T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965) is probably one of the best known of the modern poets. Interesting, since the size of his output of poetry is comparatively small, having concentrated on writing plays and literary criticism. However, titles such as Ash-Wednesday, The Hollow Men, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and, of course, The Waste Land line the walls of the poetry hall of fame.
In 1927 he became a British subject (born in Saint Louis) and an Anglican-Catholic. It is with this in mind that we look at one of his lesser-known poems, A Song for Simeon. Christian symbolism abounded in his work after this period and his work became more suspect in the minds of those in the literary world who did not agree with his philosophy. The poem could as easily have been called The Prayer of Simeon. The poem is full of hope and sorrow, much like the life of any devout Christian. Would that our lives be as poetic.
A Song for Simeon
Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children's children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat's path, and the fox's home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel's consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.
According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints' stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.