Choruses from the Rock (TS Eliot)

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O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying! The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word. All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,

But nearness to death no nearer to God.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries

Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
The lot of man is ceaseless labor,

Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,

Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.

I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know That it is hard to be really useful, resigning

The things that men count for happiness, seeking The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting With equal face those that bring ignominy,

The applause of all or the love of none.

All men are ready to invest their money

But most expect dividends.

I say to you: Make perfect your will.

I say: take no thought of the harvest,

But only of proper sowing.

Excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock

Illustration by Corrie Haffly

I recently finished reading Henri Nouwen’s Lifesigns, in which he distinguishes between fruitfulness and productivity. Too often, he says, fear of feeling useless and homeless drive us either to sterility (it’s pointless, so why bother?) or productivity (I am a human do-ing, not a being). Instead, love should call us live fruitful lives. 

This poem, with its echoes of Ecclesiastes, speaks of this to me. For the fruitful life surely flourishes in a more rooted life. One where stillness and truth have a place, and not everything is frantic, frenetic, and furiously busy.

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2 thoughts on “Choruses from the Rock (TS Eliot)”

  1. I read recently that one of the challenges of reading T.S. Eliot is that he “had a habit of treating us as if we know as much as he did.”
    So . . . I don’t mind admitting that I had to read this one twice to get the full load of wonderfulness!

    1. Oh thank you for admitting you had to read this twice. I did, too! More than twice, in fact. Part of the discipline of poetry for me is treating it a little like one approaches lectio divina: slow reading and listening, and no skimming!! -BL

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