The Dry Salvages

    The Dry Salvages is a group of rocks off Straitsmouth Island, visible from the Captain's House and lit with  a green flashing beacon at night. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages. The rocks are a hazard to shipping, but might otherwise be unremarkable had they not provided the inspiration and the title for the third poem in T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, published in 1941.

    Thomas Eliot was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 (at age 25) and became a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39. Of his nationality and its role in his work, Eliot said: "[My poetry] wouldn't be what it is if I'd been born in England, and it wouldn't be what it is if I'd stayed in America. It's a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America."

    Eliot began working on The Dry Salvages near the end of 1940 when London was experiencing air-raids . During the time, he moved around often and spent his time writing mostly lectures or tiny poems. However, he was able to find time to work on the third poem that would become part of the Four Quartets. Eliot envisioned that Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and a fourth, uncreated, poem would be united in a set. Eliot wrote the poem quickly and sent the first draft off on January 1, 1941. The poem was soon finished and was published in February 1941 issue of the New English Weekly.

    Eliot knew the Dry Salvages from his boyhood sailing out of Gloucester Harbor; the poem also invokes images of the Mississippi River and Eliot's childhood in St Louis.

    The poem can be described as being about water and hope. It begins with images of the sea, water, and of Eliot's past; this water later becomes a metaphor for life and how humans act. This transitions into an image of a ringing bell and a discussion on time and prayer. Images of men drowning dominate the section before leading into how science and ideas on evolution separate mankind from properly understanding the past. This ends with Krishna stating that the divine will, and not future benefits or rewards, matters. The fourth section is a prayer to the Virgin Mary for fishermen, sailors, and the drowned.

    The end of The Dry Salvages starts with a discussion about how people attempt to see the future through various superstitious means. Then the narrator tries to convince the reader that resignation about death is necessary. However, such resignation should be viewed as pushing the self towards redemption and the eternal life in the next world. By acting properly, one is able to overcome life and move towards the next world.
    T.S. ELIOT


    I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
    Is a strong brown god - sullen, untamed and intractable,
    Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
    Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyer of commerce;
    Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
    The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
    By the dwellers in cities - ever, however, implacable,
    Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
    Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
    By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
    His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,
    In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,
    In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,
    And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

    The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
    The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
    Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
    Its hints of earlier and other creation:
    The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
    The pools where it offers to our curiosity
    The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
    It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
    The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
    And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
    Many gods and many voices.
                                The salt is on the briar rose,
    The fog is in the fir trees.
                                  The sea howl
    And the sea yelp, are different voices
    Often together heard: the whine in the rigging,
    The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water,
    The distant rote in the granite teeth,
    And the wailing warning from the approaching headland
    Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner
    Rounded homewards, and the seagull:
    And under the oppression of the silent fog
    The tolling bell
    Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried
    Ground swell, a time
    Older than the time of chronometers, older
    Than time counted by anxious worried women
    Lying awake, calculating the future,
    Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel
    And piece together the past and the future,
    Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,
    The future futureless, before the morning watch
    When time stops and time is never ending;
    And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning,
    The bell.

    Where is there an end to it, the soundless wailing,
    The silent withering of autumn flowers
    Dropping their petals and remaining motionless;
    Where is there an end to the drifting wreckage,
    The prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable
    Prayer at the calamitous annunciation?

    There is no end, but addition: the trailing
    Consequence of further days and hours,
    While emotion takes to itself the emotionless
    Years of living among the breakage
    Of what was believed in as the most reliable -
    And therefore the fittest for renunciation.

    There is the final addition, the failing
    Pride or resentment at failing powers,
    The unattached devotion which might pass for devotionless,
    In a drifting boat with a slow leakage,
    The silent listening to the undeniable
    Clamour of the bell of the last annunciation.

    Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing
    Into the wind's tail, where the fog cowers?
    We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
    Or of an ocean not littered with wastage
    Or of a future that is not liable
    Like the past, to have no destination.

    We have to think of them as forever bailing,
    Setting and hauling, while the North East lowers
    Over shallow banks unchanging and erosionless
    Or drawing their money, drying sails at dockage;
    Not as making a trip that will be unpayable
    For a haul that will not bear examination.

    There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing,
    No end to the withering of withered flowers,
    To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless,
    To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage,
    The bone's prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable
    Prayer of the one Annunciation.

    It seems, as one becomes older,
    That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence -
    Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
    Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,
    Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past.
    The moments of happiness - not the sense of well-being,
    Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,
    Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination -
    We had the experience but missed the meaning,
    And approach to the meaning restores the experience
    In a different form, beyond any meaning
    We can assign to happiness. I have said before
    That the past experience revived in the meaning
    Is not the experience of one life only
    But of many generations - not forgetting
    Something that is probably quite ineffable:
    The backward look behind the assurance
    Of recorded history, the backward half-look
    Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.
    Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony
    (Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,
    Having hopes for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,
    Is not the question) are likewise permanent
    With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better
    In the agony of others, nearly experienced,
    Involving ourselves, than in our own.
    For our own past is covered by the currents of action,
    But the torment of others remains an experience
    Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.
    People change, and smile: but the agony abides.
    Time the destroyer is time the preserver,
    Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops,
    The bitter apple and the bite in the apple.
    And the ragged rock in the restless waters,
    Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;
    On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,
    In navigable weather it is always a seamark
    To lay a course by: but in the sombre season
    Or the sudden fury; is what it always was.

    I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant -
    Among other things - or one way of putting the same thing:
    That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
    Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
    Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
    And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.
    You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
    That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.
    When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
    To fruit, periodicals and business letters
    (And those who saw them off have left the platform)
    Their faces relax from grief into relief,
    To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.
    Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
    Into different lives, or into any future;
    You are not the same people who left the station
    Or who will arrive at any terminus,
    While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
    And on the deck of the drumming liner
    Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
    You shall not think 'the past is finished'
    Or 'the future is before us'.
    At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial
    Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
    The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
    'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
    You are not those who saw the harbour
    Receding, or those who will disembark,
    Here between the hither and the farther shore
    While time is withdrawn, consider the future
    And the past with an equal mind.
    At the moment which is not of action or inaction
    You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
    The mind of man may be intent
    At the time of death" - that is the one action
    (And the time of death is every moment)
    Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
    And do not think of the fruit of action.
    Fare forward.
                   O voyagers, O seamen,
    You who come to port, and you whose bodies
    Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
    Or whatever event, this is your real destination.'
    So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
    On the field of battle.
                             Not fare well,
    But fare forward, voyagers.

    Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory, 
    Pray for all those who are in ships, those
    Whose business has to do with fish, and
    Those concerned with every lawful traffic
    And those who conduct them.

    Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
    Women who have seen their sons or husbands
    Setting forth, and not returning:
    Figlia del tuo figlio,
    Queen of Heaven.

    Also pray for those who were in ships, and
    Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea's lips
    Or in the dath throat which will not reject them
    Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell's
    Perpetual angelus.

    To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
    To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
    Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
    Observe disease in signatures, evoke
    Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
    And tragedy from fingers; release omens
    By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
    With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
    Or barbituric acids, or dissect
    The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors -
    To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual
    Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:
    And always will be, some of them especially
    When there is distress of nations and perplexity
    Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.
    Men's curiosity searches past and future
    And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
    The point of intersection of the timeless
    With time, is an occupation for the saint -
    No occupation either, but something given
    And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
    Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
    For most of us, there is only the unattended
    Moment, the moment in and out of time,
    The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
    The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
    Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
    That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
    While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
    Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
    Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
    The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
    Here the impossible union
    Of spheres of existence is actual,
    Here the past and future
    Are conquered, and reconciled,
    Where action were otherwise movement
    Of that which is only moved
    And has in it no source of movement -
    Driven by daemonic, chthonic
    Powers. And right action is freedom
    From past and future also.
    For most of us, this is the aim
    Never here to be realised;
    Who are only undefeated
    Because we have gone on trying;
    We, content at the last
    If our temporal reversion nourish
    (Not too far from the yew-tree)
    The life of significant soil.