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From “Ash Wednesday”

March 1, 2017

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:

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.

–T.S. Eliot 1927

COMMENTARY: Today is Ash Wednesday and so here is a poem to smear somewhere on the forehead. I like these lines for the way the surprising and vibrant image of the leopards segues into the bleaker, darker imagery of the desert. The sense of the arid and ash-like comes not only from the corpse-imagery (liver, heart, bones, wind, etc) but from the syntactical elongation, the way the lines stretch longer than they need to. For example, instead of simply saying “brain” in the third line, Eliot says “that which had been contained/ In the hollow round of my skull.” The rhythm of the sentences stretches and gapes, thereby conveying the sense of a passive suffering unnecessarily prolonged, a hurt expectancy that simply refused to die.

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