I. In my beginning is my end. In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass. Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires, Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth Which is already flesh, fur, and faeces, Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf. Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane And to shake the wainscot where the field mouse trots And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto. In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls Across the open field, leaving the deep lane Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon, Where you lean against a bank while a van passes, And the deep lane insists on the direction Into the village, in the electric heat Hypnotized. In a warm haze the sultry light Is absorbed, not reflected, by grey stone. The dahlias sleep in the empty silence. Wait for the early owl. In that open field If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close, On a summer midnight, you can hear the music Of the weak pipe and the little drum And see them dancing around the bonfire The association of man and woman In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie— A dignified and commodiois sacrament. Two and two, necessarye coniunction, Holding eche other by the hand or the arm Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles, Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes, Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth Mirth of those long since under earth Nourishing the corn. Keeping time, Keeping the rhythm in their dancing As in their living in the living seasons The time of the seasons and the constellations The time of milking and the time of harvest The time of the coupling of man and woman And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling. Eating and drinking. Dung and death. Dawn points, and another day Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind Wrinkles and slides. I am here Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning. II. What is the late November doing With the disturbance of the spring And creatures of the summer heat, And snowdrops writhing under feet And hollyhocks that aim too high Red into grey and tumble down Late roses filled with early snow? Thunder rolled by the rolling stars Simulates triumphal cars Deployed in constellated wars Scorpion fights against the sun Until the Sun and Moon go down Comets weep and Leonids fly Hunt the heavens and the plains Whirled in a vortex that shall bring The world to that destructive fire Which burns before the ice-cap reigns That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter It was not (to start again) what one had expected. What was to be the value of the long looked forward to, Long hope for calm, the autumnal serenity And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders, bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit? The serenity only a deliberate hebitude, The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets Useless in the darkness into which they peered Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us, At best, only a limited value In the knowledge derived from experience. The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies, For the pattern is new in every moment And every moment is a new and shocking Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm. In the middle, not only in the middle of the way But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble, On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold, And menaced by monsters, fancy lights, Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly, Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession, Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God. The only wisdom we can hope to acquire Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless. The houses are all gone under the sea. The dancers are all gone under the hill. III. O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark, The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant, The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters, The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers, Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees, Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark, And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors, And cold the sense and lost the motive of action. And we all go with them, into the silent funeral, Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury. 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. IV. The wounded surgeon plies the steel That questions the distempered part; Beneath the bleeding hands we feel The sharp compassion of the healer's art Resolving the enigma of the fever chart. Our only health is the disease If we obey the dying nurse Whose constant care is not to please But to remind of our, and Adam's curse, And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse. The whole earth is our hospital Endowed by the ruined millionaire, Wherein, if we do well, we shall Die of the absolute paternal care That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere. The chill ascends from feet to knees, The fever sings in mental wires. If to be warmed, then I must freeze And quake in frigid purgatorial fires Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars. The dripping blood our only drink, The bloody flesh our only food: In spite of which we like to think That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood— Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good. V. So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years— Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres 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. And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate—but there is no competition— There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. Home is where one starts from. As we grow older The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated Of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment And not the lifetime of one man only But of old stones that cannot be deciphered. There is a time for the evening under starlight, A time for the evening under lamplight (The evening with the photograph album). Love is most nearly itself When here and now cease to matter. Old men ought to be explorers Here and there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion Through the dark cold and empty desolation, The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
© 1943, 1971. Eliot, Thomas Stearns. *The Four Quartets*. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1988.
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Disclaimer: I have no permission from anyone to put this up on the Web. It is very possibly a complete violation of extant copyright law. However, I do have a life (although it may not be obvious to the casual onlooker), and typing all this up is a complete and utter labor of my unabashed hero worship for the person quoted above. So don't sue, please.