It’s T.S. Eliot’s birthday today, and if you’re like me, you haven’t read nearly as much Eliot as you think you should. The early twentieth-century poet and essayist became a Christian in his thirties, and though he always (and reasonably, given he lived through World War I) saw the world as a difficult, bleak place, his poetry chronicles his shift from a sort of terrified fragmented view of reality to something with a little more hope. I was lucky enough to study The Four Quartets in my first M.F.A. residency, and I find myself returning to the poem frequently.
So in honor of his birthday, here is my favorite excerpt from “Little Gidding,” the fourth section in the quartets.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from . . .
We shall not cease from exploration
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, remembered 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 thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.