Ash Wednesday, and I am reading Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” again. Isn’t this what rituals do, what rituals are for?
Yes and yes. When it comes to re-reading, they let us see a familiar work with a fresh eye, or let us see ourselves with a fresh eye through reference to a work that hasn’t changed…
There are outsiders, always. These stars—
these iron inklings of an Irish January,
whose light happened
thousands of years before
our pain did: they are, they have always been
They keep their distance. Under them remains
a place where you found
you were human, and
a landscape in which you know you are mortal.
And a time to choose between them.
I have chosen:
Out of myth into history I move to be
part of that ordeal
whose darkness is
only now reaching me from those fields,
those rivers, those roads clotted as
firmaments with the dead.
How slowly they die
as we kneel beside them, whisper in their ear.
And we are too late. We are always too late.
(And now I’m too late writing this poem)