The Rose of Memory

Lent is a season of penitence and prayer, a solemn occasion marked by reflection. It is a time when Christians focus upon their human frailties. Many decide to forgo worldly indulgences. The imposition of ashes is a pertinent reminder that Adam was created from mere dust and thus confirms our own insignificance in this life. Pride and vanity are symptoms of our uniquely human folly and are quickly banished when we are reminded that we were fashioned from something that now seems so ordinary.

T.S Eliot began to write poetry in a quest to find the meaning of things, he was an erudite man with a vast intellect, studied philosophy including Indian philosophy and learned Sanskrit. However he was deeply troubled by a world that he believed had lost its moral purpose. In 1927 he was confirmed into the Church of England, the religion of his ancestors. This helped him find an anchor to a once lost culture and a heritage.

Three years later he composed “Ash Wednesday”, the most moving evocation of his calling to faith. It is a poem filled with stark imagery, and unforgettable symbols. It illustrates how he wrestled with his conscience, and conflicting desires. The agony is plain from the beginning,

“Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope”

Eliot`s humility becomes much clearer in the second stanza,

“Because I cannot drink

There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is

nothing again”

In the second section of the poem Eliot venerates a “Lady”, which clearly alludes to the Virgin Mary. He pays homage to this holy figure in a profoundly affecting style that is reminiscent of the Rosary prayer,

“Lady of silences

Calm and distressed

Torn and most whole

Rose of memory

Rose of forgetfulness

Exhausted and life-giving

Worried reposeful

The single Rose

Is now the Garden

Where all loves end

Terminate torment

Of love satisfied

End of the endless

Journey to no end

Conclusion of all that

Is inconclusible

Speech without word and

Word of no speech

Grace to the Mother

For the Garden

Where all love ends.”

The notion that silent reflection can hasten a greater understanding of humanity than the loud proclamations of the verbose isn`t recognised by society today. It is unfashionable to be thoughtful and quiet. In Eliot`s time the humble parson was a familiar part of life, but now it seems only shallow characters preach from secular pulpits. They promote ideas that only perpetuate misery. There is only short term satisfaction living purely for wealth, status or influence.

In the final section of the poem Eliot makes a plea to God to,

“Teach us to sit still

Even among these rocks

Our peace in His will

And even among these rocks

Sister, mother

And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,

Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.”

Eliot`s pleas deserve to be heeded in a culture that only reveres the proud egoists.