The Calendar - 2024
- Other Calendar entries can be found here: Calendar 2021/22 and Calendar-2023
Little Gidding (1942)
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling.
Little Gidding is the fourth of Four Quartets and the last poem T.S. Eliot published. It was written in wartime: parts of it are directly drawn from experience of bombing; these lines resonate when we turn to Ukraine or Gaza today. The poem begins, as with the others, in time and time out of time: Midwinter spring is its own season/ ….. / Suspended in time, between pole and tropic. Its meditation sprang from the poet’s visit in 1936 to the tiny, secluded, church of St John, that had been from 1625 the focus of the Little Gidding community led by Nicholas Ferrar, friend of George Herbert. It was an antebellum experiment in family life centred on prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action, as Eliot put it previously. The Book of Common Prayer provided the framework for almost perpetual prayer in the chapel, a place to kneel/ Where prayer has been valid. Eliot came to the church to pray: And prayer is more/ Than an order of words, the conscious occupation / Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying, he says. Encountering Divine Love, a theme that runs through the Quartets, is one of the purposes of prayer. Eliot turned to Mother Julian of Norwich to point the reader towards this: And all shall be well and/ All manner of thing shall be well/ By the purification of the motive/ In the ground of our beseeching, phrases that come from her 13th and 14th revelations. Dame Julian’s 15th Revelation: Wouldst thou learn thy Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was His meaning, is not quoted but sums up the poem. Little Gidding presents the choice that we all have between self-love and the love of God, both portrayed as fire, We only live, only suspire/ Consumed by either fire or fire. And living, as he has mentioned earlier, is the passage of moments, in each of which we are presented with this choice. The most well-known words of the poem, perhaps of all Eliot’s writing, 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 begin the last verse of the Quartets, just after the line that is here the epigraph. It comes from the unknown author of the 13th century mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing. Eliot has gone to the great English mystics to draw together Divine Love and our earthly experience. The Magi came to the manger at the end of their exploring. We may do too.