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.
“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:
“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. 🙂
- Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling #3–Finished!
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- Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon #1–Spoiler Free Review and Initial Thoughts
- Reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling #2–the Underground Man, Prufrock and Other Thoughts.
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