T.S. Eliot abides. He was the last of the big three mind blowers for me in college (the first two were William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche). Eliot was maybe the biggest of the three, because he combined some of the aesthetic/poetic vibe of Blake with the philosophical depth and inquiry of Nietzsche. My last college essay was on Eliot and the philosophy of F.H. Bradley, who Eliot wrote his PhD dissertation on at Harvard.
In the library at Washington College, I found Eliot's book of essays, "Sacred Wood," where his notion of "Tradition and the Individual Talent," reworked my thinking of the literary tradition we inherit, and how that inheritance requires work and study, it isn't just given to us. And the idea that you don't just read the dead poets to know the past, but also feel it in the here and now:
...not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence: the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that that whole of the literature of Europe from Homer...
Writing with a literature in your bones.
After college I put Eliot down for a while. He had redefined poetry, tradition, allusion, scholarship. And that wasn't the world I was inhabiting at the time. A few years later, at some bookstore or another, I found "Four Quartets." Meeting Eliot the first time was mind blowing and hard work, and deep study. Four Quartets was meeting Eliot again for the first time. This Eliot was lyrical, deep, philosophical. I could read him on my own without needing a library for back up.
This past week I was looking for a book in the garage to give to a friend. During that expedition, I unearthed Four Quartets. It was sleeping in a garage box. The next morning, I started from the beginning:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is redeemable.
Four Quartets are connected meditations on our place in the Universe, about Time, and about the Divine. Each of the poems also represents one of the elements: Burnt Norton is air, East Coker is earth, The Dry Salvages is water, Little Gidding is fire. You want depth? You want philosophy? You want poetry you can delve into a spin your head around? Four Quartets has it,
I've been dwelling in solitude a lot lately, my thoughts inhabiting the space around me. Finding Eliot again has brought back a calm, a peace that I thought I had lost; an introspection that is also a self inquisition:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and 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
I fu**ing hate waiting. I am not good at patience. But there is a zen to Eliot's waiting, where the stillness becomes dancing. That's the kind of stillness I need to find. Dance while you wait, please.
Eliot's notion of cyclical time, time that loops back on itself, where the end and the beginning are the same. It's what I find in coming back to Eliot. Again, for the first time. Eliot is in my bones.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.