T. S. Eliot, fully Thomas Sterns Eliot

T. S.
Eliot, fully Thomas Sterns Eliot

American-born English Poet, Playwright, and Literary Critic

Author Quotes

In the present state of public affairs — which has induced in myself a depression of spirits so different from any other experience of fifty years as to be a new emotion — I no longer feel the enthusiasm necessary to make a literary review what it should be. This is not to suggest that I consider literature to be at this time, or at any time, a matter of indifference. On the contrary I feel that it is all the more essential that authors who are concerned with the small part of “literature” which is really creative — and seldom immediately popular — should apply themselves sedulously to their work, without abatement or sacrifice of their artistic standards or any pretext whatsoever.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us; the sea is the land's edge also, the granite, into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses its hints of earlier and other creation: the starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone; the pools where it offers to our curiosity the more delicate algae and the sea anemone. It tosses up our losses, the torn seine, the shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar and the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices, many gods and many voices.

Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction remaining a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always present. Footfalls echo in the memory down the passage which we did not take towards the door we never opened into the rose-garden. My words echo thus, in your mind. But to what purpose disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves I do not know. Other echoes inhabit the garden. Shall we follow? Quick, said the bird, find them, find them, round the corner. Through the first gate, into our first world, shall we follow the deception of the thrush? Into our first world. There they were, dignified, invisible, moving without pressure, over the dead leaves, in the autumn heat, through the vibrant air, and the bird called, in response to the unheard music hidden in the shrubbery, and the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses had the look of flowers that are looked at. There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting. So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern, along the empty alley, into the box circle, to look down into the drained pool. Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged, and the pool was filled with water out of sunlight, and the lotos rose, quietly, quietly, the surface glittered out of heart of light, and they were behind us, reflected in the pool. Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty. Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children, hidden excitedly, containing laughter. Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality. Time past and time future what might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always present.

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate when the last of earth left to discover is that which was the beginning; at the source of the longest river the voice of the hidden waterfall and the children in the apple-tree not known, because not looked for but heard, half-heard, in the stillness between two waves of the sea. Quick now, here, now, always? a condition of complete simplicity (costing not less than everything) and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well when the tongues of flames are in-folded into the crowned knot of fire and the fire and the rose are one.

What we call the beginning is often the end and to make and 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. We die with the dying: see, they depart, and we go with them. We are born with the dead: see, they return, and bring us with them. The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree are of equal duration. A people without history is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern of timeless moments.

Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing, the silent withering of autumn flowers dropping their petals and remaining motionless; where is there and end to the drifting wreckage, the prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable prayer at the calamitous annunciation? There is no end, but addition: the trailing consequence of further days and hours, while emotion takes to itself the emotionless years of living among the breakage of what was believed in as the most reliable- and therefore the fittest for renunciation. There is the final addition, the failing pride or resentment at failing powers, the unattached devotion which might pass for devotionless, in a drifting boat with a slow leakage, the silent listening to the undeniable clamour of the bell of the last annunciation. Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing into the wind's tail, where the fog cowers? We cannot think of a time that is oceanless or of an ocean not littered with wastage or of a future that is not liable like the past, to have no destination.

Words move, music moves Only in time; but that which is only living Can only die. Words, after speech, reach Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern, Can words or music reach The stillness, as a Chinese jar still Moves perpetually in its stillness. Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts, Not that only, but the co-existence, Or say that the end precedes the beginning, And the end and the beginning were always there Before the beginning and after the end. And all is always now. Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Will not stay still. Shrieking voices Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering, Always assail them. The Word in the desert Is most attacked by voices of temptation, The crying shadow in the funeral dance, The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

Yet the enchainment of past and future woven in the weakness of the changing body, protects mankind from heaven and damnation which flesh cannot endure. Time past and time future allow but a little consciousness. To be conscious is not to be in time but only in time can the moment in the rose-garden, the moment in the arbour where the rain beat, the moment in the draughty church at smokefall be remembered; involved with past and future. Only through time time is conquered.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated of dead and living. Not the intense moment isolated, with no before and after, but a lifetime burning in every moment and not the lifetime of one man only but of old stones that cannot be deciphered. There is a time for the evening under starlight, a time for the evening under lamplight (the evening with the photograph album). Love is most nearly itself when here and now cease to matter. Old men ought to be explorers here or there does not matter we must be still and still moving into another intensity for a further union, a deeper communion through the dark cold and the empty desolation, the wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

In my beginning is my end. In succession houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.

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. I have said before that the past experience revived in the meaning is not the experience of one life only but of many generations - not forgetting something that is probably quite ineffable: the backward look behind the assurance of recorded history, the backward half-look over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror. Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony (whether, or not, due to misunderstanding, having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things, is not in question) are likewise permanent with such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better in the agony of others, nearly experienced, involving ourselves, than in our own. For our own past is covered by the currents of action, but the torment of others remains an experience unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition. People change, and smile: but the agony abides. Time the destroyer is time the preserver, like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops, the bitter apple, and the bite in the apple. And the ragged rock in the restless waters, waves wash over it, fogs conceal it; on a halcyon day it is merely a monument, in navigable weather it is always a seamark to lay a course by, but in the sombre season or the sudden fury, is what it always was.

Men's curiosity searches past and future and clings to that dimension. But to apprehend the point of intersection of the timeless with time, is an occupation for the saint? no occupation either, but something given and taken, in a lifetime's death in love, ardour and selflessness and self-surrender. For most of us, there is only the unattended moment, the moment in and out of time, the distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight, the wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action. The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is incarnation. Here the impossible union of spheres of evidence is actual, here the past and future are conquered, and reconciled, where action were otherwise movement of that which is only moved and has in it no source of movement? driven by daemonic, chthonic powers. And right action is freedom from past and future also. For most of us, this is the aim never here to be realised; who are only undefeated because we have gone on trying; we, content at the last if our temporal reversion nourish (not too far from the yew-tree) the life of significant soil.

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.

The detail of the pattern is movement, as in the figure of the ten stairs. Desire itself is movement not in itself desirable; love is itself unmoving, only the cause and end of movement, timeless, and undesiring except in the aspect of time caught in the form of limitation between un-being and being. Sudden in a shaft of sunlight even while the dust moves there rises the hidden laughter of children in the foliage quick now, here, now, always- ridiculous the waste sad time stretching before and after.

Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging; you are not those who saw the harbor receding, or those who will disembark. Here between the hither and the farther shore while time is withdrawn, consider the future and the past with an equal mind. At the moment which is not of action or inaction you can receive this: 'on whatever sphere of being the mind of a man may be intent at the time of death' - that is the one action (and the time of death is every moment) which shall fructify in the lives of others: and do not think of the fruit of action. Fare forward.

It is impossible to design a system so perfect that no one needs to be good.

Let's not be narrow, nasty, and negative.

My life is light, waiting for the death wind, like a feather on the back of my hand.

Now that the lilacs are in bloom she has a bowl of lilacs in her room.

Our emotions are only incidents in the effort to keep day and night together.

Poetry, if it is not to be a lifeless repetition of forms, must be constantly exploring the frontiers of the spirit. But these frontiers are not like the surveys of geographical explorers, conquered once for all and settled. The frontiers of the spirit are more like the jungle which, unless continuously kept under control, is always ready to encroach and eventually obliterate the cultivated area.

So the lover must struggle for words.

The awful daring of a moment's surrender which an age of prudence can never retract by this, and this only, we have existed.

The essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal; it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

The Pekes and the Pollicles, everyone knows, are proud and implacable, passionate foes; it is always the same, wherever one goes. And the Pugs and the Poms, although most people say that they do not like fighting, will often display every symptom of wanting to join in the fray. And they bark bark bark bark bark bark until you can hear them all over the park.

Author Picture
First Name
T. S.
Last Name
Eliot, fully Thomas Sterns Eliot
Birth Date
Death Date

American-born English Poet, Playwright, and Literary Critic