I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
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
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And 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
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

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 unsatisfied
The greater 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.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond
repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

               but speak the word only.

IV
Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V
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.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of T.S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday

25 Comments

  1. mishLo says:

    well, i think i would’ve had a greater appreciation for, and a better understanding of this poem if i was religious.
    eliot had some interesting imagery… he used bones just like in The Wasteland (i’m guessing as a symbol of death again). also, like in the wasteland there are quite a few allusions that confuse the heck out of me-i’m guessing most of them are biblical.
    i noticed that he used some repetition and alliteration. a couple phrases that stood out: “unbroken wings” “the blind eye creates”
    yeah…L8rz

  2. nieve! says:

    Ash Wednesday is a very interesting and attention grabbing poem. It shows the speakers need for God and how he feels he is “unworthy” for him. It shows his lack of hope for everything in the world. TS Eliot uses great metaphors and awesome figurative language! 🙂

  3. lei lei says:

    Although I did not understand every part of this poem, I was able to get the gist of it, of the emotions and feelings that the poem seemed to portray to whoever read it. Eliot seems to doubt/question his relationship with God, and repeatedly says that he is not worthy. He prays himself, as well as other sinners. Eliot is not alone in these feelings. Almost everyone will question their faith in God, or any higher being in that matter, at one point or another in their lives. I think that any religious person can relate to Eliot while reading this poem, which is why the poem seems to emit such powerful emotions.

  4. J or die says:

    Well. I like The Waste Land better than this poem. Ash Wednesday seems to have more of a relious feel to it and me not being very religious at all finds it to be ummmmm interesting, but not intriguing. I find that The Waste Land makes me want to read all the novels alluded to within it, but Ash Wednesday doesn’t compel me to learn more about religion.

    My favorite part of Ash Wednesday is in part 2 where the bones are singing:
    “Where all loves end . . .Word of no speech.” I dunno it just sort of touches a chord somewhere deep inside. To think that there is a place where all loves end is against the traditional fairy tales I grew up on. These fairy tales ended with “and they lived happily ever after” assuming that they continued loving each other forever. This contrasts that saying that there is a place where love ends.
    Or maybe this is a place where all love ends? As in this is a place where all love winds up. Perhaps it is not the end of love, but just a final place for love to exist.

  5. Errkuh says:

    Compared to Eliot’s other poem, The Wasteland, this poem was definitely easier to read and comprehend. Possibly it can be attributed to my faith in God, but nevertheless, I felt that I finally understood what Eliot talked about.

    Throughout the poem, Eliot confesses his unworthiness and helplessness as he cries out to the heavens above.

  6. Casey Ohashi says:

    Ash Wednesday evoked my pure appreciation for Eliot; his use of the English language is eloquent, free-flowing, and quite simply, beautiful. His use of repetition and analogies create a strong imagery in the reader’s mind, and his choice of diction portrays his passionate affair with God. Even without being much of a religious person, Eliot was able to convince me that believing in something greater than oneself is a worthwhile venture.

  7. BcHaNg says:

    This poem, was an incredible poem to read. It was powerful, especially because I am someone who believes in God. Although I did not understand all of the allusions, metaphors, etc., I was able to get a feeling for this poem by doing exactly that, feeling. This poem, was very thought provoking, it made me stop looking for any meaning at all, in fact it made me just read it and read it again just because it was so beautiful. It brought forth emotions and I understood the message even though I did not comprehend every line of the poem.

  8. Kie says:

    No matter that I can’t understand a lick of what this poem is trying to say, Zachariah opens up to me a whole new way of looking at it. It’s beautiful.

    (Zachariah’s comment is #1)

  9. cady says:

    well….i’m doing a project of T.S. Eloit and I need two poems that i understand and enjoyed.if anyone who reads my comment has any ideas feel free to e-mail me.
    Thanks
    =]

  10. V. Tapat says:

    For some reason, when I first began reading the poem, I had no idea what Eliot was talking about or what was going on. It’s strange to think that although most people think that this is an easier poem to read than “The Wasteland,” I understood that poem a lot more than this. However, reaching the second part, I began to see all the allusions to Christianity and God. This poem in my opinion is like a prayer. Although I may be completely off the true meaning, it seems as though the narrator of the poem is asking for forgiveness for not repenting in his ways. He is praying to God to forgive his ways even though he “avoid[ed] the face” and den[ied] the voice” of God (I’m assuming).

    What I found really intersting in the poem was how it began and concluded. There was much repetition with the words, “I do not hope” and “i cannot hope” in the beginning and throughout, which shows such hopelessness. It’s as though the narrator of the poem just gave up on his life or his circumstances. However, it concludes with “and let my cry come unto thee,” which I believe shows that the narrator is reaching out to someone and hoping that someone else will hear his plight and come to his rescue. Thus, he has not fully surrendered to his circumstances and still has a shred of hope left.

    I still don’t fully understand the meaning of this poem, but then again TS Eliot was a literary genius and who understands genuises? I can only strive to begin to understand what he truly meant.

  11. Erika Howell says:

    I think Ash Wednesday about the narrator’s personal decision to convert to a more Christian-based religion. He repeated several time that there was “no hope” and he would not try again, probably telling the reader that he tried to believe before, but was maybe scared of what realizations he was making, or just not ready to walk in faith. I think he believes in a higher power, God (more specifically), for he is constantly looking for approval and asking for mercy, asking Him to “pray for us sinners.” In this poem, Mary is the symbol of heaven. It is she who seems to decide if the sinners or unconverted should be allowed in heaven after being unable to make up their mind about religion and faith. It is then that the narrator puts himself down by saying, “Lord, I am not worth,” in hopes of escaping darkness.

  12. J Gollero says:

    Ash Wednesday is a very interesting poem once you stop to think about all the symbolism it actually portrays in each stanza. Eliot’s use of repetition and also the significance of colors are evident in this piece. Although each section of the poem was different, each was conencted in some way. I found it clever how he linked the first section to the second by ending the first section with the use of words from the ending of the prayer ‘Hail Mary’ and then go into the second section which describes a woman which we can assume to be Mary, then finally in the fourth section actually mention her name. I also noticed his use of contrasts and contradictions in the poem. Profits and losses, birth and death, and of course, darkness and light. I prefer this poem over ‘The Wasteland.’

  13. aus says:

    This poem was very subliminal reading for me as I wasnt really able to grasp what Elliot was trying to say. I think it was sort of prayer because in section V the narrator hopes the veiled lady will pray for the children and wonders what’ll become of his people. other than that it seemed like it was a lot of oxymorons put together like “teach us to care and not to care”.

  14. Tiffany Mima says:

    This poem was very hard to comprehend. It had many references to the Christian faith which I am not familiar with. Perhaps, if I were more familiar with the faith and about Ash Wednesday, I would be able to understand the poem. Certain parts sounded neat (with all the tongue twisters and certain lines) but I think I missed the entire purpose of the poem.

  15. Kelsey Kaneshiro says:

    It is interesting that the writing styles of this poem vary. Some lines are long while others consist of two words, some are plainly stated while others are drawn out, highly symbolic and chock full of allusions (which I do not fully understand.) He also -in parallel to his other poem “The Wasteland”- employed paragraphs in his writing. To say the least, I dont understand this poem very well, regarding both his structure and the content. I also feel like i’m missing some important lesson or being oblivious to something intended to be amazing. A literary genius can’t be wrong, right? This is a poem I shall be revisiting.

  16. A. Cachero says:

    The most obvious aspect of this poem that stuck out in my mind was the repetition that T.S. Eliot used. There was repetition of entire passages like how he connected the first part of the poem to the last part. Also there was the repetition of single words, homonyms, and alliterations. The sound of the poem being read aloud was very lyrical and fluid despite the poem having a depressing overtone.

    T.S. Eliot uses a lot of symbolism for light and dark and the colors white and blue.

    In the poem it was easy to tell that there were a lot of religious referneces to christianity. Ash Wednesday is a day for christians to repent by getting ash rubbed into their forehead and recite a Litany of Penance. It also marks the beginning of Lent. T.S. Eliot addresses these topics and the topic of death. No matter what status or group a person belongs to, one thing to remember is that every person is a sinner. The “veiled women” must decide who she must pray for but i think that she was included to remind everyone (or mainly christians) that God is merciful and will not judge; instead, he will forgive as long as a person is willing to repent during the forty days of Lent and starting with Ash Wednesday.
    T.S. Eliot uses a lot of symbolism for light and dark and the colors white and blue.

  17. John Paul Fukumae says:

    I had to re read this poem several times to try and comprehend its meaning.. and I still haven’t figured it out. I’ve noticed throughout the poem there are lots of references to the Catholic/Christian faith, “Praying to God” “Goign in white and blue, in Mary’s colour” “The Garden.” That’s pretty interesting, how he relates things to these subjects, but overall this poem was kind of hard to understand.

  18. Stacy Koyama says:

    This poem was still confusing for me, perhaps because i never quite understood Eliot’s other poem “the Wasteland.” It’s easier to read though, because the language and the format of the words were not as jumpy and nonsensical as “The Wasteland.” It seems as if the narrator in this poem is thinking about his life, and of someone who seems greater than him — a woman — who he wants but is hopeless for. It also seems that he’s praying to God for help, so that he can perhaps overcome his fear, and unworthiness, but fears that he will never be heard. This poem is much less “out of this world” as other poems I’ve read. I’m sorry if I totally missed the real point of this poem!!

  19. Jose Barbasa says:

    Compared to “The Wasteland,” this poems was easier to read because it wasn’t as allusive. When I read this poem, I was able to recognize some of the allusions. For example, the last two lines in the first poem are from a prayer. It’s like “Hail Mary full of grace………pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Although I did have some difficulty in reading and comprehending the poem as a whole, I was still able to decipher some of the things that were said. Overall this poem was pretty interesting especially since it had some hinting of the Catholic religion in it.

  20. david j. says:

    Bound in willow and weeping walls,
    No hands to see, no eyes to touch, no lips to kiss
    No eternity and no finality
    The unstilled world is whirling still.

    This is the first stanza of a poem yet to find finality. I have just read Ash Wednesday after appropriating and reconstructing this last line without consideration of the source. The themetic and textual cadences have an uncanny resemblance to my own humble imaginings. The sacred, the ineffable and the transcendent are the portals, the limpid pools of reflecting waters, that allow us to see the infinite and finite as belonging to the world of dreams and the world that dreams of seperation.

  21. Heather says:

    I’m only 16 and don’t really know that much about early 1900’s poems or writing styles, but I loved “Ash Wednesday”. The only thing that I didn’t like was that it seemed to be a bit depressing. I did like, however, that it seemed to fit my mood.

  22. gary says:

    I have read this poem for over twenty years, and always on Ash Wednesday. Its music takes me again and again on a journey of my believing and unbelieving, of my loving and not loving, forgiving and not forgiving and, finally to the yearning for the “peace which passes all understanding.” This poems rings memory bells of my youth, of my confused middle years, of the longings of advanced age. I read it each year to try and absorb its messages – but able to take only a fragment – I return again and again. I will read this poem every year for as long as I live. It confirms my humanity and the humanity of those with whom I live and work.

  23. Reilly says:

    Thanks for that Zachariah. Beautifully written.

  24. Shadia Kanaan says:

    In the preface of her latest book “the Spiral Staircase”, Karen Armstrong relates how she was inspired by T. S. Elliot’s “Ash -Wednesday” in which he traces the process of spiritual recovery, as she puts it. She includes the first poem which I have just read for the first time. It made me cry with a deep sense of elevated sadness that is beyond words.
    Thank you for helping me find the complete sequence. I will treasure them.

  25. Zachariah says:

    This poem holds innate nostalgia for me. T.S. Eliot was my portal into the prismatic world of poetry. I still remember the day Mrs. Seiford made us read “Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” out loud for the second time, then proceeded to draw various possible meanings of each stanza, indicating the overall tone of longing and regret. It tasted real. The next day we moved onto another poet, and by the next week we were off poetry altogether, but I made a trip to the school library and checked out the complete poems and plays of T.S. Eliot.
    Like a babe discovering the teat for the first time, I sucked and sucked and sucked until the well went dry. And then I sucked some more. I inhaled “Hollow Men,” “Gerontion,” “The Wasteland,” “Journey of the Magi,” “The Four Quartets,” and all of the minor poems. In the end, I always came back to “Ash Wednesday.”
    Perhaps “The Wasteland” intimidated me because I knew it was his masterpiece, and recognized the cryptic tonnage seemingly lurking behind every syllable, or perhaps, like an over-popular tune, the popularity itself turned me off. But Ash Wednesday, with it’s intentional murkiness, incorporated in a rhythm like some divine flutist’s fugue, captured my imagination for many afternoons made lonelier by the book I carried dog-eared and scribbled on. In church I’d sneak it into the inside of the hymnal and whisper it quietly to myself. The poem itself is a prayer.
    It’s a prayer for that ultimate, unifying theory of the universe, it’s a prayer made in that hidden, imaginary place between waking and dreaming, the living and the dead; between God and the void. It’s intent is not to be understood. The word cannot be spoken. It’s intent is to designate that brink, that no-man’s land, that tear in the fabric, place it’s finger upon it and say, ‘This. This here. This is where prayer and poetry merge.’ And later, after the song, after choral sopranos sing their last, ‘allelujah, fall apart again.
    In fact, I still have no idea what “Ash Wednesday” is really about.

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