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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. 🙂

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. 🙂

A Wrinkle in Time

It’s very rare that I come across something I truly wish I’d read when I was a kid or an adolescent, but that was one of the strongest feelings I had when I finished reading this beautiful little gem of a story last week.

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It was almost a feeling of regret and frustration at the injustice that I was not even aware of this book’s existence, at that age, because I know that my adolescent self would have truly appreciated and found a kindred spirit and guide in it. I even share the same name as the protagonist 🙂 (a first for me; although, we don’t share the same derivative) and I could see a lot of myself, especially, a much younger me in this Meg. I think this book could have given me wisdom and helped to fortify and guide me through a lot of the issues I faced growing up.

But I don’t really mind, that it took me this long to finally read it, because I found it surprisingly relevant to my life right now. It still seemed like the perfect timing to read it. 🙂

I may do a more in depth review on the book at some point, but to try to sum it up in one paragraph: A Wrinkle in Time is a story that explores deep truths about what it means to be truly human. It’s a book that looks at darkness and evil and uncertainty with the eyes of  faith, hope and love. It’s a book that gives the imagination worlds to explore and wings to fly, without bogging it down with too many details. It’s a story that explores difficult ideas and concepts–such as: equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome; conformity vs. individuality; confronting and resisting ideologies and the herd mentality; how freedom and true joy requires responsibility and the risk of pain, mistakes and unhappiness; how life isn’t simple and often there are no easy solutions or quick fixes and we can only respond to life by being responsible; how we don’t have to be afraid of being afraid or of life or of who we are (imperfections vulnerabilities and weaknesses included); how weaknesses can also be our strengths (and vice versa); how often times, the only way out is through facing our fears (taking an honest look at who we are and the things we are most afraid of or least want to do), but if we are brave we’ll find we are strong enough to and that good can come of it–all in a relatively simple and uplifting way, that even a child could understand and synthesise.

Simply put, A Wrinkle in Time is a gift and a story for all ages. I love it and I would recommend it to just about anyone.

That said, I can imagine that there may be people this book may not appeal to. There’s this little gem of a quote I came across, for the first time, yesterday, at the end of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. It pretty much sums up how I feel about recommending this book:

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“You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that.”
C. S. Lewis,
The Problem of Pain

There’s so much of that secret thread–that binds books that I really love (and ideas that capture me) together–running through this book; it’s brimming with it. I’d say if you’ve read and loved, at least, two or three of the following titles: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series (as well as his Space Trilogy), Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, or George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin books (or his other fairy tales and stories), and maybe even Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows or Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, or even, Edwin A. Abbot’s Flatland and the Bible then you may be someone who as an inkling of that secret thread and you may enjoy this book too. 🙂

Actually, I’d still say to just about anyone: give this book a read. It isn’t a long book (a little over 200 pages) and a very easy read (I read it in a day). And, if you do read it, let me know what you think. 🙂

This was my first time to read anything by Madeleine L’Engle and it definitely won’t be my last. I’m sure this is a book I will revisit too. It’s on my list of favorites and I’m already looking forward to reading it again. 🙂

If you, dear reader, have already read this book, do you have any thoughts (positive or negative) on it? If so, I’d love to know what you think. 🙂

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

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[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] is probably the first E.E. Cummings poem I ever came across. I fell in love with it then. It’s so beautiful and effortless, simple and deep. I think it’s one of the most romantic of all poems and superlative in it’s embodiment and encapsulation of love’s transcendent power.

It’s always been one of my favorites. I had a hard time not including it in my Poetry Month Celebration blog post, last year, but I’d limited myself to only choosing one of my favorite poems from each of my favorite poets, so I went with [love is more thicker than forget]. I figured it was a lesser known poem.

Then, in May, I came across this video. It’s one of the best analyses of a poem, I’ve ever come across. It may seem a little long, but it’s well worth the time.


It starts off with a recording of Cummings, himself, reading the poem and then goes on to  analyse the poem and how it relates to Cummings and his poetry in a broader sense. It’s fascinating, especially the part where it shows how brilliantly Cummings used parentheses to overlap and add another level of depth to the poem and, also, where it touches on Cummings’ views on love and truth and how they can only be “known” by being experienced.

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“…Cummings believes that truth and poetry and love cannot be comprehended, only experienced. With his poetry and all it’s intense experimentation, he attempts to short circuit our impulse toward knowing so that we might experience language anew.”

I think Cummings certainly found a way to allow the reader to experience the beauty of “truth and poetry and love” through this poem.

This video definitely gave me a much deeper appreciation for this poem and for Cummings’ poetry, in general, and I’ve been wanting to blog about it for almost a year now. I figure, with yesterday being Valentine’s Day, today is a good day to. 🙂

There Are Two Kinds of People…

My sister sent me this cartoon the other day, she thought it was perfect for me. It was. 🙂 It resonates and makes me laugh, because it’s literally the exact way I’d put it, if I had to.

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I may or may not have been guilty of doing this to a few books as a child, but, until a few months ago, I hadn’t actually seen anyone do this to a book in years. I can’t remember exactly where I saw it, if it was in-person or on the internet. I just remember feeling a jolt and shudder of shock and horror, then disappointment in the owner and terribly sorry for the book! 🙂 Haha.

I understand why people might want to dog-ear a book, i.e., you have a few places you want to keep track of and you want to find them easily (I often end up using two or three bookmarks in one book). Still, once dog-eared, always dog-eared. Books that are well-read and loved naturally get well-worn and dog-eared, but there’s no need to deliberately speed up the process. 😦 If you want your book to have a long and happy and healthy life, it’s really in your best interest to find a slip of paper to use instead (I even use tissue and napkins when I have nothing else on hand), or buy or make a bookmark, or buy a pack of sticky-note-flags. Your books will thank you and will last longer too. 🙂

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.