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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.

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“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.

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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? 🙂

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.

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“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.

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“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. 🙂

What I’m Reading #10

After my last frustrating experience photographing a year’s worth of reading, I figure it’s probably a better idea to get back to doing my What I’m Reading posts more regularly. 🙂

Here’s a look at what I’ve read, so far, in 2017.DSC_8949rs

  1. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
  4. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  5. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  6. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  7. The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  8. Nevsky Prospect, The Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (four out of six of the St. Petersburg Tales), Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  9. Oddkins by Dean R. Koontz
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir (Not pictured because I borrowed it from a friend)
  11. Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #4) by Dan Simmons (Not pictured; I listened to the audiobook)

I’m having a bit of a dilemma regarding Nikolai Gogol’s works; I’m not exactly sure how to count or list them, as his tales are collected/listed differently depending on the publisher. I think I’ll just wait until I’ve finished reading the other two St. Petersburg Tales and then count all of them as one book. In that case, so far, I’ve finished reading ten books this year (1/3 of the way through my reading goal for the year, yay! 🙂 ). All of them were great reads, though I’ve only managed to blog about one. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get around to blogging about a few more of them.

These are the books I’m currently reading.DSC_8974rs

How to be Decadent by George Mikes
I and Thou by Martin Buber, Ronald Gregor Smith (Translator)
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
Notes from Underground (A Norton Critical Edition / 1st Edition) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michael R. Katz (Translator/Editor)
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
St. Petersburg Tales (The Portrait, The Carriage) by Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright

For the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I’ll be meeting up with a friend this Sunday to discuss it, so I’ve been using that as impetus to really dig in and finish all the critical essays and background information included in my Norton Critical Edition. In addition to that, I’ve also been re-reading Notes from Underground for the second and third time simultaneously. (As you can see I’m somewhat obsessed. 🙂 ) I’m actually not exactly sure how you would count it, as I’m reading two different translations simultaneously (i.e. I finish a chapter in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and then I read Michael R. Katz’s translation of the same chapter). I don’t think I could manage to pull off this kind of simultaneous reading with any other book, but Notes from Underground is short enough and such brilliant piece of work, I’m finding it’s actually a really interesting way to read it. 🙂

I’ve been slowly making my way through George Mikes’ How to be Decadent and Martin Buber’s I and Thou for about a year now. I actually started reading Buber’s I and Thou last May, but it was a tough read and hard to follow. I only got about 20 pages in before I put it down. I figured maybe it was problem with Ronald Smith’s translation and decided to wait till I could get my hands on a Walter Kaufmann translation instead. But, recently, I came across a few paragraphs from I and Thou that I really liked that turned out to be a section from the Ronald Smith translation just a few pages down from where I left off. So I figured maybe I’d just stopped before the good stuff, and decided to have another go at it. I’ll still likely still buy the Kaufmann translation, eventually, but I’m gonna give Ronald Smith another go and we’ll see how that turns out.

N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is a tome I’ve been meaning to read for nearly a decade now. I finally bought a copy as a sort of Christmas present to myself last year and figured I’d make it my Lent reading project this year. Unfortunately, that plan got hijacked, by my Notes from Underground reading project. Still, I’ve been slowly chugging along at it. I’m only 50 pages in, so there’s no way I’m gonna finish it by Easter, but I’m determined to slowly make my way through it this year.

I haven’t started reading Dostoevsky’s The Gambler or the last two of Gogol’s Petersburg Tales, but they’re up next, after I’m finished with Notes from Underground.

Aside from those books, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hoping to dig into some of the poetry of my two favourite poets T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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I especially want to focus on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and possibly “Ash Wedsnesday”. But definitely Four Quartets, which I think is the best of T. S. Eliot’s best. I’ve been wanting to really dig into to it ever since I read it for the first time in November, 2015.

It’s such a deep and profound and beautiful and perfect collection of poetry, I think I could explore and meditate on it for a lifetime and still have more to discover and explore. I feel like it will take me years to even begin to scratch the surface of it’s depth, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards that this next month. 🙂

Poetry Month Celebration

Because it’s always lovely to get a good poem recommendation.

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A little while ago, I discovered (via The Golden Echo) that April is National Poetry Month and that there’s a tag (via The Edge of the Precipice) to help us celebrate. It looked like fun and I wanted to participate. So I sat down to write this post and then realised National Poetry Month might just be an American thing and I might need an I’m-not-American-so-I-don’t-officially-qualify-but-I’m-celebrating-anyway disclaimer. I decided to check with Google and discovered that, as of 1999, National Poetry Month is also celebrated in Canada every April, so I can officially celebrate. Thanks, Wikipedia. 🙂

–The Questions–

What are some poems you like?

I’ll keep this to one poem per poet, even though it’s difficult when it comes to E. E. Cummings, and especially difficult when it comes to  T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. These are some favorites that immediately come to mind.

Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare
The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot
“Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath
[love is more thicker than forget] by E. E. Cummings

It’s funny, I just noticed several happy coincidences between these titles. There seems to be some sort of trend of three: three of these titles include the word “love”; three start with the word “the”; three have a version of the word “song” in the title.  🙂

What are some poems you dislike?

I don’t usually finish poems that don’t interest me. If I do, I tend to immediately forget them, so it’s a bit difficult to name names. However, (and this may make me seem like a philistine) there is one poem I’m not very keen on: Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken“.

My problem isn’t really with the poem itself, but more with it being ‘the [poem] not taken’ in context by so many people. As I’ve said in another post, it bothers me when things get taken out of context and given a meaning that is not even close to (or the opposite of) what the author was actually saying. The popularity of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” seems to lie in the fact that most people only, or mainly, remember the last three lines and forget the last two lines of the second stanza, as well as the first two lines of the last stanza.

Are there any poets whose work you especially enjoy?  If so, who are they?

T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. E. E. Cummings interests me greatly, but I can’t really say I’ve read enough of his poetry to put him in that “special” category.

Do you write poetry?

Maybe.

Have you ever memorized a poem?

Yes. Most recently, T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Last year, in September, I started memorizing T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, but got busy and forgot about it…this is a good reminder.

One of these days, I hope to memorize “The Waste Land” and all four poems in Four Quartets. (If I had enough time I’d probably memorize most of T. S. Eliot’s poetry 🙂 .) I would also like to, someday, have memorized all six poems I mentioned in reply to the first question. One down, five to go. 🙂

Do you prefer poetry that rhymes and had a strict meter, or free verse?  Or do you like both? Do you have any particular poetry movements you’re fond of?  (Beat poets, Romanticism, Fireside poets, etc?)

I don’t have a particular preference.  For me, it isn’t at all about form, it’s all about what the poet is saying. I think good poetry happens when the poet says something, not just because he can, but because he has to. There’s this great quote by Robert Frost that goes:

“A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.”
–Robert Frost, letter to Louis Untermeyer (1 January 1916)

A good poem is something that says ‘just what I mean’; it’s an expression of emotions and truth in a way that you never knew you’ve always wanted to say; it’s about using words to paint a magnificent scene (be it glorious or tragic) that everyone knows, but no one has quite seen before. A good poem happens when raw, honest, beautiful, terrible feelings and thoughts find the right words to embody them. As a result, a good poem makes you think. A good poem makes you feel something.

———

Well, that was fun. To be honest, when I started this post, aside from my great love for T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins, I didn’t think I was a poetry fan per se. Now that I’ve finished, I realise I’m more of a poetry fan than I thought. 🙂

Do you have any favorite poets or poems? Any poems or poets you especially dislike? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Gerard Manley Hopkins–Easter

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Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

I never thought I’d come across a poet I liked as much as T. S. Eliot, but I have. His name is Gerard Manley Hopkins and the more I read him, the more I’m struck by his brilliance. I’ve been meaning to blog about him for two years now, so I suppose this Easter is a good place to start.

This isn’t, by far, my favorite Hopkins poem, but it’s probably my favorite Easter poem. I think it perfectly sums up the joy, hope, happiness and celebration of Easter. Hopkins is especially good at evoking emotions, be they jubilant or despondent. In this case, you can feel the jubilation in every stanza and the imagery is splendid.

Easter

Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.

Build His church and deck His shrine,
Empty though it be on earth;
Ye have kept your choicest wine—
Let it flow for heavenly mirth;
Pluck the harp and breathe the horn:
Know ye not ’tis Easter morn?

Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter’s robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.

Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe,
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.

Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer, and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth let your souls always
Make each morn an Easter Day.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

Happy Easter! 🙂

Four Quartets

IMG_4295This arrived in the mail today. I’d been wanting to read it for so long; I sat down and read it in one sitting. It’s pretty much perfect.

More on it later. At the moment, I’m just happy to know I have the rest of my life to meditate on and explore this collection of poems. 🙂

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.
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “Little Gidding”

What I’m Reading #7

I was looking over my blog a few weeks ago and realised it’s been over a year since I’ve done one of these. A bit of shame, as I’ve gotten quite bit off track as far as my “reading plan” goes. For example, Dostoevsky has been completely neglected. But, at least, it’s not because I haven’t been reading; I’ve just been busy. I suppose another reason is, for the first half of this year, especially when I was going through my Sanderson binge, I was mostly reading e-books and listening to audiobooks, so my paperback stack was rather small. Anyway, this post is a bit of a catch up. I hope I can get back in the groove of doing this regularly.

Here’s a look at the books I’ve completed since my last “What I’m Reading” post.

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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
First and Second Things by C. S. Lewis
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
Animal Farm by George Orwell
T. S. Eliot: Selected Poems by T. S. Eliot
On Love by Alain de Botton
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Paper Towns by John Green
Anam Cara by John O’ Donohue (Not pictured as I was only borrowing it.)

I know I always say I want to review the books I’ve read, but never seem to get around to doing so. Well, this time, this list includes some of the most unexpectedly great reads (e.g. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Alain de Botton’s On Love), as well as, the most disappointing reads (i.e. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie 😦 ) I’ve come across and I intend to blog about them. I’ve already started on a post about Tuesdays With Morrie, so stay tuned. 🙂

Aside from the sixteen books listed, I’ve also gone through sixteen e-books and audiobooks.
Wool by Hugh Howey
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
The
Hunger Games
trilogy by Suzanne Collins
And eleven books and two short stories (which I’m just gonna count as one “book”) by Brandon Sanderson (see my last post). I should probably also mention here that my passion/appetite for all things Sanderson has abated quite a bit since my last post. I guess we’ll see how I feel about him in the long run.

So, all together, 32 books completed in about a year. Not bad. That’s also not including the ten to twenty books I’m going through at the moment. I’m shooting to finish reading 36 books this year. I’ve already read twenty-five; I’m two books behind schedule. We’ll see how it goes.