(39) “Every poem an epitaph.”

Spyglass on a Map

I’ve been putting off writing about one of the prompts I have from the 50 prompt list my friend Laurie gave me.  Every prompt is actually a question.  The question I have been avoiding is this: What does T.S. Eliot know about you?”

It is a perfect weather day in Southwest Florida.  At lunchtime, after a rousing conversation with a friend up north who has two feet of show in her driveway, I took my grilled cheese out to the lanai.  Instead of taking in the beautiful blue sky and the puffy streams of clouds, I brought out a collection of modern poetry and turned to the T. S. Eliot section.  His famous “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” brought back memories of putting this poem in front of 11th grade honors students and letting them eek out the meaning.  It was not a poem I cared for at all, yet they made me see the intense and brilliant meaning lying underneath the lines. I looked at some other poems of which I don’t have much connection.

Then it was “Little Gidding” that grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go.  I am lost inside certain lines of this intense and brilliant poem, so much so I am not really even sure how to explain or identify what it is.  I am inside the poem now and it is inside of me, and all I can do is send up some beacons of light to maybe show you the way, if you are exploring, and if you are willing to not be given a firm answer on anything. And that includes why I decided to title this the way I did.  Mystery is still alive when T. S. Eliot pokes his head in your door.

I picked up my pen, not really knowing exactly what to write, but here it is.  I’m somehow assured that if I begin, I will know the ending.

What does T.S. Eliot know about me?

He knows

      that I know

           we all live in paradox.

“What we call the beginning is often the end.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.” (216-218a).

He knows the English major in me

             is going to love lines like this:

“Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning.

Every poem is an epitaph.”  (226-227a)

What does T.S. Eliot — living way back then — know about my life today?

He knows

     that I know

          (in my better days)

               what this life is about:

“…You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer can be valid.”  (45b-48a)

He knows

     that I know

          certain conditions often look alike.

Attachment.      Detachment.      Indifference.

and it is memory that liberates

“to become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.”  (168)

He knows

     that I know

“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.”  (241-4)

Thus we are back to paradox.

The pattern has been renewed.

So I kneel where prayer is valid and listen as

Julian of Norwich and T. S. Eliot say again and again

“And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well.”  (257-8)

Better advice was never given

Be it from a  fifteenth century mystic or a twentieth century poet

a songwriter from a now defunct band, their song still touching lives on YouTube.

“All will be well

even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself.

All will be well.

You can ask me how but only time will tell.”


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