Archive | June 2017

I Said to My Soul, Be Still…

I was reading T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets today when this section from “East Coker” hit me right in the heart like a jolt from a defibrillator.

On it’s own, it’s an amazing and brilliant passage. But, in addition to that, it pretty much sums up everything I’m going through and everything I need to hear right now.

“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the 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 dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

                                        You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
  You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
  You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
  You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
  You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker”

I can remember thinking, when I read it the first time, that this was a brilliant and deep passage, but it didn’t quite jump out at me. I guess I didn’t need it as much then. This time, reading it was like being resuscitated. Everything about it is perfect for me, at this very moment. It’s as if it were written just for me.

I’ve been learning to be still and sit with the discomfort, but it isn’t easy and I still needed someone to “say it again.” Who better to have say it than the supreme T. S. Eliot? 🙂

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And All Shall Be Well…

When one of your favourite authors (and a thinker you admire) quotes one of your favourite poets (who is another thinker you greatly admire) and says that this line–which embodies a form of hope–is something he has found to still be true, even in his darkest hour, you know that quote has got to be gold.

“I will not, if I can help it, shin up either the feathery or the prickly tree. Two widely different convictions press more and more on my mind. One is that the Eternal Vet is even more inexorable and the possible operations even more painful than our severest imaginings can forbode. But the other, that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.”
C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I’ve been oscillating a lot, this month, between grief and grace, peace and pain, determination and the depths of despair. I was feeling especially sad and miserable, last night, when this line suddenly popped into my head, along with a vague recollection of what it represents in both C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed and T. S. Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets.

“And all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

It’s become my mantra, these last 24 hours, and I’ve been meditating on it a lot. I’ve also reread “Little Gidding” and have started rereading A Grief Observed. They’ve, collectively, been doing their work on me and I’m slowly working my way out of the depths again.

Anyway, back to the quote…

This is the only place, I am aware of, that C. S. Lewis ever references T. S. Eliot. The quote, itself, struck me the first time I read A Grief Observed two years ago. But I was even more struck when I happened to read T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, for the first time, a week or two later, and realised that C. S. Lewis had been quoting T. S. Eliot. This line appears, not once, but three times in T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”, twice in the third section and once in the fifth and final section, and is one of the closing lines of the Four Quartets.

IMG_0059rs

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “Little Gidding”

I don’t have time to get into all the whys and wherefores, at the moment (perhaps I will in another post), but I do think that C. S. Lewis is definitely referencing more of “Little Gidding” than just this one little line. This line in itself is gold, but it’s also as if it’s a microcosm of or a hyperlink to, (possibly the entire, but) at least, the last three sections of the “Little Gidding” poem. (I also believe there are more connections, on the whole, linking A Grief Observed to Four Quartets, but, again, that’s a subject for another post)

It’s as if, with this line, C. S. Lewis is saying something unique and for himself, yet, at the same time, referencing T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” and and hyperlinking to all the weight and significance that this line carries in that poem. But, it doesn’t stop there, it gets more interesting. 🙂

It turns out, (though not surprisingly, considering the way T. S. Eliot writes his poetry) with this line, T. S. Eliot, himself, is also referencing someone else’s writing.

I had totally forgotten, until I started writing this post, today, that in my recent exploration of the Four Quartets, through Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: a Journey into T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (which I am still only about 30 pages into), I had come across this quote (in April) which I found especially interesting:

IMG_0062rs“Eliot’s concluding cache in ‘Little Gidding’ from Dame Julian’s ‘Shewings’ made me go back to her original lines, as she is ventriloquist for the Almighty God of Grace: ‘I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well, and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of things shall be well.’ Dame Julian wrote that on her sickbed in the Black Death; Eliot wrote that in 1942 during the world’s blackest war. These tenses–may . . . can . . . shall . . . will–thawing the frozen ‘only now’ tense of the moderns, parallel the four metaphysical realities: what may be done invokes the possibilities of time; what can be done opens the mind to eternity; what shall be done points to undeniable mortality; and what will be done is the benign calculus of faith. The promise ‘thou shalt’ is the final fifth: the act of the will, which makes man a moral actor in the drama of providence.”
–George William Rutler
Dove Descending a Journey into T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: “Foreword”

Rereading this above quote, again, today, added another level to my understanding of it’s depth and my meditation on it.

(As a side note–if you get it, you get it–I just shook my head and laughed out loud when I realised that the name of the mystic who wrote the original line, was Julian, and that I had only realised it, this afternoon, as I was writing this post. I even didn’t know Julian could be a woman’s name. Sometimes I feel like Providence is having fun at my expense.
Actually, I just looked it up, this is what Wikipedia says: “Very little is known about Julian’s life. Even her name is uncertain; the name ‘Julian’ is generally thought to have been derived from the Church of St Julian in Norwich, to which her anchorite’s cell was joined. ‘Julian’ was, however, a common name among women in the Middle Ages and could possibly have belonged to the anchoress as well as to the church.” So I guess people called their daughters Julian once upon a time. Interesting.)

It’s like this quote is like a little microcosm, hyperlinked down through the ages, that brings with it whole mountains of meaning and worlds of faith, hope and grace. Again, it’s one of those things of which I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of, when it comes to it’s depth and significance.

But, for today, this quote has given me hope, that no matter what happens,

“thou shalt see thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”

And, for now, that’s good enough. 🙂

7 Ways to Maximize Your Misery

I’d heard about this video a few times in the last few days, but I finally watched it today, when a friend shared a direct link. Apparently, it’s based off a book by a psychologist named Randy J. Paterson called How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. I don’t know if I’ll read the book, but the video is great and so true. It made me laugh a lot. 😀


Ps. The last minute is just an ad for Audible.com. I found it a bit annoying. If you want save yourself a bit of time, the maximizing misery part ends at about the 6:15 mark.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Spent a rainy day reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I don’t know exactly what I expected going into it, perhaps a whole lot more doom and gloom. I think I expected something more along the lines of the Nazi death camps. Everything I’d read about prison camps, up until this book, had been about the Nazi camps, which were, pretty much, set up for the sole purpose of extermination. Russian camps, on the other hand, were more along the line of slave labor camps, and while the reasons for incarceration and conditions and treatment of prisoners were still inhumane and terrible, when compared to a Nazi extermination camp, it’s terrible and weird to say, they seem relatively humane.

I think I was also expecting more of an exposé of the ideology behind the Communist/Stalinist regime, something more along the lines of what I imagine (since I haven’t read it yet) Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is. I guess I hadn’t really taken into consideration the fact that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was personally given the stamp of approval for publication by Nikita Khrushchev. I should have realised, for that reason alone, it wouldn’t be a blatant and searing indictment against Communism and the ideologies that led to the prison camps (though I can definitely see it being the beginning of a crack in the armour).

Instead, what I found was, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is exactly what it’s title professes it to be: one ordinary day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner, in a freezing Soviet labor camp. From the moment reveille sounds to the moment he goes to sleep, we follow him and get a close-up look at his life and thoughts and interactions with his fellow human beings. It’s a story of humanity and hope; a tribute to the dignity, strength and survival of the human spirit in the bleakest of circumstances.

There is a lingering theme through the book, put both at the beginning and end, first as a question and then as a statement:

AGNH6214rs“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?”

A man who is warm can’t understand a man who’s freezing.”

Yet, despite the impossibility, in this little novella, without any chapters, Solzhenitsyn, somehow, makes us feel and understand. He also opens our eyes to the gift of life and the treasures and wonders we have all around us, from moment to moment, and in the tiniest of things.

I have a lot more to say about this book, but, alas, time fails me. So, for now, I’ll just say, I highly recommend it. This is also one of those books that you really have to read until the last paragraph, to fully appreciate, but it’s a quick read (my book is 142 pages) and could easily be read from start to finish in a day.

I haven’t done much research into translations, but from the little I have done, I’d recommend the Ralph Parker translation (which is the one I have) over the Max Hayward/Ronald Hingley, translation which seems to be rather poorly translated with some blatant errors.

If you decide to read this book or if you already have, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about it. 🙂