T. S. Eliot, excerpt from “Choruses from ‘The Rock'”, Il [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is an excerpt from the second part of T. S. Eliot’s poem Choruses from ‘The Rock’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.



Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten or ripe. 
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored. 
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence: 
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of GOD,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance. 
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands alone on the other side of death, 
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you. 
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers; 
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it. 
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without; 
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity 
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity they will decry it. 

What life have you if you have not life together? 
There is no life that is not in community, 
And no community not lived in praise of GOD. 
Even the anchorite who meditates alone, 
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD, 
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate. 
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads, 
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour 
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance, 
But all dash to and fro in motor cars, 
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere. 
Nor does the family even move about together, 
But every son would have his motor cycle, 
And daughters ride away on casual pillions. 

Much to cast down, much to build, much to restore; 
Let the work not delay, time and the arm not waste; 
Let the clay be dug from the pit, let the saw cut the stone, 
Let the fire not be quenched in the forge. 


Previous poems in this series:

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