Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ash Wednesday 

I thought I must be stupid - or at least ill-educated in matters literary - not knowing the allusions which others, better versed in such things, would undoubtedly have recognised immediately; a language of code-words, sharing meanings between the cognoscenti which remain, by design, hidden from us mere proles.

Nevertheless, obscure as some of the imagery may be in the later sections of the poem – and some of it is very specific, as though an equally specific meaning was intended - there is much in these words, or in those which retain some accessibility, which strikes a chord in me, especially at this time.

I no longer strive to strive towards such things

I thought I owed it to myself at least to try and identify what meanings others have found. It turns out, on Googling, that although there may be agreement on the general theme (the poet’s conversion to Anglican Christianity) the specific meanings are less clear.

I suppose that’s a relief; doubtless, much is missing from my education, but it seems those missing pieces do not, by and large, serve to fill these particular gaps.
Perhaps that’s as well; it leaves the poet’s words free to create their own unique meaning, just for me, and only within me:

And what is actual is actual only for one time, And only for one place

I suppose in that I feel almost privileged; a better outcome, at any rate, than feeling stupid.

Ash Wednesday


Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

(This is the first section; Eliot's complete poem is here).

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