Only The Trying

A postscript to my previous post. One thread of conversation on the Dark Mountain blog recently has been the deeper literary roots from which the project is growing, and someone posted an apt passage from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ – the last of the Four Quartets.

It was certainly this that prompted me to pick up the cheap second hand copy of Four Quartets which I came across when I went bookshopping earlier this week, on a mission – accomplished – finally to buy the Selected R.S. Thomas (another DM prompt, also endorsed by my friend Naomi). To revisit these poems – I’m groping for something that doesn’t sound trite – which I’ve read before, which terrify and comfort me in their depths, which sometimes I understand entirely with a shock of recognition, and other times can’t even begin to scratch the surface of.

Anyway, I picked up the book idly while waiting for my computer to start, and opened it here, at exactly the right place. This is Part V of ‘East Coker’.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years ofl’entre deux guerres
Trying 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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