East Coker: A Footnote

I’ve written twice about Eliot’s poem East Coker in recent months: Little Gidding, the Vicar of Dibley…. (Previous post) and Culture and Revolution in Ningxia Province (May 11)

East Coker’s not too far from here, so I’ve paid my respects to Eliot’s ashes a number of times, but never before with a camera at hand.  Here are some photos from last week’s visit:

St Michael’s Church

The Eliot corner contains the poet’s ashes:

The poem takes us outside the church, down the lane…

And the deep lane insists on the direction/Into the village

….and into the fields, where Eliot describes  a historical vision of the villagers:

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…

I discussed this rather surprising ‘vision’ in my last post. It starts off as an apparent affirmation of continuity, the importance of ritual and the sacrament of marriage, but suddenly morphs into a picture of the rural life as symbolic of a doomed life without Christian grace (‘dung and death’).

I couldn’t disagree more with Eliot ideologically, but every time I engage with him I’m left echoing the words of William Empson: I don’t know how much of my mind he invented.

 

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “East Coker: A Footnote

  1. Charles W Spurgeon

    Jon, many thanks for your pilgrimages to Little Gidding and East Coker, and for your thoughtful commentary and photographs. I am not a blogger, so my finding your work is accidental (if there are such things as ‘accidents’), and I wish I could joing your in your excursions, but I am a few thousand miles away in Huntington Beach, California.
    Your photos include one of my favorite places to stay–the pig sties at LG. Truly, the middle ‘pig sty’ on your photo was once my summer residence when I stayed at LG with the then active Community of Christ the Sower and helped work on the farm. (I was also working on my doctoral dissertation, which was very much inspired by J H Shorthouse and T S Eliot. Happily, there are a few copies of my work at LG.)
    I have been spending my summers in England, mostly in London, for the past 34 years, and your photos and comments remind me of wonderful days at East Coker and Little Gidding. As a retired professor of English literature, I also appreciate your views about Christianity. Your blogs help give some new interest and I hope new life to T S Eliot’s commitment to Christian art. He was much more conservative than I am, but I have often shared worship with him in the ‘communion of saints’ at St Stephens, Gloucester Road, Little Gidding, Westminster Abbey, and other places his poetry, dramas, and literary criticism have led me to.
    Thanks for your blogs–and I wish you well in your future ones! Cheers!
    Charles W Spurgeon

  2. Thanks, Charles, and good to hear from you.

    Burnt Norton is easier to visit now, and I hope to get there next year. We’re about equidistant from the Dry Salvages so we might meet up there
    one day!

    I wasn’t aware of Shorthouse, but will investigate when I have time; at the moment I’m busy with British writers in Hong Kong/China in the 1930s, as they will be the inspiration for my next trip.

    I was very interested in your comments on the time you spent at Little Gidding.You obviously know much more about LG and about Eliot than I do, so if you ever see anything that needs correcting, please let me know.

    All the best,
    Jon

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