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Sudden illumination

2 Jun

I’ve never read T.S.Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’, but a few weeks ago I heard the third poem, ‘Dry Salvages’, thrillingly performed  by Rory Kinnear at The Temple in London. This was part of an event devoted to music and words associated with the sea. In ‘Salvages’, Eliot evokes first a river and then the sea as models of the wider cycle of existence.

In speaking of the patterns assumed by the past Eliot offers a series of lightning definitions of happiness, only to reject the majority of them (the italics are mine):

  “It seems, as one becomes older,

That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence –

Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy

Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,

Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.

The moments of happiness – not the sense of well-being,

Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,

Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination

We had the experience but missed the meaning,

And approach to the meaning restores the experience

In a different form, beyond any meaning

We can assign to happiness…”

In the third section of the poem Eliot reflects on some words attributed to Krishna:

“Not fare well,

But forward, voyagers.”

Do not think about  ‘the fruit of action’, the poet urges us. Do not be intent on doing well, but rather on simply being, in the here and now.

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