Little Surprises Everywhere


Reading Eliot's Four Quartets: East Coker prior to reading Howard's study of the East Coker section of the poem. I stumble onto this very interesting, very surprising passage.

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

The entire poem is a meditation on time (among other things). Here is an interesting moment of becoming "unstuck in time." When I first encountered "In daunsinge" I was ready to run for the dictionary again (Eliot can do that to one.) And then I read"signifying matrimonie," and I started to be clued in. With "A dignified and commodiois sacrament" I knew that I had been transported back into time, most likely to the glorious 17th century, the century of Eliot's beloved metaphysical poets.

Eliot can do that to one, can turn one around and deliver new shocks and surprises in the language. It's both the pleasure and the panic of reading Eliot. Is this a new word, is this made up, or does this have some other meaning? The answer might be all three at once. And yet the poetry is tight and strong and far more interesting that those who followed in imitation, because Eliot still had something to say. Most of his imitators do not.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 6, 2006 9:13 AM.

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