In my Beginning is my End
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of T S Eliot on 4 January, 1965, a passing overshadowed at the time by that of another Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Sir Winston Churchill some twenty days later. Thomas Sterne Eliot, poet, essayist, dramatist had been at the forefront of the Modernist movement for just on fifty years since the publication of ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufock’ in 1915 and had written some of the best known and oft-quoted poetry of the 20th century.
Eliot had been drawn back to the Old Country in 1914, going on to renounce his American citizenship in 1927. Yet while he lived almost all of his life here in London, it was East Coker, in Somerset, from where his ancestor, Andrew Eliot, had emigrated to America in the 17th century, that he saw as his spiritual home and chose as his final resting place.
Having just bought a house in the village, I feel well-pleased having TS Eliot (and the buccaneer, William Dampier), as near neighbours, albeit removed in time. T S Eliot first came into my consciousness at university in the form of the neurotic Prufrock, a man in search of his shadow. The poem was written in that golden age just before the First World War although not published until amidst the carnage of the Western Front and Gallipoli when already the imagery and preoccupations of 1910 – 11 seemed dated and trivial. At one time I knew the poem by heart, revelling in the stripping away of respectability in the journey from King to fool, the layering of images, the time-scored imagery, the unravelling of the narrator and the futility of measuring out one’s life ‘in coffee spoons’ – something I have been guilty of doing ever since. The poem non of Eliot’s poetry although it is, aptly, ‘East Coker’ that serves as a reminder of his presence in St Michael’s Church, on a hill overlooking the village in the Somerset countryside and beyond, where the green fields are sadly threatened with invasion by a housing estate.
With my shift from one phase of life to another, perhaps it is time to take Eliot’s word seriously, that ‘old men ought to be Explorers,’ and to look at the circle of their life’s journey– a quest that also runs through my draft of ‘Turangawaewae’ with its mournful and unrealistic seagull cry for home. The question is, where to start?