Friday, August 17, 2007

Choruses from ‘The Rock’ by T. S. Eliot

Choruses from ‘The Rock’

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.
-- T. S. Eliot

After writing yesterday's post on happiness, I listened to a podcast interview of Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches Harvard's Positive Psychology class. There are lots of news articles about it, and if you google it, you can also find his course outline, readings, etc. It's a class about the psychological studies that have been done on how people feel happy and fulfilled -- rather than Abnnormal Psychology which focuses on what makes people miserable and disturbed. One of the quotes from the interview that stood out to me was, "Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning." He says the if an experience is just meaningful, like having an important job, or a family, but you don't enjoy it for some reason, it won't lead to happiness. And it certainly won't if it's just pleasure without meaning, like casual sex or drugs. So the trick is to find things that mean something, that you also can enjoy, and try to get more of them in your life.

He also talks about how you can find ways to better enjoy the meaningful things you already have. Take music for instance, if you listen to your favorite song, then your second favorite song, and you're asked to rate them, they'd both be a 10. If you listen to them both at the same time, though, it won't be a 20, it'd be less than a 5 -- just noise. So if you're not enjoying your time with your family (very meaningful in most people's lives), check to see if you're really spending time with your family, or if you're spending it with them, and email, or housework, or TV or something else at the same time, which makes them both just kind of distracting.

He sounded like a very down to earth person, and I liked that he had scientific studies (or as good as you can get in psychology with people self reporting), that were published in the best journals, to back up his conclusions. It lifts him above the crowd of self-help gurus out there. (for some fascinating insights on self help, read, SHAM by Steve Salerno)

Here's what President Faust had to say on the topic: "Today we are barraged by multitudes of voices telling us how to live, how to gratify our passions, how to have it all. At our fingertips we have software, databases, television channels, interactive computer modems, satellite receivers, and communications networks that suffocate us with information. There are fewer places of refuge and serenity. Our young people are bombarded with evil and wickedness like no other generation. As I contemplate this prospect, I am reminded of the poet T. S. Eliot’s words: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”" He goes on to talk about how we can focus on righteous voices to hear what we ought to be focusing our lives on.


  1. I remember you said at the beginning of this poetry blog that you thought that free verse had no value. Well, I'm glad you included this. This does not rhyme. I think there is a lot of rhyming poetry that is wonderful, and an even larger amount that is not good at all, and the same with what you called free verse. Each can have wonderful merit and use of words.

  2. You're mis-quoting me Lesli :) I never said that free verse has no value. One of the posts in my very first week (which had some of my very favorite poetry) had free verse from Gordon Korman.

    In my post about The Plum, I said, "I'm not generally a fan of free verse, but as long as it's not overused, it can be forgiven. I think that to qualify as a poem (in my book at least), and not just fancily formatted prose, it has to act like a poem."

    This one, as you say, certainly acts like a poem. It is a collection of related thoughts and ideas that don't really flow like a traditional paragraph (whereas if it did, it would just be formatted prose). It has a kind of rhythm - not strict - but he does restrict his thoughts to fit on lines of about the same length. He'll often have a couple of lines with closely related sentence structure, which contributes to the poetic feel.

    If you want examples of the stuff that annoys me in free verse, you'll find a lot of it used in the Poem for the Day in Garrison Keillor's Writer's Alminac.

    I believe that there are rules to each kind of art form. If you understand those rules, and why they work, you can creatively bend or break them to broaden the scope of the art form. On the other hand, if you just ignore them entirely, and do something totally without structure, then you end up with junk.

    Take for instance the impressionists -- they bent the rules of absolute realism to show something that was far more real to them -- the perfect moment in time and shifting light that could only be caught if you painted quickly. That led the way to abstract expressionism, where people were just putting colors together to create pleasing patterns or randomness that didn't have to BE anything. But taken to the extreme, you get stuff like Jackson Pollack did that just ends up being a mess.

    To follow up on your original comment, and to complete the analogy, amateur artists copying the great masters, or learning to paint happy trees, or flowers with one brushstroke, can create a lot of trash that "follows the rules" just like amateur poets who try to write a poem about their week at girls camp for a fireside (and I've heard some bad ones) create junk with as little artistic value.

    What I'm saying is that I agree with you that the important part of a poem is the thoughtful and skillful use of words. I happen to find that for me, poems that have an obvious structure of rhythm and rhyme are more often (though not exclusively) pleasing to MY senses.

  3. Here's an "epic poem" that actually started out as prose, but in the process of being emailed, lines got broken in weird places, and then someone reformatted it in free-verse style. It's been sent around this way ever since.

  4. The story of Mel was great. I had friends like Mel in the late 60's-really early 70's who all hung line-printer (ASCII) art on their walls (from the definition of a 'Real Programmer') . Have any of you even seen any?


  5. Thanks, Karen. I don't think I have read any blatantly Christian stuff from Eliot before. This makes me want to go take a second look.
    I read the reviews of SHAM and put it on hold at the library. That sure rings true.

  6. This was from a play he wrote as a collaboration as a benefit for churches in the Diocese of London. He would only accept credit for one scene and the choruses.

    He wrote on Christian poem after he converted to Anglicanism: Ash Wednesday.

    I haven't read either of those past what I posted here, but I did listen to an audio recording of Murder in the Cathedral. I was very impressed, and would highly reccomend it (though I'd suggest reading it instead of listening--it was kind of hard to follow which character was speaking).

  7. The religious references with regards to T.S. Eliot reminded me of the following poem:

    Here is the last stanza of Little Gidding (#4 or Four Quartets) by T.S. Eliot. I really love this poem. It's interesting because when he says "And the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/ and know the place for the first time/" it makes me think of returning to the spirit world, or to a paradisaical world. Death will really be a return to the beginning, knowing it all newly.

    (No. 4 of 'Four Quartets')
    T.S. Eliot

    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.
    Through the unknown, unremembered gate
    When the last of earth left to discover
    Is that which was the beginning;
    At the source of the longest river
    The voice of the hidden waterfall
    And the children in the apple-tree
    Not known, because not looked for
    But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
    Between two waves of the sea.
    Quick now, here, now, always—
    A condition of complete simplicity
    (Costing not less than everything)
    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    When the tongues of flame are in-folded
    Into the crowned knot of fire
    And the fire and the rose are one.