Eliot's Ash-Wednesday, part I
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 toward such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
T. S. Eliot's big poem is my poetry meditation this Lent. (Something about this season makes me want to access my inner poet.) I know pretty much nothing about Mr. Eliot, except that I like this poem. And it just happens that it has six parts, so for an exercise I am going to comment on one part a week.
Read more...A caveat: this isn't going to be some deep, high-powered commentary or critique. I'm just going to offer some personal reactions. Hey, I'm on dialup here.
"Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope"--this is a quote, of course, from Shakespeare's Sonnet 29, the only Shakespeare I have almost memorized. The Bard finds relief from his self-despite by thinking of some Beloved (human, not divine, it would seem): "Haply, I think on thee..." "thy sweet love remembered brings such wealth brings"--but for Eliot, it's not going to be that easy.
This first installment of his long poem seems to be about negation. The only "positive" thing is perhaps ironic: "I rejoice that things are as they are / And I renounce the blessèd face / And renounce the voice" from which he goes on to say:
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
The construction of something upon which to rejoice--his poverty forces him to rejoice in his negations, but stops short of falling into the power of Nothing as Screwtape wrote to Wormwood in Screwtape Letter #12. He does so by prayer, or at least, by words about prayer.
The prayers described are well known to me. It's the only antidote to the condition I sometimes find myself in, "too much in my own head." God have mercy on me, help me forget: forget myself, and my obsession with my own reflections masquerading as "ideas." Later Eliot goes on to say, "Teach us to care and not to care / Teach us to sit still." That's a great prayer. It says, "God, my passions, thoughts, feelings, need to be brought under Your dominion, lest they run riot with my life. I do not know how to forget, nor how to sit still, unless You teach me."
Jane Siberry had a great line in one of her songs from long ago, "You Don't Need":
and a bird I don't recallForgiving and forgetting come from God, or else they are just tricks we play on ourselves.
called, 'don't recall,'
called, 'don't recall.'