from East Coker by T.S. Eliot
MARGINALIA • SKIP TO THE POEM
R. came by today and poured his heart out. There he was, gasping at the pain of it, clasping at something unnameable on his chest, keening, why does it hurt so much? I held his hand.
I wish I could tell you there was an answer, I began. I held his hand.
He asked me about the people in my life, and I felt my heart constrict a little. At what has gone by. At what has passed. He asked me if I have loved. If I have lost. Our faces are both wet and maybe there is no need for words. I held his hand.
What can we ever really do when we are broken? Because I’ve been here, I tell him, you are loved, and are worthy of being loved. I held his hand.
from East CokerSo here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it, and so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
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This poem appeared in Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, published by Ecco, 1968. Shared here with profound gratitude.
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Thank you for being here all these years—and into the future—as I hold poets to the light.
There is only the trying and the holding of hands in this country we call life.
Thank you for this. I might not throw in the towel yet.