Monday, January 11, 2016

Finishing the "Ariel" Poems

By T.S. Eliot

Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
What images return
O my daughter.

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning
Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning
Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning

Are become insubstantial, reduced by a wind,
A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog
By this grace dissolved in place

What is this face, less clear and clearer
The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger—
Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye
Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet
Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
And woodthrush calling through the fog
My daughter.

This one I conclude with, because it is one of the "Ariel" poems of Eliot, and because it is echoed in this, another of my favorite poems.

Examination at the Womb-Door

Who owns those scrawny little feet?    Death.
Who owns this bristly scorched-looking face?    Death.
Who owns these still-working lungs?    Death.
Who owns this utility coat of muscles?    Death.
Who owns these unspeakable guts?    Death.
Who owns these questionable brains?    Death.
All this messy blood?    Death.
These minimum-efficiency eyes?    Death.
This wicked little tongue?    Death.
This occasional wakefulness?    Death.

Given, stolen, or held pending trial?

Who owns the whole rainy, stony earth?    Death.
Who owns all of space?    Death.

Who is stronger than hope?    Death.
Who is stronger than the will?    Death.
Stronger than love?    Death.
Stronger than life?    Death.

But who is stronger than Death?
                          Me, evidently.
Pass, Crow.


  1. Eliot does not offer what I would call cheery poetry, but he usually offers at least a shred of hope before the end. Thanks for posting the "Ariel" poems.

  2. He got better. I saw an article from "Paris Review" while I was looking these up that mentioned that "Christmas Trees," the last of the Ariel poems although it was written years after the first four, was much more optimistic and hopeful, reflecting Eliot's turn over several decades toward the hope of the Christian gospel.

    But yeah, in poetry at least, he's not a real happy guy. Glad you liked them. I've ignored them for the most part, until now, and forgot all about "Christmas Trees" because my copy of Eliot's complete poems ends a few years before that late poem was published. So it was nice to pay attention to them again.