Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shantih, shantih, shantih

Some thoughts that connect back to an earlier post, “A Grateful Divvie” (Sept. 9, 2009). The other day, while watching the weather, that old phrase “April is the cruelest month” popped into my head. That made me think of T. S. Eliot., whose poem “The Waste Land” begins with the line. The poem ends:

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon
—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih shantih shantih

During my last year of divinity school, I spent so much time studying Eliot! I don’t remember what turned me to Eliot, but his poetry struck me with tremendous force. His now-familiar images--light, shadow, rock, dryness, fire, the dancer, the rose--and the way his poems communicated through their rhythms and sounds as much as by their words--not a new idea, but new to me at that time--awakened me and fascinated me.

I purchased a book called “A Reader’s Guide to T. S. Eliot: A Poem by Poem Analysis by George Williamson (Noonday Press, 1964) at a favorite store, Whitlock Farm Booksellers in Bethany, CT. ( The old, used paperback, which I still have, opened meanings and explained many allusions and quotations. Williamson also described the poet’s influences which made him a leading voice in modernism: Dante, the Metaphysical poets, and the French Symbolists.

Williamson quoted Eliot concerning the intersection of poetic technique and experience; both grow, but at certain intersections of the two, superior poetry results. This, too, was a new idea to me and seemed to me an excellent philosophy of life. (The end of “The Waste Land,” and of the poems of the “Four Quartets," express that challenge.) Grad school was for me, as for many people, a circumstance where both my life-experience and my professional training were very much in process. Though not a “waste land,” the time was transitional. So during that time and after, I liked the idea of artistic wholeness (whatever artistry one may be devoted to) and spiritual growth as being two sides of a process--a process of living.

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