01 January 2023
‘For last year’s words belong to
last year’s language and next
year’s words await another voice’
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
— TS Eliot, Little Gidding
‘Little Gidding’ is the last poem in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.
Moving from last year’s words and language to the voice of this new year provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of time, the past, the present and the future.
A good place to do this last week was during the walks Charlotte and I took by the Balancing Lakes and the fields between Stony Stratford and Wolverton Mill.
It is a New Year, and I am now living on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, and living outside Ireland for the first time in many years. Fifty years ago I was living on High Street in Wexford; half a century later, I am living on High Street in Stony Stratford.
Time plays games with us all as we move between one place and the next, from one year to the next. Yet time does little to diminish the impact of a move like this, or to dampen the emotions – joys and losses – that are at the heart of making such a move.
During those late afternoon strolls at sunset by the water, between the enveloping dusk of the afternoon and the winter darkness of the evening, I was aware of how time moves on relentlessly even when we think we are moving at our own pace.
It has been a year in which I have been made aware of my own frailty and failings. Yet, in the midst of great losses, there have been immeasurable gains.
But ‘what might have been … is always present,’ as TS Eliot reminds us in ‘Burnt Norton,’ his first poem in the Four Quartets. And I have promised myself more time this year for walks by rivers and lakes, in gardens and in the countryside, more time for wonder at the world and creation, more time for prayer and reflection, and more time for friendship and for love.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
— TS Eliot, Burnt Norton