Each week during Eastertide I am posting a poem that helps me engage more meaningfully with Jesus’ resurrection. Here is stanza IV of T. S. Eliot’s poem “East Coker,” which is from Four Quartets (1943). Thomas Stearns Eliot is probably the most famous twentieth-century English-language poet, renowned for his groundbreaking work typified in poems like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1911) and The Wasteland (1922). Eliot was born in the United States but resided in England for most of his adult life.
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
Previous poems in this series:
George Herbert, “Easter Wings”
Denise Levertov, “On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus“
Christian Wiman, “Every Riven Thing“