Song

- 1888-1965

If space and time, as sages say,
    Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
    Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
    While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
    Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
    Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
    To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
    Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
    Yet let them be divine.
 

More by T. S. Eliot

La Figlia Che Piange

              O quam te memorem virgo

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—	
Lean on a garden urn—	
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—	
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—	
Fling them to the ground and turn	     
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:	
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.	
 
So I would have had him leave,	
So I would have had her stand and grieve,	
So he would have left	        
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,	
As the mind deserts the body it has used.	
I should find	
Some way incomparably light and deft,	
Some way we both should understand,	        
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.	
 
She turned away, but with the autumn weather	
Compelled my imagination many days,	
Many days and many hours:	
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!	
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.	
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze	
The troubled midnight and the noon's repose.

Portrait of a Lady

Thou hast committed—
Fornication: but that was in another country,
And besides, the wench is dead.

                    The Jew of Malta.
I

Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon You have the scene arrange itself—as it will seem to do— With "I have saved this afternoon for you"; And four wax candles in the darkened room, Four rings of light upon the ceiling overhead, An atmosphere of Juliet's tomb Prepared for all the things to be said, or left unsaid. We have been, let us say, to hear the latest Pole Transmit the Preludes, through his hair and fingertips. "So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul Should be resurrected only among friends Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room." —And so the conversation slips Among velleities and carefully caught regrets Through attenuated tones of violins Mingled with remote cornets And begins. "You do not know how much they mean to me, my friends, And how, how rare and strange it is, to find In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends, [For indeed I do not love it...you knew? you are not blind! How keen you are!] To find a friend who has these qualities, Who has, and gives Those qualities upon which friendship lives. How much it means that I say this to you— Without these friendships—life, what cauchemar!" Among the windings of the violins And the ariettes Of cracked cornets Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own, Capricious monotone That is at least one definite "false note." —Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance, Admire the monuments, Discuss the late events, Correct our watches by the public clocks. Then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks. II Now that lilacs are in bloom She has a bowl of lilacs in her room And twists one in his fingers while she talks. "Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know What life is, you who hold it in your hands"; (Slowly twisting the lilac stalks) "You let it flow from you, you let it flow, And youth is cruel, and has no remorse And smiles at situations which it cannot see." I smile, of course, And go on drinking tea. "Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall My buried life, and Paris in the Spring, I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world To be wonderful and youthful, after all." The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune Of a broken violin on an August afternoon: "I am always sure that you understand My feelings, always sure that you feel, Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand. You are invulnerable, you have no Achilles' heel. You will go on, and when you have prevailed You can say: at this point many a one has failed. But what have I, but what have I, my friend, To give you, what can you receive from me? Only the friendship and the sympathy Of one about to reach her journey's end. I shall sit here, serving tea to friends..." I take my hat: how can I make a cowardly amends For what she has said to me? You will see me any morning in the park Reading the comics and the sporting page. Particularly I remark An English countess goes upon the stage. A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance, Another bank defaulter has confessed. I keep my countenance, I remain self-possessed Except when a street piano, mechanical and tired Reiterates some worn-out common song With the smell of hyacinths across the garden Recalling things that other people have desired. Are these ideas right or wrong? III The October night comes down; returning as before Except for a slight sensation of being ill at ease I mount the stairs and turn the handle of the door And feel as if I had mounted on my hands and knees. "And so you are going abroad; and when do you return? But that's a useless question. You hardly know when you are coming back, You will find so much to learn." My smile falls heavily among the bric-à-brac. "Perhaps you can write to me." My self-possession flares up for a second; This is as I had reckoned. "I have been wondering frequently of late (But our beginnings never know our ends!) Why we have not developed into friends." I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark Suddenly, his expression in a glass. My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark. "For everybody said so, all our friends, They all were sure our feelings would relate So closely! I myself can hardly understand. We must leave it now to fate. You will write, at any rate. Perhaps it is not too late. I shall sit here, serving tea to friends." And I must borrow every changing shape To find expression...dance, dance Like a dancing bear, Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape. Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance— Well! and what if she should die some afternoon, Afternoon grey and smoky, evening yellow and rose; Should die and leave me sitting pen in hand With the smoke coming down above the housetops; Doubtful, for a while Not knowing what to feel or if I understand Or whether wise or foolish, tardy or too soon... Would she not have the advantage, after all? This music is successful with a "dying fall" Now that we talk of dying— And should I have the right to smile?

Hysteria

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.

Related Poems

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.