Thank you all for your fabulous participation in our exploration of T.S. Eliot’s East Coker the poem that confirmed for him that he was actually in the process of writing the second of what would become The Four Quartets. Published on Good Friday 1940, just near the start of the Second World War, this poem embodies a powerful expression of T.S. Eliot’s quest for spiritual insight and sanity in a world that truly had gone mad. The title of this poem connects him to his British Ancestry in the tiny village of East Coker in Somerset where his relatives had lived for around 200 years prior to their departure for the New World in search for religious freedom in 1668, in an England that was riven with religious dissent. Eliot himself was born over in America, but now, back in England, he reclaims his deepest roots with British traditions. One of his British ancestors, it turns out, was none other than the famous British 16th Century author Sir Thomas Elyot who published The Boke named The Governour in 1531. It was lines from this book that were directly imported into East Coker as part of T.S. Eliot’s seeming wish to anchor his physical and emotional life in a stable landscape of ancient rural traditions which seemed such a powerful antidote to the chaos that he saw around him in the London Blitz:
In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.
Enjoy the slides from today’s session, the audio introductory talk and the LIVELY interaction with the always wonderfully wise and questioning audience:
Click on the East Coker link to open the slides from today’s session:
Click on the audio link below to hear the lecture, the conversation and T.S. Eliot’s own aural rendition of East Coker:
Remember that you can post into the blog either posting your own poetic creations or any comments you might have on today’s topic, by simply clicking into the Comment tab a the top right hand of this posting.
Back From East Coker
Pennies for the old-fella:
lone smoker, drunk sailor,
having his lean feast
by the busy harbour.
Stooped orphan, to brave
a pleasant summer return,
walk her circuit of gardens
pause and wonder
where mum’s gone…?
Grief’s adventure, flood of joggers
lunch-time lovers, scavenging ibises
an Egyptian cypress, New Guinea palms
Short-hand typist always quick
with names, Latin and Greek
cross-words in the Sydney papers,
white shark of ship, liberal wankers!
Hawke her pick of captains
proud to boast, real weeping man at helm;
but Gough her Cabramatta king
pronouncing all things egalitarian!
Labor to win, Sydney her town
public-parks to own, cool down by fountains;
braving such a garden-day outing,
telling her things, bats have gone!
Yes, more practical prams
tucker worth a Bob Menzies fortune;
barefoot girl in that Great depression
life of independent living, bush gangs of children
Her father from England
poor pom with Chinese name
Grandma from Goldburn
orphanage colder than Scotland.
Then on, aged-son of losses theme
gallery to ascend, columns of sandstone
lovers in relief and bronze
Chaucer still reading in tall end room
In court of Edward the three-digit King,
way back in english time
happy without microphone
brave speaker in Sundays Domain
St Peter in oils within, still losing his chains
chant of tribal carvings,
history in one afternoon
East Coker recovering, exploring- old- man.
All dispossession’s will come;
old-tourist folly, dark moving in,
patching the cracks with memories
death and dung
Last shire days in a medical haze
her departure no – white cruise liner,
Princess of the Seas in the Deep
bound for Relief’s islands and reef
death and dung
pain of dying
nurse more morphine
death and dung
Good Friday numb
lift a flat camera
shoot every mortal one
frozen in the Sydney sun
death and dung
Martin Place through
hospital gates; sing Bennelong
opera house and rum
elocution of learned time
Death and scented-dung;
Special Street rose garden
sign a petition
halt an Iranian execution
all stations home, oblivion;
smiling at her white-light-end,
an egalitarian woman
laboring forth to surprise of heaven!
there you go again…
my my, all our serious wishing
Survived my Dante outing!
Strangers looking familiar,
like fit dad in the park
active with push-ups,
humping that green Venus lawn
son dreaming, a steady income
Death and moist dung!
Look, French lilies, jacarandas now in bloom
ancient Banks back home, sherry- unshaven
floral self-portrait to name;
Chaucer still reciting.
Winged angel hovering, key inserting!
All crosswords done
as Sydney chimes along;
FM Brown still signing
mum still gone…
death and sweet dung
subways to our Sun!