Good advice

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. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding, the fourth of Four Quartets.

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12 Responses to Good advice

  1. Sean Jeating says:

    Ah, this and what I found when following your link, made my early evening, Stan. Thanks a lot.
    Sometimes I wish I had a photographic memory. Today is such a day.

  2. Stan says:

    You’re very welcome, Sean. I share your wish for a photographic memory – it would be exceedingly useful sometimes!

  3. Lucy says:

    I used to get very excited about Four Quartets, so much so that I could hardly read it. Go go go said the bird, humankind cannot endure too much reality. And all that.

  4. Stan says:

    Lucy: It’s a beautiful and giddying (or Giddinging) work; I had to restrain myself from posting a longer extract. [*Pseud alert*] Much of it seems to be a commentary on humankind’s attempts to come to terms with time – to measure it, value it, devalue it, understand it, accept it, undo it, or escape it – most of those attempts themselves being inescapably and unfortunately time-bound.

    Did you study Eliot or read him for recreational excitement?

  5. Lucy says:

    On the topic of photographic memory: well, but you’d probably remember painful memories in as lurid detail, also. There’s some theory that women forget the specific details about the pain of childbirth, soon after giving birth. So they’ll go and do it again. Forgetting is useful, also.

    I think there was probably some mention of Eliot in my English degree, but I don’t recall studying him formally. I have just always had an affinity for his poetry, that only seems to deepen, whenever I think of his work.

  6. Neil says:

    T.S. Eliot most excellent choice. Introduced to his poetry through Soundings and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (Dept. of Education’s finest moment perhaps). On a more serious note, literal eighties video commentaries and very funny indeed.

  7. Claudia says:

    I’ve been afraid to touch your presentation when I saw that it had “Four Quartets”. I’m still lost in the “Waste Land” (a gift from a friend). I doubt it’s possible for a non-born English person to understand all the subtleties of T.S.Eliot. A few lines, here and there, maybe….C’est un peu comme Péguy et Claudel, n’est-ce pas? Shakespeare and Victor Hugo are much easier for bilingual people. It says directly what it wants to say. My opinion…

  8. Stan says:

    Lucy: Good point – the ability to forget is certainly underrated! The flood of oxytocin during labour would improve social memory (e.g. facial recognition) but impair other types of memory. If the experience was especially stressful then the mind might repress or compartmentalize the memory for its own good, as it sometimes does in the case of other types of trauma. (I’m open to correction on this; it’s a while since I’ve read about it.)

    Neil: Ah, I’ll have to try and root out my copy of “Soundings” now! It was a fine introduction to many great poets.

    Claudia: To be fair, I don’t think anyone would claim to understand all the subtleties of Eliot’s writing, least of all himself. It’s a testament to his work that later generations find their own meanings in it, unimagined at the time of its delivery. But Eliot definitely doesn’t appeal to everyone. I know of Péguy and Claudel but I have not read their writings. Do you recommend them?

  9. Claudia says:

    Would I recommend Péguy and Claudel? Time is so precious. It depends what else you have read in French, and what is your goal. They’re both important (Claudel more than Péguy) but they’re both very demanding. Actually Claudel, re:genius, has been compared to T.S.Eliot.

    I was fortunate that, in my late teens and early 20s, I was part of a literary group theatrically inclined. Among many other writers, we studied two plays of Claudel, and memorized parts of Péguy. ÈVE is the longest French poem, about 7640 Alexandrine lines. Each one of us had a certain number of lines to remember. Lots of fun and laughter….We never did it entirely, of course! But it certainly helped me to understand Péguy, and to accept his repetitive voice. It also made me very curious about everything he wrote. My problem with T.S Eliot is that not one person I know would want to recite “The Waste Land” with me on Saturday afternoons!….

    Quelle était votre question? Ah1 oui…Essayez LE SOULIER DE SATIN de Claudel. Très émouvant! Et pour Péguy, cette page d’ÈVE qui commence:

    “Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour la terre charnelle,
    Mais pourvu que ce fût dans une juste guerre.”

    Vous savez qu’il est mort sur le champ de bataille? La Première Guerre Mondiale. Il avait 42 ans.
    Merci pour votre attention. Bonne chance avec la lecture.

  10. Stan says:

    Claudia: Please excuse the delay in replying. Your theatrical literary group sounds like it was a lot of fun, and reading aloud can be much more interesting – et vraiment plus animé – than silent scrutiny of a text. Perhaps you will yet find someone with whom you can recite Eliot!

    Je te remercie pour ta réponse approfondie, et pour les bons conseils. Si je tombe par hasard sur ces livres, je profiterai de l’occasion; sinon, j’ai assez à lire! Ça fait trop longtemps que j’ai lu un livre en Français. Quelquefois je lis des poèmes ou j’ai des chats en Français, mais c’est difficile quand çe n’est pas très fréquent.

    (Cette fois j’ai sûrement fait des fautes! Encore, corrige-moi si je me suis trompé et s’il te plaît.)

  11. Claudia says:

    Yes! the group was fun. But, in retrospect, we were intellectual literay snobs. We would test outsiders. A bit like if you would meet someone and say,”Water, water everywhere…” Of course, the answer has to be, “And not a drop to drink.” Otherwise you haven’t read Coleridge. A bit childish. But I still do it!!!

    Ton Français est splendide. Je ne sais pas si vous utilisez “chats” dans votre coin. J’aurais dit “conversations”. Et il n’y a pas de cédille sous le dernier “ce”. À part cela, c’est parfait.

    Tu peux trouvez facilement (sur Google) un partie du poème de Péguy en écrivant: ‘Heureux ceux qui sont morts.’ C’est très célèbre, et on le récite en l’honneur des soldats, aux jours d’anniversaire. C’est bon à savoir.

    Et voici ton test: “Rodrigue, as-tu du coeur?”
    Je suis ici jusqu’à dimanche pour la réponse. Après, je pars en vacances pour quelques jours. Bonne chance!

    (Please, I also depend on you to correct my English. Thanks!)

  12. Stan says:

    Maybe it is better that we talk online – I might not pass your test!

    Merci pour l’idée – j’ai trouvé le poème de Péguy, je l’ai lu et j’ai écouté au chant. Merci aussi pour les corrections; pour ma part je n’en ai rien à faire – du moins, pas cette fois.

    J’espère que tu as eu des bonnes vacances!

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