At the still point of the turning world

From Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot

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.

via Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot.

(“The still point of the turning world” is from Eliot’s “Burnt Norton,” the Four Quartets.)

What is Eliot saying about the Word?  about the Word in an age of unbelief?  What does this have to do with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    You did have to use a poem, didn’t you :D

    I’m not very good at poetry interpretation, but I’ll take a stab at it: is Eliot describing the immutability of the Word (either Scripture or Christ) and the resistance of the world to the Word?

  • Tom Hering

    Three sections, beginning “If,” “Still,” and “And.” Even if the Word (Christ) in the word (Gospel) isn’t received, the unreceived Word (Christ) in the word (Gospel) still IS, and the world He made still revolves around Him, whether it recognizes Him or not.

  • Rose

    The poem begins ‘If”.
    I place ‘then’ at the beginning of the 4th line:
    ‘(Then) still is the unspoken word.’
    As still as a light.
    Called and not called, God will be present.
    Still God is content to be still.
    In contrast to our frenzied, loud world.
    Seek peace in His still Word.
    ************
    Can someone help me with a question about Monday’s Transfiguration post?
    (St Peter) said “… we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention”
    To me, that says it was the transfiguration that more fully confirmed the Word.
    But Dr. Veith wrote: “The Word of God is “more fully confirmed” than being an eyewitness! ”
    I didn’t understand that.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Rose @ 3, Whose voice? And Who was transfigured? And what did Peter, James, and John hear the voice say? To what/who did it direct them? Were they then to make sure everyone had or tried to recreate the same mountain top experience they were given, or to what are they directed to – what would comfort and strengthen then after the ascension and through the long difficult road ahead of apostolic servanthood?

    “Listen to Him!”
    hope that helps…

  • Steve Bauer

    First of all, I have enough trouble figuring out what the Gospel of John is saying, let alone Eliot.

    Then if I may respond also to Rose: There is something that makes the prophetic word more sure than even the Transfiguration, namely the cross and the empty tomb.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com John

    @Tom, good interpretation.

  • helen

    What Tom said… +1

  • Rose

    Thanks, everyone.


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