The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood -
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
-from "The Four Quartets" by T.S. Eliot
One thing that I appreciate about T.S. Eliot is that, after his conversion to Christianity, his poetry doesn't suck. While I say that tongue-in-cheek, I mean it as well; his post-conversion poetry remains equally challenging (if not more) than his pre-conversion work. He didn't decide, "Since the Bible has given me all the answers, I can now repackage what it says in a largely unoriginal way, quoting a few verses here and there and using a lot of cliches to talk about how much I love God." This is what much of "Christian art" (and by that, I mostly mean music) seems to do these days, and it infuriates me. To think that because we're Christians means that we should suddenly stop asking deep questions and not bother finding original (and sometimes difficult) ways to express ourselves is entirely backward. Because God is a creative God and we are made in his image, we have the freedom, and even the responsibility, to find original ways to express truth in all its ugliness and glory.
Which brings me to a second rant: balance in Christian art means that it must express both Fall and Redemption. To tell half the story is not to tell the whole truth. I'm not suggesting that every artist has to give both aspects with equal time; some artists may express one far more than the other. (Pedro the Lion comes to mind.) But Christian art as a whole should add up to a balance between these two parts. However, turn on K-LOV and the story of Fall and Redemption is not what you hear. Yes, we must get to the Redemption and Hope which is "positive and encouraging," but without the context of a fallen world and broken humanity, there's nothing terribly positive about grace and nothing all that encouraging about the gospel. This is yet another thing I appreciate about T.S. Eliot. His pre-Christian work (such as "The Hollow Men" and "The Wasteland") dealt with the fragmentation and alienation of fallen society. His later Christian work (such as "The Four Quartets") doesn't lose sight of these ugly effects of the Fall and their sad reality in our world. The Fall is not the final word (and he gets there in his poetry), but it can't be ignored or glossed over either.
When I get a chance, I may post some thoughts about the conflict between my love for Eliot's (representative of poetry and literature as whole) concrete yet imprecise beauty, depth, and vision, and my other passion for logical, consistent, precisely-stated truth.
Labels: Art, Theology