The Dry Salvages

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Music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all,
but you are the music
While the music lasts

T.S. Eliot

Below is an excerpt from the poem The Dry Salvages.

The Dry Salvages is the third poem of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, marking the beginning of the point when the series was consciously being shaped as a set of four poems. It was written and published in 1941 during the air-raids on Great Britain, an event that threatened him while giving lectures in the area. The title comes from the name of a marine rock formation off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where he spent time at as a child.

The poem discusses the nature of time and what humanity’s place is within time. Life is described metaphorically as travelling in a boat and humanity’s fixation on science and future gain keeping the travellers from reaching their destination. Within the poem, Eliot invokes the image of Krishna to emphasise the need to follow the divine will, instead of seeking personal gain.


Part V

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors-
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual
Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:
And always will be, some of them especially
Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road,
Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint–
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of evidence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement–
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil.

Read the full text of this poem here.

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