Poetry in the schools, at home, and everywhere in between.
THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Source Poems: "Little Gidding"
For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.
Welcome, Poetry Friday readers! My limerick challenge nemesis, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, is hosting all of the Poetry Friday links today. Michelle's also celebrating her blog birthday at Today's Little Ditty. Head over there to help Michelle blow out those birthday candles.
For more decades than
I care to confess, I have carried T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets with me. A dog-eared paperback published in 1971
pockmarked with my annotations. People who knew me well did not ask me to swear
on a bible but rather on my copy of Four
Quartets. Of course, it is too vast, too dense, and no doubt some will
think pretentious, to address the Four
Quartets here. Believe this, I am not pretentious.
The work is simultaneously
daunting and transparent to me; transparent when Eliot and I share similar
reference points; daunting when all the history and symbolism of the time when
it was written is unpacked. What is Eliot’s intent? What is the hidden meaning?
Let’s examine the literary criticism so we can understand.
Just kidding! That exercise
would not mean it was a source poem. The author’s intent is no more relevant to
me than daVinci’s intention when he painted the Mona Lisa. A source poem is one that can follow me through the
whole of my life; meaning that will evolve and reveal as my own understanding
changes – regardless of studying it in a seminar.
I choose the final
quartet, "Little Gidding" as my source, even though the entire text
put meaningful definition to a rather disparate life and continues to do so
regardless of Eliot’s intent. T. S. Eliot is to poetry what Virginia Woolf is
to prose; it is best, at times, to just stay in the moment with the poem and
let the imagery and repetition wash over you. Over time, you develop an ear for
Many only associate “Little
Gidding” with section V, but it is just a tip of the iceberg . The
imagery from the earlier quartets is repeated here and throughout sections I
through IV. When I look at my work -- and my life -- with question, this is where I
You can hear T. S. Eliot read all of Little Gidding here. Here are the
final two stanzas.
We shall not cease
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 things shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Yes, “costing nothing
less than everything." Artists understand the cost of pursuing art. "A
condition of complete simplicity" is so challenging to the convolutions
where we find ourselves in creating the work. I find I cannot create when I
most wish to be clever rather than true, unvarnished. We are always exploring,
excavating the same ground and finding “garlic and sapphires in the mud” – and
the echoes of all of our past and all the pasts we can know and the future that
we can imagine slip into the ink.
So I am not here to
analyze or speak to the brilliance of the Eliot’s work but only to recognize
the voice that resonates, the ever-arriving of discovery, the hidden waterfall
where we froth language and thought and create a crowned knot of fire. The
unremembered gate will open when we are 28 and 37 and 45 and 57 and on and on
and as poets, we will keep finding ourselves, all of our selves present.
I can half hear you
now. I can half hear my children, my mother, my siblings, always present and
gone, and the scent of those I’ve yet to encounter leaning in. Eliot gave me
this perception – gives me this perception. It is the longest river to mine.
Mary Bargteil, an office manager by day and an adjunct associate
professor at night, is published in short story, novella, and poetry.
Graduated summa cum laude with a M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publication
Arts, her poetry has appeared in Gargoyle,
The Light Ekphrastic, Scribble, Welter, Brown Bag
Literary Magazine, Scorched Earth, and Octopus Dreams.
She hopes to move to Guatemala someday and establish the Madhatter School of
Writing and Book Design. Till then, she resides in Arnold, Maryland, with her dog
and kayak. She writes about writing, teaching, social media, and her adventures
on two blogs: www.gypsyforhire.blogspot.com