Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Time is a Circle, and Unredeemable

The reason that time has been so present in my thoughts lately is T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, a collection of poems and lyrical prose from the man that is pictured above to be hanging out in my apartment with me and a disembodied hand. I had a professor ask me about seminal texts in my life, books that grounded me, changed me, books that I returned to. I was only introduced to Eliot about 6 months ago, but I've literally been reading this unassuming little book of poems constantly ever since. Much like Ray Lamontagne's "Trouble," It somehow inhabits a wholeness of human experience all at once.

Throughout Four Quartets, Eliot makes clear his obsession with time. Several other recurring concepts in the book have already made their way into songs that I've written this winter, but I think that time has been waiting for me, waiting for this week, to explode into every facet of my thought.

The book is laid out in four sections that archetypically represent the natural seasons. The first section, Burnt Norton, begins:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

Sort of cryptic-sounding at first, but it's pretty simple once you get past the initial syntactical confusion. Eliot is a passionate disbeliever of linear time. At the very least, he's a firm voice for the necessity of living outside of its grasp, of understanding and embracing circularity. I'm going to try.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always -
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned not of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Thanks for the comfort, T.S.

Penultimately (I've got one last piece of this little blog-essay to give you tomorrow), I want to present you with the musician that first showed me what it felt like to encounter a piece of art that exhibited both sweetness and pain, that timelessness and fullness of human experience, like Four Quartets, like "Trouble." I tend to keep Kelly Joe Phelps hidden away from the world, because when my dad took me at 14 to see him play, I developed a really personal connection to the experience. I was taken in by much more than the virtuosity of his musicianship or the deep smokiness of his voice. Somehow the combination of his beautiful, mumbled lyrics and his presence as a performer really crept into the depth of my consciousness, through that back door that unlocks itself when you're in the presence of something truly great and your existence opens up, and you lose all sense of time.

Piece by Piece - Kelly Joe Phelps.

piece by lonely piece the mountainside tumbles away
back down to the river bottom lined with pocket worry stones
a hundred years in hand worn smooth by long grandmother nights
sitting by the rocking chair waiting for the world

oh, if I could roll back all the years and talk to my daddy's dad
about all the fears I’m leaving in that maybe he had had
I might get some light to shine down this dusty old dry well
hear the bucket hit the bottom and the rope come rolling by

when three hundred years has been the time from whence it came
why hadn't someone yet figured out to lower down the gun
and shoot out the middle of this clawing, staring eye?
hear the bucket hit the bottom and the rope come rolling by
sitting by that old rocking chair waiting for the world

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