Week 98: From ‘Little Gidding’, by T.S.Eliot

I confess to having had problems with the poetry of T.S.Eliot. When that pretentious farrago ‘The Waste Land’ was first served up to me in my youth my reaction was ‘Well, if that’s the best modernism has to offer they can stuff it’, and while as a critical response this may lack a certain nuance it still more or less does for me. But ‘Four Quartets’ is another matter: here it is a case of ‘’Well, I may not warm to this in the way I do to, say, the poems of Thomas Hardy, but let’s face it, this is good.’

Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others’ harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.’
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.

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