This is the last of the TS Eliot Waste Land series, based on the final stanza of the poem, lines 426 to 433:
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon – O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih
The stanza opens with four random quotations: a nursery rhyme about destruction and resurrection; a line from Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XXVI in Italian, about purifying fire; a reference from a Latin poem about yearning for flight, creativity; and a line from Nerval’s El Desdichado, about a prince in an abandoned tower. In isolation, they seem like the ramblings of a madman, but the source references mirror the main themes and four parts of the Waste Land: destruction and resurrection, purification – razing something to the ground – by fire, lost creativity or flight, and abandonment or alienation. The line that seemed significant, to me, was the one that followed the quotes: These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
Whether Eliot references the quotes themselves or the knowledge gained from learning, these “fragments” of quotations or snippets of truth gained from them are what keeps the narrator going. Then there is a reference to Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (in which someone feigns madness), a reiteration of the three DA utterances, and lastly, the repetition of “Shantih”. ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ is how the Shantih repetition is usually translated. I take that to mean: We think we know, so we are at peace – however tenuous that peace is.
My visual illustration of the final stanza is a contrast of mostly serene sky-blue above a wave of cracking texture and dark corruption. There’s a sense of water crashing and red magma rising to the surface from within the fissures and cracks.
Ultimately, the tenuous conclusions that one draws following a breakdown – the fragments that one shores against one’s ruins – may give one a temporary peace. Nonetheless, this self-constructed reality is fragile and uncertain because it may not match the rest of the world’s reality.
Mixed media (pigment, Sculpie, concrete, marble and clay dust, paste, various glazes) on canvas, 24″ x 48″
Located at: Private Collection
Third Prize Winner in the FCA’s annual abstract show.
The situation of modern man is: that we are empty. The powers, forces, energies, inspirations, ideas, that brought us so far have, quite simply, ceased.
That is what T.S. Eliot got right when he wrote:
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas”!
The continual inflowing inspirations of the gods over thousands of years raised the Chinese Indian Persian Egyptian Greek and Roman civilisations. Their shape can be expressed by an equilateral triangle with the point facing upwards. At the head was a ONE, a Pharaoh, an Inca, Sultan Emperor, King. The inspirations flowed to that one, an initiate, or to initiates about him. They were then mandated downwards through codes, laws, edicts regulating all aspects of life. So humanity was given a shape to be in and grow in, as it had to be at that time. (Of course this eventually became decadent and corrupt, nevertheless…)
There was a phrase in the English 17th century, time of the revolution – ‘the world turned upside down’. That was more or less the (public) beginning of the reversal of the triangle. Now of course we are not meant to live under dynasty or its imitators or in hierarchy and its remnants. Now the broad base of the triangle faces upwards towards the heavens (the spiritual powers) and the point is at least at the head of each single one and may penetrate to the heart, if we cooperate. That is how the emptiness may be filled – by willing conscious work.. (The question of learning to cooperate with each other remains.)
We are at a frontier. We have something else to do, to become. We have a new beginning to make. We are in a time in our evolution that is like nothing that has ever existed before; faced by forces and powers, good and ill, that have never encroached or stood so close to humanity before.
We are meant to be empty. So that the pain, the ache, the need, the desire to find out for oneself is activated; so that we take up our freedom. The desire to know and understand comes second. First is the choice between good and evil. That is why we moderns have been brought to the abyss: to develop our own inner motive power by choosing in one direction or another. No longer to be spiritual serfs, or Holy Book subjects. But to live under such intense and constant hell-pressure we either go under or grow steel and wings of our own.
Our cosmic childhood is over. The content and quality of our whole civilisation, our technology, medicine, psychology, education, arts, expresses the sum of individual choices. However it may seem, true healing knowledge is found only by persons who are willing to undergo transformations in the direction of goodness. Only love discovers the truth because truth is as shy as a deer in the forest. Not the slightest whisper of the true nature of the world and ourselves, or of the creative and healing powers that can be made available to us is heard by anyone who hasn’t declared her/himself willing to undergo whatever is necessary – to become.
That is just how it is. It is conceivable we will almost destroy the world before we discover and act on this in sufficient numbers. It is what lies behind the question: Who is to rule the world, ourselves as angelically free or, through us, demonic powers?
The awake I as it appears on earth in a person is felt as a new creation. It is a birth and is felt as such. Is why the christian story includes – a babe. Is why the birth takes place in humble circumstances; and why Herod wished to kill the child, because that is the relationship of truth to the powers of this world. It is remarkable how much in the New Testament is to do with breaking the old Judaic laws, Sabbath and others. But to the Sadducees and Pharisees that was nothing compared to the potential breaking of their power. Although many of the early Christians seem to have misunderstood, Christ was not announcing the end of the world: he was announcing the end of the current dispensation where persons’ spiritual lives were in the hands of others. He was announcing the world turned upside down. ‘Those who are last shall be first and those are first shall be last.’ If we want to get a feel for the times we shouldn’t be thinking of the spiritual rulers of Israel as being anything like our ministers or vicars standing outside the church on a Sunday saying ‘Thank you for coming, Mrs Johnson. How is the arthritis?’ No, we must think more of Ayotullah Komeini of the Iranian revolution and the Revolutionary Guards. These were people of dark fire, able to inflame the people, with gangs at their disposal, and no doubt at all about their right to use the Romans to extinguish what was for them the greatest possible nightmare: the first declaration of freedom, love, individuality and equality (as a living force) on the planet. This was not a Zeus or a Wotan, though no offence, this was the utmost inner essence of potential humanity imbued with the beauty and presence of a god. It had to be crushed just as individuals stepping forward with the same message are still killed and imprisoned today.
(A god? What is the man on about, some are thinking. But consider that the same kind of intellectual logic (and a sort of deadness) that denies the existence of spiritual beings has been well on the way for several decades now to denying the existence of human beings as we actually are. We are bunches of stuff merely, chemical electrical environmental etc. The I in consequence is illusory; really just a figment of language. ‘Ourselves and the other animals…’ ‘I’m using the word I but of course there is no such thing….’: such things are now standard (materialist) scientific chat. It is the theoretical equivalent of shoving us into ovens.
‘Always so extreme, Alan.’ Yes, well, that’s how it is in the 21st.)
It is the future now
Indeed. Eliot’s words of almost a century ago are both a comfort and an admonition.