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Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Change

Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Audio | Word Aloud

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Ash Wednesday, one of T.S. Eliot’s most profound and enigmatic poems, marks a significant transition in his life and work. Written in 1930, it is the first long poem Eliot composed after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927. The poem, often considered one of Eliot’s masterpieces, delves into themes of faith, redemption, and spiritual struggle. It reflects the poet’s personal journey towards spiritual enlightenment and serves as a testament to his newfound religious beliefs. A reading of Ash Wednesday is an exploration of the poem’s religious, literary, and personal contexts, as of the poem’s complex structure and themes.

Religious Context And Symbolism

Ash Wednesday is deeply embedded in Christian symbolism and tradition. The title refers to the first day of Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar, a day marked by penance, fasting, and prayer. Ash Wednesday is a time for reflection on mortality and repentance, themes that are intricately woven throughout the poem. Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism profoundly influenced his writing; ‘Ash Wednesday’ is an expression of spiritual awakening and quest for redemption.

The poem is replete with religious imagery and references, drawing on Christian doctrine and scripture. The use of liturgical language, biblical allusions, and references to saints and spiritual figures creates a tapestry of faith that invites readers to contemplate deep spiritual truths with which Eliot is grappling. The repetitive and prayer-like quality of the verses echoes meditative practices of the faithful, in part enabling the contemplative nature of the poem.

Literary Influences And Techniques

T.S. Eliot was a master of literary allusion and technique, and Ash Wednesday expresses Eliot’s ability to blend various influences into a cohesive whole. The poem reflects the influence of Dante, particularly The Divine Comedy, which Eliot admired for its exploration of spiritual ascent and redemption. Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven parallels Eliot’s own spiritual journey, and the structure of Ash Wednesday can be seen as a reflection of this pilgrimage.

Eliot’s use of fragmented narrative, a hallmark of his earlier work such as The Waste Land, is also present in Ash Wednesday. However, in this poem, the fragmentation serves a different purpose. Instead of depicting the disintegration of modern society, it mirrors the fragmented and often painful process of spiritual rebirth. The disjointed structure reflects the internal struggle of the speaker, who is torn between the pull of worldly desires and the aspiration for divine grace.

The poem’s language is rich and varied, combining the lyrical and the obscure, the personal and the universal. Eliot employs a range of poetic forms and devices, including free verse, rhyme and meter, to convey the tumultuous journey of faith. The shifting tone and style reflect the complexities and contradictions inherent in the spiritual quest, capturing moments of doubt, despair, hope, and transcendence.

Personal Significance

Ash Wednesday is a deeply personal work. Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism marked a profound shift in his life, providing a sense of purpose and direction that had been missing. The poem can be read as a reflection of Eliot’s own struggles with faith and his efforts to reconcile his intellectual skepticism with his desire for spiritual certainty.

Eliot’s personal experiences, including his troubled marriage and professional pressures, also inform the poem. Themes of renunciation and acceptance, sin and redemption, are not merely abstract concepts but lived realities for the poet. This personal dimension adds a layer of intimacy and urgency to the poem, which thereby resonates with readers who have faced their own spiritual crises.

Thematic Exploration

At its core, Ash Wednesday is a meditation on the possibility of spiritual renewal in a world that often seems devoid of meaning. The poem grapples with the tension between faith and doubt, reflecting the existential struggles of modernity. The poem acknowledges the difficulties of maintaining belief in an age of skepticism but ultimately affirms the possibility of redemption and grace.

The central theme of renunciation is explored through imagery of ascension and purification. The speaker’s journey is marked by a series of renunciations, symbolizing the shedding of earthly attachments in pursuit of spiritual truth. This process is neither straightforward nor easy; it involves moments of intense struggle and introspection. Yet, through this arduous journey, the speaker moves closer to a state of spiritual clarity and acceptance.

Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Audio | Word Aloud

Ash Wednesday | T. S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Audio | Word Aloud

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Audio | Word Aloud


At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Audio | Word Aloud


Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Audio | Word Aloud


If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

Ash Wednesday | T.S. Eliot | Christian Poetry | Faith In Jesus Christ | Transformation | Healing | Redemption | Audio | Word Aloud


Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.