I returned to reading T.S. Eliot and his biographies this morning. I haven’t recently had the calm morning to draw me back into this subject until today.
Lyndall Gordon’s reading of “East Coker” drew me back into this poem.
“Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.”
“East Coker” 174-183a Four Quartets T. S. Eliot
Gordon points out that Eliot lifts lines practically intact from St. John of the Cross in “East Coker.”
Gordon (or someone) tracked down Eliot’s own library and found a translation which he owned of St. John of the Cross by E. Allison Peers.
“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.”
“East Coker” 138-142
Peers translation of St. John of the Cross (quoted in a footnote by Gordon)
“In order to arrive at that which thou knowest not,
Thou must go by a way which thou knowest not,
In order to arrive at that which thou possessest not,
Thou must go by a way that thou possessest not.
In order to arrive at that which thou are not,
Thou must go through that which thou art not.
“The Ascent of Mount Carmel” I, xiii
Gordon then quotes Thomas Merton on St. John of the Cross and my head exploded as I read it.
At one time I was passionate about Merton. His approach to spirituality resonated with me and I read many of his books and life journals. I found them helpful as I tried to make sanity out of working in the Roman Catholic Church in the late 20th century.
My Merton collection is tucked away (along with numerous other books) waiting for me to reorganize my collection. Otherwise I would have put my hands on Merton this morning and read him along with Eliot and Lyndall Gordon.
Merton continues to haunt me.