Keeping Christmas: The Light

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So shall the darkness be  light, and the stillness the dancing.

ts eliot ~ East Coker
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4 thoughts on “Keeping Christmas: The Light

  1. Linda, it must have been years since I’ve read this poem, though the last stanza has been a kind of mantra for me (printed on a picture of a labyrinth I kept by my desk for several years). It’s good to revisit now. May your year be rich and balanced, with fullness framed by the emptiness of waiting.

    Mary Ellen,

    So many people say they would choose Shakespeare if forced to keep only one poet in their library, but Eliot would be my choice, without question.
    The Four Quartets alone are rich enough for a lifetime of exploration.

    It’s so nice to have you drop by. I hope your holidays were peaceful and filled with blessings.


  2. Linda,

    Thanks for this poem, it’s just too dense to reap all the meaning in a couple of readings. But I agree with you, TSE’s voice is so prophetic, that even now in the 21st Century, it’s still relevant.

    All best wishes for a bright new year to you and yours. And may your blogging and writing path be sunny all the way!


    I love Eliot more and more every year. I spent some time in the fall exploring his childhood in St. Louis and his youth, and began to realize how deeply he mined even the earliest experiences for his wonderful insights.

    I do so appreciate your good wishes for the upcoming year. I’d never expect all sunshine, but even in the darkness, there’s a glimmer of light.


  3. I have never read this, and I’m hushed now. I don’t really have a way to begin to talk about it.

    I’ll copy and paste it into a file. I need to come back to it.

    First slowed at the underground train taking too long between stops . . .


    I was introduced to Eliot by the same professor who thought Melville, Faulkner and Hawthorne should be on Mt. Rushmore and whose only insistence was that our words should be true. The Four Quartets has everything. I haven’t the words to describe Eliot’s genius.

    There’s a wonderful, accurate online text of the entire quarto which can be found here.


  4. I actually have a copy of the Four Quartets out on my side desk next to the telephone at work, mainly because Diane Wakoski, my teacher, recommended it. I have not read more than a few words of it. I see that needs to change.


    Truth to tell, I’m amazed I could introduce you to something you haven’t read ~ in terms of depth, incisive vision and beauty of expression, I suspect you’ll find some surprising correlations between Eliot and Rumi. In any event, you’re in for a treat.


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