7/19/09

TS Eliot Marina

Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?

What seas what shore what grey rocks and what islands
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog
What images return
O my daughter.

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning 
Death
Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning
Death
Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning
Death
Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning
Death

Are become unsubstantial, reduced by a wind,
A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog
By this grace dissolved in place

What is this face, less clear and clearer
The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger–
Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye

Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet
Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
And woodthrush calling through the fog
My daughter.

In Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, Wittgenstein wrote that death was not an event in life, yet he failed to mention that dying is an event in life. This poem by TS Eliot about Pericles, from Shakepeare's play Pericles, the Prince of Tyre, is one of the most moving descriptions of dying ever written. During the last days of my father's life, my sisters and I took turns watching him through the night. As he lay there sleeping, his body a ravaged vessel – "the rigging weak and the canvas rotten" – he would often become animated, holding out his hand as if to greet someone. We wondered whom and what he was seeing in his dreams – "what seas what shore what grey rocks what islands what water lapping the bow." Still in his sleep, he would mumble words, sometimes in Vietnamese, sometimes in French. It is said that a dying person would often relive the past – "What images return." In Eliot's poem, the image that returns for Pericles is that of his daughter Marina, from whom he had been separated for years and whom he believed to be dead. I wonder if in his meetings with the past my father ever glimpsed his first-born son, who had died while still a young boy. Two days before he passed away, my father called all of us to his bedside and lucidly articulated his readiness to depart, just like Pericles in Eliot's poem:
 "This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships."
There is so much that I will never know. What final calling through the fog did he hear? What images returned? All I have is this poem to ensure that I will never forget those final days.

5 comments:

  1. This is lovely. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. nice poem
    good feelings of a dad

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  3. This is something really personal from a philosophical point of view. Thank you for sharing. It even helped me understand the poem a little bit better.

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  4. Great piece; very moving interweaving of literature and life. Thank you.

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  5. Really, I could feel the essence of the poem, thanks for sharing.

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