Starting Things Up Again [Reading Aloud (#1)]: Rereading T.S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" (1943)

I hope to be posting new editions of "Slow Reading" soon (as well as edited and revised versions of older editions), but before I return to a more regular blogging schedule I need to start a little smaller. This morning, on sheer whim, I picked up my copy of Eliot's Four Quartets (1943), flipped forward to "The Dry Salvages," and read the following lines aloud:


I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river Is a strong brown god — sullen, untamed and intractable, Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier; Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce; Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges. The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten By the dwellers in cities — ever, however, implacable, Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and           waiting. His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom, In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard, In the smell of grapes on the autumn table, And the evening in the winter gaslight.

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. The salt is on the briar rose, The fog is in the fir trees. The sea howl And the sea yelp, are different voices Often together heard: the whine in the rigging, The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water, The distant rote in the granite teeth, And the wailing warning from the approaching headland Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner Rounded homewards, and the seagull: And under the oppression of the silent fog The tolling bell Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried Ground swell, a time Older than the time of chronometers, older Than time counted by anxious worried women Lying awake, calculating the future, Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel And piece together the past and the future, Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception, The future futureless, before the morning watch When time stops and time is never ending; And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning, Clangs The bell.

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