Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

T. S. Eliot, fully Thomas Sterns Eliot

American-born English Poet, Playwright, and Literary Critic

"After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now history has many cunning passages, contrived corridors and issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, guides us by vanities. Think now she gives when our attention is distracted and what she gives, gives with such supple confusions that the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late what’s not believed in, or if still believed, in memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with till the refusal propagates a fear. Think neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices are fathered by our heroism. Virtues are forced upon us by our impudent crimes. These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree. "

"Complete equality means universal irresponsibility."

"Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important... they do not mean to do harm... they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

"It is by no means self-evident that human beings are most real when violently excited: violent physical passions do not in themselves differentiate men from each other, but rather tend to reduce them to the same state."

"In my beginning is my end... In my end is my beginning."

"Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important."

"Time present and time past are both perhaps time future. And time future contained in the time passed. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction remaining of a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been point to one end which is always present. Foot falls echo in the memory down the passage which we did not take towards the door we never opened to the rose garden. My words echo in your mind."

"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. We started and know the place for the first time. Through the unknown remembered gate where the earth left to discover is that which was the beginning. At the source of the longest river, the voice of the hidden waterfall and the children in the apple tree. Not known, because not looked for. But heart, half heard in the stillness between two waves of the sea. Quick now, here, now always a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything. And all shall beware and all manner of things shall beware when the tongues of flames are enfolded into the crown not of fire, and the fire and the rose are one."

"A tradition without intelligence is not worth having."

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, where the past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point , the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance. I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where. And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time. The inner freedom from the practical desire, the release from action and suffering, release from the inner and outer compulsion, yet surrounded by a grace of sense, a white light still and moving..."

"Any religion... is for ever in danger of petrifaction into mere ritual and habit, though ritual and habit be essential to religion."

"Human kind can not bear very much reality."

"I take as metaphysical poetry that in which what is ordinarily apprehensible only by thought is brought within the grasp of feeling, or that in which what is ordinarily only felt is transformed into thought without ceasing to be feeling."

"Culture is the one thing that we cannot deliberately aim at. It is the product of a variety of more or less harmonious activities, each pursued for its own sake."

"Each venture is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate with shabby equipment always deteriorating in the general mess of imprecision of feeling."

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."

"No poet, no artist, of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them."

"The effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience different in kind from any experience not of art... Great poetry may be made without direct use of any emotion whatever: composed out of feelings solely... It is not the “greatness,” the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, to so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts."

"We are music while the music lasts."

"To each individual in the world will take on a different connotation of meaning - the importance lies in the desire to search for an answer."

"What is hell? Hell is oneself, hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections. There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to. One is always alone."

"We know too much and are convinced of too little."

"What is this self inside us, this silent observer, severe and speechless critic, who can terrorize us and urge us on to futile activity, and in the end, judge us still more severely for the errors into which his own reproaches drove us?"

"Hell is oneself. Hell is alone, and the other figures in it merely projections. There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to. One is always alone... the final desolation of solitude in the phantasmal world of imagination, shuffling memories, and desires."

"Music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts."

"I've been freed from the self that pretends to be someone, and in becoming no-one. I begin to live. It is worth while dying, to find out what life is."

"No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which they took no interest. For it is part of education to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude."

"Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of self."

"The perception of Good and Evil - whatever choice we may make - is the first requisite of spiritual life."

"The last temptation is the greatest reason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason."

"The years between 50 and 70 are the hardest… You are always being asked to do things, and yet you are not decrepit enough to turn them down."

"The young feel tired at the end of an action. The old at the beginning."

"If you haven't the strength to impose your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you."

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

"Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries bring us farther from God and nearer to dust."

"What we call the beginning is often the end and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

"Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question ... Oh, do not ask, "What is it?" Let us go and make our visit. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening, Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys, Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, And seeing that it was a soft October night, Curled once about the house, and fell asleep. And indeed there will be time For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. And indeed there will be time To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?" Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-- (They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!") My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin-- (They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!") Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall Beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume? And I have known the eyes already, known them all-- The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? And how should I presume? And I have known the arms already, known them all-- Arms that are braceleted and white and bare (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!) Is it perfume from a dress That makes me so digress? Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl. And should I then presume? And how should I begin? Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ... I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. * * * And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers, Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me. Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, I am no prophet--and here's no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, And in short, I was afraid. And would it have been worth it, after all, After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, Would it have been worth while, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it towards some overwhelming question, To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"-- If one, settling a pillow by her head Should say: "That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all." And would it have been worth it, after all, Would it have been worth while, After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets, After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor-- And this, and so much more?-- It is impossible to say just what I mean! But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen: Would it have been worth while If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl, And turning toward the window, should say: "That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all." No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-- Almost, at times, the Fool. I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me. I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

"The broad-backed hippopotamus Rests on his belly in the mud; Although he seems so firm to us He is merely flesh and blood. Flesh-and-blood is weak and frail, Susceptible to nervous shock; While the True Church can never fail For it is based upon a rock. The hippo's feeble steps may err In compassing material ends, While the True Church need never stir To gather in its dividends. The 'potamus can never reach The mango on the mango-tree; But fruits of pomegranate and peach Refresh the Church from over sea. At mating time the hippo's voice Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd, But every week we hear rejoice The Church, at being one with God. The hippopotamus's day Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts; God works in a mysterious way-- The Church can sleep and feed at once. I saw the 'potamus take wing Ascending from the damp savannas, And quiring angels round him sing The praise of God, in loud hosannas. Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean And him shall heavenly arms enfold, Among the saints he shall be seen Performing on a harp of gold. He shall be washed as white as snow, By all the martyr'd virgins kist, While the True Church remains below Wrapt in the old miasmal mist."

"They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens, And along the trampled edges of the street I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids Sprouting despondently at area gates. The brown waves of fog toss up to me Twisted faces from the bottom of the street, And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts An aimless smile that hovers in the air And vanishes along the level of the roofs."

"As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: "If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden ..." I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end."

"Sweeney Among the Nightingales - Sweeney spreads his knees Letting his arms hang down to laugh, The zebra stripes along his jaw Swelling to maculate giraffe. The circles of the stormy moon Slide westward toward the River Plate, Death and the Raven drift above And Sweeney guards the horned gate. Gloomy Orion and the Dog Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas; The person in the Spanish cape Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees Slips and pulls the table cloth Overturns a coffee-cup, Reorganized upon the floor She yawns and draws a stocking up; The silent man in mocha brown Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes; The waiter brings in oranges Bananas figs and hothouse grapes; The silent vertebrate in brown Contracts and concentrates, withdraws; Rachel née Rabinovitch Tears at the grapes with murderous paws; She and the lady in the cape Are suspect, thought to be in league; Therefore the man with heavy eyes Declines the gambit, shows fatigue, Leaves the room and reappears Outside the window, leaning in, Branches of wistaria Circumscribe a golden grin; The host with someone indistinct Converses at the door apart, The nightingales are singing near The Convent of the Sacred Heart, And sang within the bloody wood When Agamemnon cried aloud, And let their liquid droppings fall To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud."

"The Cocktail Party - It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous. Resign yourself to be the fool you are. You will find that you survive humiliation And that's an experience of incalculable value. That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost The desires for all that was most dersirable, Before you are contented with what you can desire; Before you know what is left to be desired; And you go on wishing that you could desire What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand. How could you understand what it is to feel old? We die to each other daily. What we know of other people Is only our memory of the moments During which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same Is a useful and convenient social convention Which must sometimes broken. We must also remember That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger. What is hell? Hell is oneself. Hell is alone, the other figures in it Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from And nothing to escape to. One is always alone. Half the harm that is done in this world Is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle To think well of themselves. There are several symptoms Which must occur together, and to a marked degree, To qualify a patient for my sanitorium: And one of them is an honest mind. That is one of the causes of their suffering. To men of a certain type The suspicion that they are incapable of loving Is as disturbing to their self-esteem As, in cruder men, the fear of impotence. I should really like to think there's something wrong with me — Because, if there isn't then there's something wrong, Or at least, very different from what it seemed to be, With the world itself — and that's much more frightening! Everyone's alone — or so it seems to me. They make noises, and think they are talking to each other; They make faces, and think they understand each other. And I'm sure they don't. Is that a delusion? Can we only love Something created in our own imaginations? Are we all in fact unloving and unloveable? Then one is alone, and if one is alone Then lover and beloved are equally unreal And the dreamer is no more real than his dreams. I shall be left with the inconsolable memory Of the treasure I went into the forest to find And never found, and which was not there And is perhaps not anywhere? But if not anywhere Why do I feel guilty at not having found it? Disillusion can become itself an illusion If we rest in it. Two people who know they do not understand each other, Breeding children whom they do not understand And who will never understand them. There is another way, if you have the courage. The first I could describe in familiar terms Because you have seen it, as we all have seen it, Illustrated, more or less, in lives of those about us. The second is unknown, and so requires faith — The kind of faith that issues from despair. The destination cannot be described; You will know very little until you get there; You will journey blind. But the way leads towards possession Of what you have sought for in the wrong place. We must always take risks. That is our destiny. If we all were judged according to the consequences Of all our words and deeds, beyond the intention And beyond our limited understanding Of ourselves and others, we should all be condemned. Only by acceptance of the past will you alter its meaning. Every moment is a fresh beginning."

"The Waste Land - April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. The Burial of the Dead Unreal City, Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many. Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled, And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. The Burial of the Dead That corpse you planted last year in your garden, Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year? Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed? The Burial of the Dead There is shadow under this red rock (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), And I will show you something different from either Your shadow at morning striding behind you Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust. The Burial of the Dead Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair Spread out in fiery points Glowed into words, then would be savagely still. A Game of Chess The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed. Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song. The Fire Sermon The time is now propitious, as he guesses, The meal is ended, she is bored and tired, Endeavours to engage her in caresses Which still are unreproved, if undesired. Flushed and decided, he assaults at once; Exploring hands encounter no defence; His vanity requires no response, And makes a welcome of indifference. The Fire Sermon If there were only water amongst the rock Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit There is not even silence in the mountains But dry sterile thunder without rain What the Thunder Said Who is the third who walks always beside you When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road There is always another one walking beside you What the Thunder Said A woman drew her long black hair out tight And fiddled whisper music on those strings And bats with baby faces in the violet light Whistled, and beat their wings And crawled head downward down a blackened wall And upside down in air were towers Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells. What the Thunder Said My friend, blood shaking my heart The awful daring of a moment's surrender Which an age of prudence can never retract By this, and this only, we have existed Which is not to be found in our obituaries Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor In our empty rooms What the Thunder Said I have heard the key Turn in the door once and turn once only We think of the key, each in his prison Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison "

"Rhapsody On A Windy Night - ON A WINDY NIGHT Twelve o'clock. Along the reaches of the street Held in a lunar synthesis, Whispering lunar incantations Dissolve the floors of memory And all its clear relations, Its divisions and precisions, Every street lamp that I pass Beats like a fatalistic drum, And through the spaces of the dark Midnight shakes the memory As a madman shakes a dead geranium. Half-past one, The street lamp sputtered, The street lamp muttered, The street lamp said, "Regard that woman Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door Which opens on her like a grin. You see the border of her dress Is torn and stained with sand, And you see the corner of her eye Twists like a crooked pin." The memory throws up high and dry A crowd of twisted things; A twisted branch upon the beach Eaten smooth, and polished As if the world gave up The secret of its skeleton, Stiff and white. A broken spring in a factory yard, Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left Hard and curled and ready to snap. Half-past two, The street lamp said, "Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter, Slips out its tongue And devours a morsel of rancid butter." So the hand of a child, automatic, Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay. I could see nothing behind that child's eye. I have seen eyes in the street Trying to peer through lighted shutters, And a crab one afternoon in a pool, An old crab with barnacles on his back, Gripped the end of a stick which I held him. Half-past three, The lamp sputtered, The lamp muttered in the dark. The lamp hummed: "Regard the moon, La lune ne garde aucune rancune, She winks a feeble eye, She smiles into corners. She smoothes the hair of the grass. The moon has lost her memory. A washed-out smallpox cracks her face, Her hand twists a paper rose, That smells of dust and old Cologne, She is alone With all the old nocturnal smells That cross and cross across her brain." The reminiscence comes Of sunless dry geraniums And dust in crevices, Smells of chestnuts in the streets, And female smells in shuttered rooms, And cigarettes in corridors And cocktail smells in bars." The lamp said, "Four o'clock, Here is the number on the door. Memory! You have the key, The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair, Mount. The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall, Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life." The last twist of the knife."

"Murder in the Cathedral - Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen. Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think he can turn the wheel on which he turns. Unreal friendship may turn to real But real friendship, once ended, cannot be mended. The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason. Servant of God has chance of greater sin And sorrow, than the man who serves a king. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. Human kind cannot bear very much reality. The church shall be open, even to our enemies. We are not here to triumph by fighting , by stratagem, or by resistance, Not to fight with beasts as men. We have fought the beast And have conquered. We have only to conquer Now, by suffering. This is the easier victory. For every life and every act Consequence of good and evil can be shown. And as in time results of many deeds are blended So good and evil in the end become confounded. In life there is not time to grieve long. O father, father Gone from us, lost to us, The church lies bereft, Alone, Desecrated, desolated. And the heathen shall build On the ruins Their world without God. I see it. I see it."

"[Henry] James's critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it. [...] In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought. [...] James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation."

"A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, and the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water. Only there is shadow under this red rock, (come in under the shadow of this red rock), and I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

"A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter."