The voice of Lancelot Andrewes in Eliot's Ash-Wednesday.
how much less interest to our present generation in America are Mr Eliot's however sincere preoccupations with out-cocteauing M Cocteau in what is to American-born eyes the so much swankier English Church. (296) </pre> <p>Who could begrudge such critics their cynicism? The poet they had come to revere as the voice of daily death in modern America was now to be identified not just with Christianity, but with England? It is little wonder that, as Eloise Knapp Hay notes, "Van Wyck Brooks and other patriotic American critics scathingly paired him with Henry James as another failed American" (15). To such critics it was inconceivable that Eliot would ever again enjoy the admiration he had merited in such works as "Prufrock" and The Waste Land.
It is noteworthy that when Eliot officially acknowledged his conversion, it was in his preface to a collection of critical essays entitled For Lancelot Andrewes. In the years leading up to this event, the seventeenth-century Bishop of Winchester had become something of an obsession for Eliot. Two years before his baptism into the Anglican Church, he had written the leading essay of the collection named above, in which, notwithstanding his great fondness for the metaphysicals, he extolled Andrewes's prose style above that of Donne. And of course, as is readily acknowledged, the first lines of "Journey of the Magi," written only one year before, were an almost word-for-word borrowing from a sermon on the Nativity that Andrewes preached at Whitehall in 1622. Critics have been comparatively silent, however, about the voice of Andrewes in Ash-Wednesday, the first of Eliot's major poems to follow his public conversion.
This is not to say that readers of the poem fail to apprehend Andrewes's influence. It is not unusual for someone to note that Eliot adopts the concepts of "turning" and "turning again" from the bishop's Ash-Wednesday sermon of 1619. But this allusion is not of the sort that can be catalogued and put to rest in the same way as might, for example, a nod to the Rubaiyat in Four Quartets. Rather, it marks a thoroughgoing identification of a modern poet with an early modern churchman, and this at the most important "turning point" in Eliot's life thus far: his conversion.
In an unpublished dissertation on Eliot and Andrewes, Brad Dale Gooch seeks to account for the relationship between the two by tracing through Eliot's works a sort of poetic drama in which the poet eventually comes to expropriate the bishop's traditional and public persona as a symbolic "mask" to his own political, religious, and literary allegiances. "I have come to realize," Gooch concludes, "that the relationship between these two writers can finally be reduced to one irreducible word. At first I supposed this word to be 'influence'--that Andrewes' sermons influenced Eliot's own writing style and theology. But I now feel that the key word is, rather, 'use,' and the activity reversed" (287).
This conception of Eliot's "use" of Andrewes is compelling, but Gooch employs it primarily to emphasize the continuities between the early writer of such poems as "The Hippopotamus" and the mature poet who wrote "Burnt Norton." As a result, he tends to understate the one detail that Eliot and his severest critics would have agreed on: that since he now deemed himself a fundamentally different person, his future work would necessarily be different from The Waste Land. Thus the Andrewes we discover in the later work is not simply a "mask" for Eliot--as is, for example, the voice of Baudelaire among so many in The Waste Land, or of Gerontion in the poem that bears his name. Rather, Andrewes is to Eliot a kind of teacher--a spiritual and artistic model for the newly converted poet.
ASH-WEDNESDAY is a poem about repentance and conversion, and one that undertakes to portray the kinds of changes the soul must undergo in true penitence. Accordingly, its tone is often dreary, like the midwinter midweek of its title. Its second line, "Because I do not hope," is more than a repetitive device meant to image the act of turning; it is an explicit statement of a spiritual hopelessness that never lies far beneath the surface of the poem, even in its brighter moments. Despairing of original sin, Eliot's narrator affirms at the outset that he "cannot drink / There, where trees flower, and springs flow" (14-15). It is fitting, therefore, that the setting of Part II should evoke a desert, specifically Ezekiel's valley of dry bones. Because in repenting one must acknowledge the hopelessness of a sinful nature, the very act of doing so is a bitter one requiring a desert place, a Waste Land where there can be no promise of renewal. This is the only birthright of sinners, "the land which ye / Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity/Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance" (93-95).
In the Ash Wednesday sermon where Eliot finds his motif of "turning," (1) Andrewes too considers the natural setting appropriate to repentance. He maintains that the Church "hath found this [...] keeping of continual Sabbaths and Fasts, this keeping the memory of Christ's birth and resurrection all the year long hath done no good; hurt rather." He deems it most fitting, therefore, to reflect on sin and the turning from it, as "the earth and all her plants, after a dead winter, return to the first and best season of the year" (357). To Andrewes, Ash Wednesday--indeed, the entire season of Lent --is an occasion for contemplating the human situation in natural terms: as such, it is a bitter exercise, for in midwinter nature can be ashen indeed. Yet because Christ's death and resurrection bring hope to a hopeless situation, there is a "first and best season," a new Eden, to look forward to. Ashes and winter may prevail for a time, but for those who are contrite, "to this lugentes there belongeth a beati, 'blessed they that thus mourn.'" Indeed, were it not for Easter, "the highest and most solemn feast in the year," (374) there would be little point in observing Ash Wednesday.
There is a hint of Easter in Eliot's poem as well, though the poet never goes so far as to mention it by name. Yet like Andrewes, Eliot relies on a seasonal setting to evoke the "beati" In Part VI of Ash-Wednesday, he does so by recalling a very specific landscape: the granite shore of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where he spent happy summers as a boy. Here "From the wide window towards the granite shore/The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying / Unbroken wings" (192-94). Helen Gardner aptly observes that the two types of landscape in the poem--the desert of Part II and the shore of Part VI--have the power to evoke very distinct responses in readers. She designates the desert as a "landscape of the imagination, made up, designed, born of reading, reflection, and tradition, and perhaps of private dreams" (318) (to which one might add contemplation of sin) whereas the granite shore is a "landscape of memory" (320). It is this second landscape, this summer place, that finally points to the hope of resurrection. Here, indeed, is "the Garden / Where all love ends" (87-88), which the poet can only dream of bitterly as he ponders his sin in a spiritual desert.
THOMAS Fuller admiringly wrote that Andrewes</p> <pre> had those gifts and graces, both of art and nature, so fixed in him as that this age cannot parallel him; for his profundity and abyss of learning was accompanied with wit, memory, judgment, languages, gravity, and humility: insomuch that if he had been contemporary with the ancient fathers of the primitive church, he would have been, and that worthily, reputed not inferior to the chiefest among them. (173) </pre> <p>The Bishop of Winchester was astonishingly learned, even by the standards of the Jacobean court, and when he was at his best he did not condescend to a congregation. "His method," according to his biographer Robert L. Ottley, was "to 'divide' his text, and to deal with it exhaustively" (129). Doing so called for a careful, phrase-by-phrase consideration of the biblical text, one that normally entailed a return to its exact rendering in the Vulgate. Accordingly, Eliot himself acknowledges that for most moderns "the sermons of Andrewes are not easy reading. They are only for the reader who can elevate himself to the subject" (Andrewes 18).
A feature contributing to the difficulty of the sermons is their allusive nature: in approaching them, one must be prepared for a dense, intertextual use of Scripture together with classical references and citations of the Church Fathers. Nor does Andrewes hesitate to employ direct quotations from the Greek and Hebrew, though he generally follows these with translations. It is not therefore surprising that Ottley should note "apparent fragmentariness" as one of the hallmarks of an Andrewes sermon--though at the same time, he admits that even this fragmentation contributes to the "wonderful freshness, strength, and terseness" of Andrewes's homiletic style.
It is a remarkable homiletic style, to be sure, and one that Fuller held inimitable, reporting that</p> <pre> such plagiarists who have stolen his sermons could never steal his preaching, and could make nothing of that whereof he made all things as he desired. Pious
and pleasant bishop [Nicholas] Felton (his contemporary and colleague) endeavored in vain in his sermon to assimilate his style; and therefore
said merrily of himself, "I had almost marred my own natural trot, by endeavoring to imitate his artificial amble." (358) </pre> <p>Eliot, by contrast, is among modern poets singularly adept at "ambling" in this fragmented and allusive fashion. One is not, at any rate, surprised to find him applauding such qualities as Andrewes's "ordonnance, or arrangement and structure, precision in the use of words, and relevant intensity" (Andrewes 19)--for the poet was quite in the habit of praising those who were like himself.
And indeed, fragments, allusions, and snatches of languages other than English are to be found everywhere in The Waste Land. But the method of this earlier poem, in which the poet "shores up" such remains, by no means coincides with that of an Andrewes sermon. In The Waste Land, the poet proceeds by cobbling together the lifeless and incongruous material of modern life--a method that is, at best, a work of survival and not one of redemption. And in this respect, The Waste Land is a very different sort of poem from Ash-Wednesday. Hugh Kenner writes admiringly that Ash-Wednesday is "a wholly transparent network of allusions, tacitly nourished, like a nervous system, from secret sources among which research will discover nothing irrelevant" (224). But the purpose of the allusive network here is quite distinct from that of The Waste Land. In Ash-Wednesday the poet is not finally concerned with representing the chaotic despair of modern living, though he undoubtedly portrays this state in the bitter desert of Part II, a setting that would not be out of place in the earlier poem. Yet even as the narrator seeks to "set down" the experience of true penitence, he also glances longingly toward the garden. (2) It is no accident that the "Lady of silences" of the second stanza and the staircase of the third are borrowed, respectively, from Dante and John of the Cross, for the Italian poet and the Spanish mystic are, like Andrewes, models for the redemptive poetic work he envisions for himself. The images he borrows from them embody what is, to Theodore Morrison, the poem's very theme: the paradoxical reconciliation of heaven and earth (281).
To render this in Eliot's own language, we might say that in Ash-Wednesday the poet seeks to derive a world from a word. This seems to be what Eliot most admired about Andrewes, who, he writes, "takes a word and derives the world from it; squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning which we should never have supposed any word to possess" (Andrewes 24-25). It is perhaps in Part V of Ash-Wednesday that Eliot most nearly approaches this quality of Andrewes's style:</p>
<pre> If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent, If the unheard, unspoken Word is unspoken, unheard; Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard, The Word without a word, the Word within The world and for the world; And the light shone in darkness and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word. (149-57) </pre> <p>It is significant that the word the poet is whirling here--the word from which he is trying to derive a world--is the word Word. For it is Christ, the living Word, who hears the cry of his people and redeems the world. Without this Word, there is no world for the poet to derive; without this Word, all is Waste Land.
Eliot's "juicing" of the divine Word here is usefully compared with a passage from a 1614 Nativity sermon in which Andrewes derives a world and more from another name associated with Jesus:</p> <pre> For if this child be "Immanuel, God with us," then without this Child, this Immanuel, we be without God. "Without him in this world," saith the Apostle; and if without him in this, without Him in the next; and if without Him there--if it be not Immanu-el, it will be Immanu-hell; and that and no other place will fall, I fear me, to our share. Without him, this we are. What with Him? Why, if we have Him, and God by Him, we need no more; Immanu-el and Immanu-all. (145) </pre> <p>Ottley ascribes the abundance of Andrewes's "lively wit and pungent irony," of which this excerpt is just one example, to "the habit of the time" (140), but to Eliot there is something extraordinary about Andrewes. "In an age of adventure and experiment in language," he writes, "Andrewes is one of the most resourceful of authors in his devices for seizing the attention and impressing the memory" (27).
Ottley lists among Andrewes's merits his having "caught from Scripture some measure of the 'spirit of revelation'; a deep and strong sense of the range and comprehensiveness of Christian truth" (132). And indeed, even as the living Word--Immanuel--is the creative principle that derives a world, so is the written Word a revelation that demands a creative exposition. Accordingly, Andrewes's Ash Wednesday sermon of 1619 and, by extension, Eliot's poem, are not merely works that "say something" about their underlying biblical text, Joel 2:12-13; they are also works that "do something." They enact the spiritual turning that, as Andrewes himself explains, is enacted by the biblical text:</p> <pre> [M]uch after a circle is this text; begins with the word "turn," and returns about to the same word again. Which circle consists, to use the prophet's own words, of two turnings; for twice he repeats this
word, which two must needs be two different motions. 1. One, is to be done with the "whole heart": 2. The other with it "broken and rent." So as one and the same it cannot be. First, a "turn," wherein we look forward to God, and with our "whole heart" resolve to "turn" to Him. Then a turn again, wherein we look backward to our sins wherein we have turned from God, and with beholding them our very heart breaketh. (358-59) </pre> <p>Structurally, the sermon itself enacts just such a circular movement. Beginning with a consideration of the nunc or "now," with which the Joel text opens, indicating a temporal call to repentance, the bishop turns to consider the turning of the seasons, first of the church calendar and then of the soul. As he proceeds to explicate the passage, he insists that "repentance itself is nothing else but redire ad principia, 'a kind of circling,' to return to Him by repentance from Whom by sin we have turned away" (358). Accordingly, exploring the twofold motion of spiritual turning--first to God in longing, then to sin in contrition--Andrewes completes the circle, returning to the nunc with which he began:</p> <pre> For, as in a circle, I return to the first word "now," which giveth us our time when we should enter our first degree;--"now therefore." And when all is done we shall have something to do to bring this to a nunc, to a time present. But besides that "now" at this time, it is the time that all things turn, now is the only sure part of our time. (373) </pre> <p>Thus the sermon that informs the idea of turning in Ash-Wednesday is itself a kind of turning in language; structurally, it enacts the spiritual movement that is its subject.
Eliot's poem involves a similar poetic. As Ash-Wednesday begins, we find its narrator "turning over" the occasion of turning--the "nunc" that is Ash-Wednesday. In doing so, he enacts the twofold movement of repentance described by Andrewes. He looks to God, from whom, he says, "I do not hope to turn again," but then he looks back to his sin and doubts the efficacy of his resolve--thus the second verse moves no farther than "Because I do not hope" (1-2). Ultimately, the narrator hopes that he will not turn back--not repent repentance--but well aware of his propensity to sin, he is inclined to despair of divine grace even as he prays for it:</p> <pre> [I] pray to God to have mercy upon us And I pray that I may forget These matters that with myself I too much discuss Too much explain Because I do not hope to turn again [... ]. (26-30) </pre> <p>Paradoxically, it is only by despairing of his ability to turn to God that the sinner is able to rise above "the deceitful face of hope and of despair" (101) that dominates Parts I and II. Thus the progression of the soul in Part III can be a negative one only. The movement here is again circular, but this time it spirals upward, indicating a return to God. It is, to be sure, a return of which the poet knows he is unworthy (117-18), and for this reason he must end as he began, turning between hope and despair: "Although I do not hope to turn again/Although I do not hope/Although I do not hope to turn" (185-87). Thus here, at the end of the poem, we find Eliot, as we found Andrewes, at the "nunc" with which he began. Easter, the sinner's only hope for redemption, may just be in view, but in the meanwhile the narrator is caught in a Lenten "time of tension between dying and birth" (204), a time for caring even though, by God's grace, the Christian finally has no cause for care. To Andrewes and Eliot alike, to care in this way is what it means to observe Ash Wednesday.
As Eliot begins his poem, it is with a sense of resignation that seems to pose a threat to his poetic art. "Because I do not hope to turn / Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope/I no longer strive to strive towards such things," he writes in Part I (3-5), where he also expresses a desire to "sit still" (39), reflecting that his "wings are no longer wings to fly/But merely vans to beat the air" (24-25). In these terms Ash-Wednesday effectively conveys the pain of the convert who, in undergoing a radical inner change, has had to break away from a world he once cherished. (3) "Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?" he asks (6), recognizing that he is no longer the kind of poet who can write a Waste Land.
He cannot do so honestly, at least, for he has turned away from what Kierkegaard would term "finitude's despair"--precisely the kind of despair that so profoundly informs the earlier poem (63-65). In the first part of Ash-Wednesday, however, he very nearly approaches the other extreme, "infinitude's despair"--the despair of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good (Kierkegaard 60-63). Yet the poet does not sustain this tendency beyond the first part of the poem. Rather, his identification with the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah in Part II implies a relation between the modern religious poet and the ancient prophet. Each may cry in the shame of human sinfulness, "Lord I am not worthy/Lord I am not worthy" (117-18); nevertheless, each has an obligation to "speak the word" (119); each bears a responsibility to the people of God.
While Eliot tentatively identifies with such Old Testament prophets as he moves through the paradoxes of religious conversion in Part II, the poem as a whole more nearly aligns him with Bishop Andrewes. One of the highest compliments Ottley pays to Andrewes is to note that the bishop "believed simply and devoutly in the power of truth to work its own way," preferring "to combat the various forms of error that prevailed in his day, not by polemical statements, but by the clear, luminous, and positive exhibition of Christian truth" (123). Andrewes felt that the early Church of England had three pressing needs: definite doctrinal teaching, a higher standard of personal life among clergy, and ministers who possessed a truly pastoral spirit (33-34). It is telling, I think, that two of these concern the behavior of the clergy. Ottley quotes a letter that may indicate the level of sycophancy to which a churchman in the Jacobean court might have been tempted to descend:</p> <pre> [The king] doth wondrously covet learned discourse. He doth admire good fashion in clothes, and pray you give good heed hereunto .... In your discourse you must not dwell too long on any
one subject, and touch but lightly on religion. Do not yourself say "this is good or bad," but "if it were your majesty's good opinion I myself should think so and so." (Qtd. in Ottley 45) </pre> <p>But Andrewes, of course, was not one to follow such advice. In the same Ash Wednesday sermon we have been considering here, he writes: "Our charge is to preach to men, non quae volunt audire, sed quae volunt audisse, 'not what for the present they would hear, but what another day they would wish they had heard'" (358). The bishop seems to have practiced what he preached in this respect: personally, he was "unambitious, unobtrusive, unworldly," and while James was coarse and hated contradiction, "the sincere simplicity and gravity of Andrewes is said to have kept him in restraint" (Ottley 48). The Church Fathers themselves, Fuller observes, were no less "faithfully cited in his books, than lively copied out in his countenance and carriage; his gravity in a manner awing King James, who refrained from that mirth and liberty, in the presence of this prelate, which otherwise he assumed to himself" (39).
"If our doctrine is a derision and our life a scandal," writes Andrewes of the pastoral calling, "it must be that not in a moment, not in the twinkling of an eye, but gradually, your church establishment will grow old, decay, and tend to vanish away because of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof" (Qtd. in Ottley 35). We. may imagine that in surveying his own earlier work, the newly converted Eliot found much "derisive doctrine" to regret. This, at least, helps to account for the refrain that we find near the end of Ash-Wednesday, where, echoing the prophet Micah, (4) the narrator repeatedly asks</p> <pre>
O my people, what have I done unto thee. (158, 176, 184) </pre> <p>Yet even as Eliot turns backward in contrition toward his secular past, he turns forward in readiness toward a new poetic vocation through which he might yet hope against hope to restore "With a new verse the ancient rhyme" and thereby to "Redeem/The time" (137-38).
This resolution to hope against hope lends the poem a quality that can only be described as prayerful--and indeed, the poet Stephen Spender has gone so far as to argue that prayer itself is both "subject and hero" of Ash-Wednesday (126). Be this as it may, the voice we hear in the poem is inarguably quieter and more meditative than those that speak in Eliot's earlier poetry. If, as a result, the narrator seems somehow less personal than Prufrock, Gerontion, or one of the many "characters" of The Waste Land, this should not be altogether surprising. For in Ash-Wednesday Eliot has taken a decisive new turning, and one that will reach its culmination in his late masterpiece Four Quartets. Taken together, these later poems register a choice taken by a poet who was never, at any rate, content to be acknowledged "the voice of a generation." In the homilies of Lancelot Andrewes, Eliot found a voice better suited to a new calling: that of speaking the Word. It was one from which he would not turn again.
Andrewes, Lancelot. "A Sermon Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on the Tenth of February, A.D. MDCXIX, Being Ash-Wednesday." The Works of Lancelot-Andrewes Sometime Bishop of Winchester. Vol 1. 1854. New York: AMS, 1967.
--. "A Sermon Preached Before the King's Majesty, at Whitehall, on Sunday, the Twenty-Fifth of December, A.D. MDCXIV, Being Christmas-Day." Works 1: 145.
Eliot, T.S. The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950. New York: Harcourt, 1962.
--. For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order. London: Faber, 1928.
Fuller, Thomas. Abel Redevivus; or The Dead Yet Speaking: The Lives and Deaths of the Modern Divines. 1651. Vol. 2. Ed. William Nichols. London: Tegg, 1867.
--. The Church History of Britain; from the Birth of Jesus Christ until the Year M.DC. XLVIII. 1662. Ed. J. S. Brewer. Vol. 6. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1845.
--. Dr. Fuller's Worthies of England. 1662. Ed. P. Austin Nuttall. Vol. 2. London: Tegg, 1840.
Gardner, Helen. "The Landscapes of Eliot's Poetry." Critical Quarterly. 10 (1968).
Gooch, Brad Dale. "A Homiletic Strain: T.S. Eliot's Use of Lancelot Andrewes," Diss.: Columbia U, 1986.
Hay, Eloise Knapp. "Conversion and Expatriation: T.S. Eliot's Dual Allegiance." The Fire and the Rose: New Essays on T.S. Eliot. Eds. Vinod Sena and Rajiva Verma. Dehli: Oxford UP, 1992.
Kenner, Hugh. The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot. London: Methuen, 1960.
Kierkegaard, Soren. The Sickness unto Death. 1849. Trans. Alastair Hannay. London: Penguin, 1989.
Mangan, Sherry. "A Note on the Somewhat Premature Apotheosis of Thomas Steams Eliot." Pagany 1. 1930: 23-36. Rpt in. Graham Clarke, ed. T. S. Eliot: Critical Assessments, Vol. 1. London: Helm, 1990.
Morrison, Theodore. "Ash Wednesday: A Religious History." The New England Quarterly. Vol. 11. (June 1938).
Ottley, Robert L. Lancelot Andrewes. London: Methuen, 1894.
Spender, Stephen. Eliot. London: Fontana, 1975.
Webb, Eugene. "The Way Up and the Way Down: The Redemption of Time in T.S. Eliot's 'Ash Wednesday' and Four Quartets." The Dark Dove: The Sacred and Secular in Modern Literature. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1975. 194-236.
(1) All quotations from Eliot's poems, hereafter cited in text, are from T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950. New York: Harcourt, 1962.
(2) Kenner suggests that the 'T' of Ash-Wednesday may be identified with the narrator of "Journey of the Magi," and that the narrator of the later work picks up where the other left off (226). It is indeed true that the two poems are related, and it is Andrewes who brings them together: his Nativity sermon of 1622 furnishes the context for the beginning of "Journey of the Magi," and his Ash-Wednesday sermon of 1619 informs both poems. "Set down this," proclaims Bishop Andrewes in the Ash-Wednesday sermon, "that ... 'rending' ... [is] the principal and most proper act of a true turning unto God" (372); "set down / This set down / This: were we led all that way for / Birth or Death?" asks the narrator of "Journey of the Magi" (33-36).
(3) According to Eugene Webb, "When Eliot finally converted in 1927, it involved a break with much of his past. For one thing, it set him apart from many in his social and literary milieu. By the mid-1920's he had become a prominent figure; he was famous as the author of poems that were regarded as voicing the feelings of a generation, and he had become an influential critic as the author of, for example, The Sacred Wood, and as editor of the Criterion. He also had widely ranging friendships among the other principal figures of the London literary world. This was a largely secularist milieu, and there were few among either his friends or his readers whom he could not have expected to react with anything but disdain when he eventually made known his conversion to Christian belief." (202)
(4) cf. Micah 6:3
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Cultural confessions: penance and penitence in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and The Marble Faun.|
|Next Article:||The prodigal son parable and Maclean's A River Runs through It.|