If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

-- T.S. Eliot -- "Little Gidding"

"Little Gidding" is the brilliant jewel of the ponderous Four Quartets. So much so that Eliot had to issue instructions barring anyone from reproducing "Little Gidding" outside the context of the entire Four Quartets (I wonder what the RDF would look like to express that in some extension of the Creative Common licensing). It used to be the longest poem I had entirely off head, and I still have a good portion of it (I sometimes recite the "Ash on an old man's sleeve" lyric to Osi at bed time).

When I once recited the passage including the above quote at Nsukka's great Anthill Club, some in the audience figured I was a religious fundamentalist of some sort, come to preach. Of course Eliot meant Christian prayer (specifically Anglo-protestant prayer--"No bleedin' 'Ail Marys"), but his expression transcends all that. The words are amazingly apt when held up to indigenous Igbo religion/cosmology, with which I've always been fascinated, but just to be clear, have never practiced (lapsed Catholic Dad, Charismatic Evangelical Mom). Even if you're agnostic, as I am, the words are still a powerful expression of the awe that that certain places carry for us, whether in a natural or a preternatural sense.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia