from Dove Descending
Thomas Howard

[Writing about "East Coker-IV"

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.]

Readers may get lost there [refering to the last three lines noted above]. Can we put it like this:"Die", by this time in the lyric , is our dath to sin and death and hence our birth into Everlasting Life; and it is God who embraces us with his paternal care, never leaving us, but rather going before us all the way ("prevent" is an archaic ususage, meaning precedes").

Now, "prevents" may well mean precedes, and that is a useful help here. However, "precedes" is just as useful and has both the same number of syllables and same emphasis. So why use prevents rather than precedes here? Do we cherish deiberate obscurity? Is Eliot being precious?

Because Mr. Howard is producing a short commentary to ease people into reading the poem, there simply isn't time and space to note every interesting term and every fascinating poetic choice. Therefore, if you're inclined to indulge, some speculations will be recorded here.

Perhaps Eliot is suggesting that as we grow more aware of God's strength through our own weakness and death, we also become more aware of how we are hedged around by love. That is, His will prevents us everywhere from straying over the cliff into the unredeemable. Indeed, within His mercy there is no unredeemable, and so within His grace those who know Him are "prevented" everywhere from wholly falling out of touch with Him.

There are, perhaps other intricacies involved with this word choice. It seems important because it is more than merely delbierately obscure, and by the rules of poetic diction and analysis, that implies a meaning that is not necessarily transparent, nor so easily arrived at as might be for other lines.

Perhaps it goes without saying how much I am enjoying Mr. Howards reintroduction to the great T.S. Eliot. It's been a while since I've spent so much fruitful time with this, or any, great poet.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 1, 2006 1:51 PM.

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