T.S. Eliot helps this Mexican jumping bean get to essential.

The paring knife of life keeps peeling. In restlessness, in exasperation, on the edge of falling, I keep coming to:

What is essential here?

It is a question both clean and powerful. It moves around the immovable, leaving bullshit in its wake. Sitting in that question is sitting in kindness. Which isn’t necessarily the same as nice.

In the midst of turmoil “what is essential here?” is a beacon, a steadfast light in an otherwise thick mist. It motions me toward a resting place much like airport workers in their orange vests on the tarmac waving a plane toward its spot to park.

Essence. In a time of endless slogans, causes, and preachy propaganda (no matter the side) telling me what’s wrong with me and how its answer will be my sure salvation, I crave expression that is pared of justification and excuse. I crave communication that doesn’t hem and haw or beat around the bush– my bush or any bush.

Essential often looks like symbols and metaphors that tell a story without blah blah blah. Literature that cuts to the chase, without, for even an instant, sacrificing beauty or truth. In fact, one might say truth is essence’s brush, beauty its palette of paints.

Excellent poetry is exactly that. Which brings me to T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”

It is the lightest and skinniest book of essential beauty that has ever not weighed down my shoulder. It is sheer inspiration, brilliantly simple and multilayered at once, not an extraneous word to be found.

Even when it circles back around its theme, it is shining a light on something in a new place, or in a slightly different hue. And I am changed.

What Eliot describes invariably speaks to where I am in this ever repetitive but never quite identical journey. He speaks of time. He speaks of seasons. He speaks of beginnings and ends, of birth and of death. Of hope, of faith, of fear, and of love. In short, life. I can open that little book anywhere and be blown to the moon.

Lately, my difficulty has been in waiting, in staying at the still point. Change is afoot (is it ever not?) and the water is murky murky murky. I can’t will the dust to settle and it is hard to wait. What I thought was supposed to happen by now has not –or has it?– and what I thought should not have happened, has –or has it?

Waiting. Sometimes it’s hard for this Mexican jumping bean-girl.

T.S. Eliot’s words come to me right there like warm oil on an achy, tired body. Here is a passage from Four Quartets (East Coker):

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

9 Responses to T.S. Eliot helps this Mexican jumping bean get to essential.

  1. Heidi — you begin by slamming me with images one after another and then, you end with that… absolutely fabulous.

  2. Eileen says:

    So beautiful, both your words and his.

    Wishing you some calm comfort at the stillpoint…

    Love ~ E.

  3. Oh! How did I get to nearly 40 without reading those beautiful words!

    They remind me a little of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:

    Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.

    Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

  4. Karen says:

    Oh Heidi,
    I so love your blog :) I’d left this page open yesterday, to come back to and savour properly. I came to it this evening, having just listened to Wild Mountain Thyme…how serendipitous was that, given TS Eliot’s words! They have long spoken to me but are especially pertinent at this time….thank you so much.

  5. Heidi Fischbach says:

    OK, first off *kisses* for all! Kisses, kisses, kisses. Reading your comments is about as good as opening an advent calendar when I was a kid. Big loves to you.

    And yes, love that Rilke passage. Have loved it for a long long time, longer than most things I’ve ever loved. And how exciting to introduce a Letters to a Young Poet fan to another fantastic little book of essential beauty. But I already said that.

    OK, moving on. What is this Wild Mountain Thym and why do I not know whatof you speak, karen? Now I must investigate. More things to love. Oh my. In addition to the Munch’s The Scream moments, there is this, isn’t there. New things to love.

    Thank you!

  6. Michelle Russell says:

    Oh, Heidi, the deliciousness! I’m catching up on my favorite blogs, and how right you are about the waiting. How perfectly fitting for where I am now. On the outside, things are moving and shaking, but internally I’m hanging in this void where my inevitable new direction is uncertain. And I *abhor* not being able to achieve closure. So your and Mr. Eliot’s reminders couldn’t be better timed. :)

    What struck me the most in what you wrote is this:
    "I am drawn to things that speak the language of essence. In a time of endless slogans and causes, and preachy propaganda (no matter the side) telling me what’s wrong with me and how its answer will be my sure salvation, I crave expression that is pared of excess, justification, and excuse."

    Oh, YES. I’m looking for that, too.

    And that poem! I agree with Bridget above–how did I go for so long without knowing of it? Thank you, thank you!

  7. Heidi Fischbach says:

    OK, everybody? The above-quoted verses are but a passage from The Four Quartets. So if you loved them, you must–no, you MUST–get thyselves a copy of that little book. I’m telling you: the man did not win a Nobel prize for nothing. And Four Quartets is sheer brilliance. Pretty much the whole book is chockfull of lines like the above that I quoted. Just sayin’, um, GET IT!

    Michelle, I suspect you and I are not alone in that craving for essential communication, without angles and agendas… Maybe this oversaturation of slogans and propaganda and blahblahblah is simply needed to bring us back to a balance. But oh, essential… ahhhhh.

    Big loves–


  8. […] would rather not bother. It’s about noticing what seems to’ve become my question of the year: what’s essential here? It’s about simplifying. It’s about making room for joy. It’s about helping people understand […]

  9. David says:

    An amazing poem!

    Thanks –


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