the same people who left that station

 

Or who will arrive at any terminus,

 

While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;

 

And on the deck of the drumming liner

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Watching the furrow that widens behind you,

 

You shall not think 'the past is finished'

 

Or 'the future is before us'.

 

At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,

 

Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,

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The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)

 

'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;

 

You are not those who saw the harbour

 

Receding, or those who will disembark.

 

Here between the hither and the farther shore

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While time is withdrawn, consider the future

 

And the past with an equal mind.

 

At the moment which is not of action or inaction

 

You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being

 

The mind of a man may be intent

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At the time of death"—that is the one action

 

(And the time of death is every moment)

 

Which shall fructify in the lives of others:

 

And do not think of the fruit of action.

 

Fare forward.

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O voyagers, O seamen,

 

You who came to port, and you whose bodies

 

Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,

 

Or whatever event, this is your real destination.'

 

So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna

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On the field of battle.

 

Not fare well,

 

But fare forward, voyagers.

 

 

 

IV

 

Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,

 

Pray for all those who are in ships, those

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Whose business has to do with fish, and

 

Those concerned with every lawful traffic

 

And those who conduct them.

 

 

 

Repeat a prayer also on behalf of

 

Women who have seen their sons or husbands

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Setting forth, and not returning:

 

Figlia del tuo figlio,

 

Queen of Heaven.

 

 

 

Also pray for those who were in ships, and

 

Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea's lips

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Or in the dark throat which will not reject them

 

Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell's

 

Perpetual angelus.

 

 

 

V

 

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,

 

To report the behaviour of the sea monster,

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Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,

 

Observe disease in signatures, evoke

 

Biography from the wrinkles of the palm

 

And tragedy from fingers; release omens

 

By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable

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With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams

 

Or barbituric acids, or dissect

 

The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors—

 

To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual

 

Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:

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And always will be, some of them especially

 

When there is distress of nations and perplexity

 

Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.

 

Men's curiosity searches past and future

 

And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend

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The point of intersection of the timeless

 

With time, is an occupation for the saint—

 

No occupation either, but something given

 

And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,

 

Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

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For most of us, there is only the unattended

 

Moment, the moment in and out of time,

 

The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

 

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

 

Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

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That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

 

While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,

 

Hints followed by guesses; and the rest

 

Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

 

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.

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Here the impossible union

 

Of spheres of existence is actual,

 

Here the past and future

 

Are conquered, and reconciled,

 

Where action were otherwise movement

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Of that which is only moved

 

And has in it no source of movement—

 

Driven by daemonic, chthonic

 

Powers. And right action is freedom

 

From past and future also.

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For most of us, this is the aim

 

Never here to be realised;

 

Who are only undefeated

 

Because we have gone on trying;

 

We, content at the last

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If our temporal reversion nourish

 

(Not too far from the yew-tree)

 

The life of significant soil.