If there was just one poem I could take with me to a desert island, it would be Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot. Over the years I have read it many times but never the whole thing in one sitting, as it is just too much for simple-me to wrap my heads around in one go. However, time and again, I find I can pick up reading it from mid-way and still take great pleasure in any random excerpt from the poem. The poem, it seems to me, encompasses all of life in it; how then can one excerpt just a few lines and share here? So, I had thought I will not share Eliot's poems today. I know of but have not read any of his other famous poems like The Waste Land ('April is a cruel month', 'Shantih Shantih Shantih', etc.) nor The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock and thought it doesn't behoove me to excerpt bits of those poems that I have not even read in their entirety. But frankly, though research led me to a few poets whose name starts with E, nothing drew me in. So, here I am... excerpting some lines from each of the four parts of the Four Quartets. And then I have a surprise bonus at the end.
Again, I hate to excerpt lines when every single line is quote-worthy. Please go read the full poem at this site to enjoy it fully. I have randomly chosen some lines to post here and will not get into any discussions about why these lines and why not these other. Onto the excerpts then...
From Burnt Norton
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.
From East Coker
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstacy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
From The Dry Salvages
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.
From Little Gidding
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.
A long time ago, Slate.com had an article where they had a short mp3 of T. S. Eliot himself reading parts of Burnt Norton. But it was later taken down and though I've looked for it, I have never found it again. So, imagine my surprise when I ran into this just now! T. S. Eliot reading the ENTIRE poem! Today, I won't make the same mistake again and have downloaded this for my archives! I usually do not tune into spoken/read poetry easily but when the poet himself reads his poem, it adds to the poem thanks to the poet reading it with the stresses, pauses, etc that he had in mind. This may not always be true but in this case, it really works for me. For me, hearing Eliot's voice reading this poem is magical!