Monday, November 23, 2009

All shall be well

And all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

~ Julian of Norwich, The Revelations of Divine Love

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

(from 'Little Gidding', Four Quartets ~ T.S. Eliot)

I remember being shocked when I first read the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, to find that she had been the first to say "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well". I knew and loved Eliot's Four Quartets, in fact at times its rhythms (and rhetoric) have offered me great personal comfort, as well as aesthetic pleasure, but I had never been a student of English Literature or 'studied' him, so at the time I wasn't aware of the degree to which he had famously 'borrowed' from cultural treasures to create some of his great works.

It didn't take long before I 'forgave' him for being a magpie, and returned to my awe and admiration.

This ancient memory from my long-ago youth has been jogged by a terrific blog post from Reading the Maps on the subject of Witi Ihimaera and TS Eliot. Maps makes an attempt to re-frame the whole 'plagiarism' argument and I applaud that.

Nice to be sent back to TS Eliot too this week as we all approach the 30th anniversary of the Erebus disaster. I didn't lose any loved one in the Air NZ crash but bizarrely on the same day it happened my unborn baby died. Reading the Four Quartets was one of my greatest comforts through that time of grieving.

Just recently I was back in that part of the country and found my son's grave, unmarked because the local authorities do not permit any monuments on multiple graves. It's a mass grave with more than twenty stillborn babies having been buried in that plot over the years. We certainly were not told that would be the case when we committed our son's tiny white coffin to the earth. Poignantly there are decades of weather-worn little toys left on the spot by the other families, some of whom, I suppose, are told the same thing I have been, that we are not permitted to mark the place with any individual permanent plaque. Not that one really needs concrete or granite when your baby's name is engraved on your heart.

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


maps said...

I'm pleased that I'm not the only one in the Kiwi blogosphere who is a fan of the Quartets - I was having a stoush with Ross Brighton and his chums about the poem a few weeks back:

That's a sad story about the loss of your child at the time of Erebus. I wonder if that disaster became a sort of symbol for a lot of people who suffered losses of their own around the time it happened. Chad Taylor's novel Departure Lounge links the loss of Erebus to the disappearance of a young woman from the sleepy suburb of Devonport. The novel's main character connects both events and carries the pain from them with him.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

Many thanks Maps - I enjoyed reading that debate about the Four Quartets and particularly liked your comment: "The great thing about literature is that it allows two people to disagree without demanding that one of them be completely right and the other completely wrong." (I'm less able these days to overlook Eliot's conservatism and smug Anglicanism than I once was, even though the power of that poem can still shake me.)
I haven't read Departure Lounge and will fix that immediately. How strange to hear that it has a theme that I have lived through (can I accuse him of plagiarism?) - Right from the start it seemed that our private tragedy was linked somehow to that very public disaster.