Ash Wednesday

by T.S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again 
Because I do not hope 
Because I do not hope to turn 
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope 
I no longer strive to strive towards such things 
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?) 
Why should I mourn 
The vanished power of the usual reign? 

Because I do not hope to know again 
The infirm glory of the positive hour 
Because I do not think 
Because I know I shall not know 
The one veritable transitory power 
Because I cannot drink 
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again 

Because I know that time is always time 
And place is always and only place 
And what is actual is actual only for one time 
And only for one place 
I rejoice that things are as they are and 
I renounce the blessèd face 
And renounce the voice 
Because I cannot hope to turn again 
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something 
Upon which to rejoice 

And pray to God to have mercy upon us 
And I pray that I may forget 
These matters that with myself I too much discuss 
Too much explain 
Because I do not hope to turn again 
Let these words answer 
For what is done, not to be done again 
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us 

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly 
But merely vans to beat the air 
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry 
Smaller and dryer than the will 
Teach us to care and not to care 
Teach us to sit still. 

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death 
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death. 

II 
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree 
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety 
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained 
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said 
Shall these bones live? shall these 
Bones live? And that which had been contained 
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping: 
Because of the goodness of this Lady 
And because of her loveliness, and because 
She honours the Virgin in meditation, 
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled 
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love 
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd. 
It is this which recovers 
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions 
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn 
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown. 
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness. 
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten 
And would be forgotten, so I would forget 
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said 
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only 
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping 
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying 

Lady of silences 
Calm and distressed 
Torn and most whole 
Rose of memory 
Rose of forgetfulness 
Exhausted and life-giving 
Worried reposeful 
The single Rose 
Is now the Garden 
Where all loves end 
Terminate torment 
Of love unsatisfied 
The greater torment 
Of love satisfied 
End of the endless 
Journey to no end 
Conclusion of all that 
Is inconclusible 
Speech without word and 
Word of no speech 
Grace to the Mother 
For the Garden 
Where all love ends. 

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining 
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other, 
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand, 
Forgetting themselves and each other, united 
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye 
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity 
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance. 

III 
At the first turning of the second stair 
I turned and saw below 
The same shape twisted on the banister 
Under the vapour in the fetid air 
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears 
The deceitul face of hope and of despair. 

At the second turning of the second stair 
I left them twisting, turning below; 
There were no more faces and the stair was dark, 
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair, 
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark. 

At the first turning of the third stair 
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit 
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene 
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green 
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute. 
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown, 
Lilac and brown hair; 
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind 
over the third stair, 
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair 
Climbing the third stair. 

Lord, I am not worthy 
Lord, I am not worthy 

               but speak the word only. 

IV 
Who walked between the violet and the violet 
Who walked between 
The various ranks of varied green 
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour, 
Talking of trivial things 
In ignorance and in knowledge of eternal dolour 
Who moved among the others as they walked, 
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs 

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand 
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour, 
Sovegna vos 

Here are the years that walk between, bearing 
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring 
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing 

White light folded, sheathed about her, folded. 
The new years walk, restoring 
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring 
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem 
The time. Redeem 
The unread vision in the higher dream 
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse. 

The silent sister veiled in white and blue 
Between the yews, behind the garden god, 
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word 

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down 
Redeem the time, redeem the dream 
The token of the word unheard, unspoken 

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew 

And after this our exile 

V 
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent 
If the unheard, unspoken 
Word is unspoken, unheard; 
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard, 
The Word without a word, the Word within 
The world and for the world; 
And the light shone in darkness and 
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled 
About the centre of the silent Word. 

O my people, what have I done unto thee. 

Where shall the word be found, where will the word 
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence 
Not on the sea or on the islands, not 
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land, 
For those who walk in darkness 
Both in the day time and in the night time 
The right time and the right place are not here 
No place of grace for those who avoid the face 
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice 

Will the veiled sister pray for 
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee, 
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between 
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait 
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray 
For children at the gate 
Who will not go away and cannot pray: 
Pray for those who chose and oppose 

O my people, what have I done unto thee. 

Will the veiled sister between the slender 
Yew trees pray for those who offend her 
And are terrified and cannot surrender 
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks 
In the last desert between the last blue rocks 
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert 
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed. 

O my people. 

VI 
Although I do not hope to turn again 
Although I do not hope 
Although I do not hope to turn 

Wavering between the profit and the loss 
In this brief transit where the dreams cross 
The dream-crossed twilight between birth and dying 
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things 
From the wide window toward the granite shore 
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying 
Unbroken wings 

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices 
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices 
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel 
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell 
Quickens to recover 
The cry of quail and the whirling plover 
And the blind eye creates 
The empty forms between the ivory gates 
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth 

This is the time of tension between dying and birth 
The place of solitude where three dreams cross 
Between blue rocks 
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away 
Let the other yew be shaken and reply. 

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden, 
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood 
Teach us to care and not to care 
Teach us to sit still 
Even among these rocks, 
Our peace in His will 
And even among these rocks 
Sister, mother 
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea, 
Suffer me not to be separated 

And let my cry come unto Thee.

We are fundamentally noncognitive, affective creatures. The telos [end] to which our love is aimed is not a list of ideas or propositions or doctrines; it is not a list of abstract, disembodied concepts or values. Rather, the reason that this vision of the good life moves us is because it is a more affective, sensible, even aesthetic picture of what the good life looks like. A vision of the good life captures our hearts and imaginations not by providing a set of rules or ideas, but by painting a picture of what it looks like for us to flourish and live well. This is why such pictures are communicated most powerfully in stories, legends, myths, plays, novels, and films rather than dissertations, messages, and monographs.

Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Baker Academic. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 53

Responsibility of the Artist

cwmyers:

“The ministry of Word and Sacrament is a single ministry, the Word proclaiming, and the Sacrament dramatizing God’s promises. Yet the Word is primary, since without it the sign becomes dark in meaning, if not actually dumb.” John Stott

Such is the problem when literature (art) uses the richness of biblical imagery and narratives without recognizing the intent behind them – the art becomes dark in meaning; promising beauty that dies once we get past the sign.

Cleanth Brooks, in his essay “Religion and Literature”, says, “When we read George Herbert’s poem Love  , we may believe, as Herbert evidently did, that there is indeed a spiritual presence in the universe whose name is love.  But the reader of the poem is not compelled to believe in Herbert’s God of love. For him the love mentioned in the poem may be simply a human attitude which the poet has momentarily mythologized.”  In this case, the reader would find “love” appealing, even marvel at the fact that “love” created the poet’s “eyes”, but the reader is still left with a dumb promise of love if he does not make the leap with Herbert. We cannot discredit Herbert for a reader’s unwillingness to travel the entire journey with the poet.

In another context, Brooks relates John Donne’s poem Canonization demonstrating how Donne uses biblical imagery and terms to describe and heighten the profane love he shares with a woman.  While it’s a clever device, the best that Donne offers is to share such a history-marking physical love with a woman that they would be immortalized in verse, or etched in the side of an urn that entombs their ashes, thereby canonizing their love as long as there are humans reading English metaphysical poets.

The Responsibility of the Artist

I believe Dante, an Italian contemporary of Donne’s, graphically demonstrates the difference between these two ideas:grasping temporary immortality in the remembrance of art or being offered true immortality through the death and resurrection of Christ by representing them with women.

Francesca

We meet Francesca in the whirlwind of the second circle of the inferno.  She was alive in Dante’s (the poet) memory as a woman who had cheated on her husband with her husband’s brother, Paolo.  And Francesca and Paolo had been tempted into adultery by reading a court poem about Lancelot and Guenevere’s destructive affair.  Francesca and Paolo are murdered by the jealous husband, landing them in the circle of hell where they are allowed to chase their lust forever in a circular whirlwind.  When Dante summons Francesca, it is discerned that the poem acted as a sort of messenger that allowed them to conduct their illicit affair.  So, like Donne’s canonized lovers, Lancelot and Guenevere grasped some sort of immortality, but the only thing that piece of beautiful art ultimately offered was death (or some sort of immortality as long as there are humans reading Dante), in this case Francesca and Paolo’s deaths; but one can see how the cycle could keep repeating itself if the only story given to readers was that of Francesca and Paolo.

Beatrice

However, Dante represents the other idea, true immortality being offered through the death and resurrection of Christ, in the woman Beatrice.  Dante (the person and poet) began at a kind of love that resembled Donne’s lovers for a real woman named Beatrice.  Over the course of his life, Dante began to see that his courtly love for her might simply be a sign pointing to a much greater love; a love that offered true immortality. In the Divine Comedy, the woman Beatrice enters now as that sign, a guide, and she leads Dante to the visio Dei – vision of God.  

Dante then offers to his readers the image of a God who loves a sinning human enough to drag him from the depths of hell (literally) and into eternity through the sign of a man’s love for a woman.  Dante’s sign then is not rendered mute, but rather brings with it all of the richness and depth and purpose of the biblical (and redeemed cultural) imagery Dante uses. Essentially, he’s not lying to you.

As an artist, which seems more responsible: Donne or Dante; Francesca or Beatrice?

Works:

Brooks, Cleanth. “Religion and Literature.” Community, Religion, & Literature. University of Missouri Press. 1995.

Leithart, Peter J. Ascent to Love: A Guide to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Canon Press, Moscow Idaho. 2001.

So Hamlet, Solomon, and Josh Ritter Walk Into a Mousetrap.

Author’s Note: You should own Josh Ritter’s catalog. 

Last summer I saw Josh Ritter in Dallas. Around the middle of his set, his band left him alone on stage and he stopped the show completely.  The stage lights were turned off, he unplugged his guitar, stepped away from the microphone and sang “In the Dark” (The Animal Years) standing on the edge of the stage. The theater, a floor and a mezzanine, packed with about 2,000 people, responded to his voice in the dark, repeating the chorus: 

“Don’t you leave us in the dark!   Don’t you leave us in the dark! Don’t you leave us in the dark!”

The crowd carried the chorus even after he stopped singing. When the lights came back up and the band joined him to finish the set, Mr. Ritter had disciples and evangelists.  I’ve seen some of the best my generation, and some from older generations, but I don’t think I’ve seen somebody so thoroughly in control of his art; both in craft and performance.  He ended the night with “Lantern”, the whole band less singing in harmony than full-shouting, multiplying the melody, promising to hold a light high for us and the crowd shouting back our promises to do the same for them.

What is the Lantern That Josh Ritter Promised?

That song “Lantern” is on the album “So Runs the World Away”, an allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  In the play, the line is spoken when the murderous uncle/king has been caught in his own guilt after watching a play (within the play) that closely resembles his own crime.  The uncle/king calls for the houselights to be brought up, and then runs away to hide from his guilt.  Hamlet utters the lines:

Let the wounded deer go weep,

Let the hart unwounded go play,

For some must watch while some must sleep,

Thus runs the world away.

Josh Ritter’s performance did its own work to catch my conscience.  Taking the lines of Hamlet for what they are; a dividing of the world into two parts: those who are wounded and weep, and those who are ungalled and go play, Ritter rewrites them with another allusion, this time to the Bible:

Throw away those Lamentations
We both know them all too well
If there’s a Book of Jubilations
We’ll have to write it for ourselves
So come and lie beside me darlin
And let’s write it while we still have time (Lantern)

Ritter, having used all of the verses in the song to lament the darkness of the world (the thistles eat the thorns / and the roses have no chance / It’s no wonder that the babies / come out crying in advance), chooses to throw away the lamentations, and instead to dwell on the happiness the world offers; he has chosen to be the unwounded deer about his play and asks us to join him.

The song is beautiful and, I must admit, as a thing of beauty causes happiness in this world.  So Josh, for a moment I will lie down beside you (figuratively) to write that Book of Jubilations.  But only for a moment, Josh.  Because your play ended; the houselights came up; you got on your bus and we all stumbled back into the dark.  It was beautiful, I even have some record of the night (worth every penny), but that beautiful thing is over.  It was made beautiful in its time, and the best you can offer now is to go on tour again so that another beautiful dying moment can pass.  But we all made the promise to you as well, and how are we holding up on that promise?  Not well, I’m sure.

            So what is the Lantern that we all promised to each other?  To enjoy ourselves?  To eat and drink and find enjoyment?  Is it to make beauty?  To make beauty that passes away so that we call for the lights again?  Is it to be a community of people committed to jubilation?  All of this seems to pass away, and I have to ask not sarcastically, but empathetically with Mr. Ritter, “What’s the point of a light you have to strike a match to find?”

The End of Lanterns

            I think Mr. Ritter knows that those moments are meant to end; he’s a songwriter after all, he deals in a medium that is considered long at 4 minutes.  It’s funny though because he continually reaches past that constraint, writing songs close to 10 minutes which I think goes to show that he is unsatisfied with a thing of beauty having an ending.  As are we all.  And that’s the problem with any lantern we create: oil burns up, tungsten filaments decay, fluorescent molecules are exasperated.  We are creatures in a creation made by a Creator; or we are players in a play written by a Playwright, and we as players are allowed to write “some dozen or 16 lines” of our own, but our little plays end.  The lights come up and we flee to hide from our guilt – fooling around thinking we were Playwrights.

            I am frustrated along with Mr. Ritter concerning the dark of the world, and with the beauty that fleetingly inhabits it.  I am frustrated the rich men grow rich on the backs of those they oppress.  I am frustrated about the “wolves howling at our door / singing about vengeance like it’s the joy of the Lord.” But that frustration makes me long for a world where the beauty doesn’t pass away; eternity has been placed in my heart.  An eternity where the toil is fruitful; an eternity where a man has both son and brother to share in the labor and the reward and the full house makes it through; an eternity where we are not too much in the sun because there is no sun that scorches the earth and then quickly hastens to its bed, but rather goes black like a burned out lantern and is replaced by the light of God who satiates the hungry, quenches the thirsty, and wipes away every tear.  I want an eternity in the sanctuary of God where He shows me the end of wickedness and He drives out fear with His perfect love, and His perfect love for us looks like His Son given so that we could share in eternity as sons (and daughters) –  not sons of a murderous usurper king, but of a King who gives eternal life.