Ash Wednesday – I

May 28, 2006 at 1:48 am Leave a comment

T.S. Eliot


Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

(One of our readers wrote in the other day requesting this)
Yes, we do requests. At least we do them when someone requests an old favourite like this one.

This is, quite simply, an incredible poem. a virtuoso performance by the greatest of all masters [1]. The sheer sound of it is overwhelming – the fluidity, the incantatory rhythm. The words themselves are simple, deceptively so, but the exonerable gravity of the poem turns them into a cascade of soul-shattering power. Every line of this poem has the ring of eternal truth, and merely to read it aloud is to experience as dizzying a sense of upheaval, of awe, that language is capable of. Ash Wednesday is both prayer and confession, nostalgia and plea. It is a poem whose shadow falls over all of us.

[1] It is a testament to Eliot’s talent, that for all the genius of this poem, it is, in my opinion, far from being his best work. It’s always seemed to me that Ash Wednesday is an in-between poem, stuck between the two sublime extremes of the Eliot of Prufrock and other observations and the Eliot of the Four Quartets.


Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, Thomas Stearns Eliot.

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