Out of Time

[film still by Miranda Lehman]

I was copying out some passages from T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets earlier this evening and came to this (Burnt Norton V):


Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.

There is more of course, some of the most fertile and beautiful poetry I've ever encountered, but this passage was particularly interesting to me because of the following passage which has been mentally bookmarked (and then copied out, copied out again, and even pinned up on the wall above my bed). This is from V. Woolf's Between the Acts:

" ... a vase stood in the heart of the house, alabaster, smooth, cold, holding the stilled, distilled essence of emptiness, silence."


And with the necessary link to Keats' timelessly moving urn I have a trio of apparently empty vessles which nonethless exert and incredible influence over the mind. Its a meditative sort of calm that I feel when I repeat Virginia's words over and over in my head. The calm I feel in reading this passage of Eliot's is a different sort, perhaps more complex: The stillness of his jar is not like the stillness which words and music reach toward. It isn't threatened by the "living" element of words (which must be spoken) and music (which must be played).

...Words strain,
Crack, and sometimes break, under the
burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

Are we so drawn to these vessels because of their stillness? Because they stand out of time? They hold nothing but could hold anything? Because what they hold is richly metaphoric (emptiness, silence, stillness, potential, etc)?

I don't know, but to think of the urn through time, of the alabaster vase, of the Chinese jar, is almost to think a paradox (never comfortable). Which I suppose must bring us to the greatest receptacle/vessle of all: the chora in Plato's Timaeus. Certainly one of the most difficult ideas in this dialogue, but something that seemed to me to be the container of all that could be in the universe. The vessle of all potential, from which becoming would be possible.

And in the interest of not getting too esoteric on a Sunday evening, I will end here, abruptly and without any real logic, with these facts from my weekend.

Visits are always too short when my family is involved.
Halloween is the most fun holiday ever
Edward Gorey fans are more prolific than one would expect
J'adore les Croques Madames! Ils sont les parfaits dejeuner!
Goodness, my French is rusty (I apologize)
I have two new frocks. And a new scarf, a new bag (patent) and elbow length fawn-colored gloves
I wish there were a cat in my life. I wish the cat's name were Suleiman the Magnificent.