The Gidding, Part II
Ash on an old man’s sleeve Is all the ash the burnt roses leave. Dust in the air suspended Marks the place where a story ended. Dust inbreathed was a house- The walls, the wainscot and the mouse, The death of hope and despair, This is the death of air.
There are flood and drouth Over the eyes and in the mouth, Dead water and dead sand Contending for the upper hand. The parched eviscerate soil Gapes at the vanity of toil, Laughs without mirth. This is the death of earth.
Water and fire succeed The town, the pasture and the weed. Water and fire deride The sacrifice that we denied. Water and fire shall rot The marred foundations we forgot, Of sanctuary and choir. This is the death of water and fire.
In the uncertain hour before the morning Near the ending of interminable night At the recurrent end of the unending After the dark dove with the flickering tongue Had passed below the horizon of his homing While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin Over the asphalt where no other sound was Between three districts whence the smoke arose I met one walking, loitering and hurried As if blown towards me like the metal leaves Before the urban dawn wind unresisting. And as I fixed upon the down-turned face That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge The first-met stranger in the waning dusk I caught the sudden look of some dead master Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled Both one and many; in the brown baked features The eyes of a familiar compound ghost Both intimate and unidentifiable. So I assumed a double part, and cried And heard another’s voice cry: “What! are you here?”
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other– And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed To compel the recognition they preceded. And so, compliant to the common wind, Too strange to each other for misunderstanding, In concord at this intersection time Of meeting nowhere, no before and after, We trod the pavement in a dead patrol. I said: “The wonder that I feel is easy, Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak: I may not comprehend, may not remember.” And he:
“I am not eager to rehearse My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten. These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven By others, as I pray you to forgive Both bad and good. Last season’s fruit is eaten And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. But, as the passage now presents no hindrance To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other, So I find words I never thought to speak In streets I never thought I should revisit When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us To purify the dialect of the tribe And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight, Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense Without enchantment, offering no promise But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage At human folly, and the laceration Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment Of all that you have done, and been; the shame Of things ill done and done to others’ harm Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools’ approval stings, and honour stains. From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.”
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction, And faded on the blowing of the horn.