“To be redeemed from fire by fire.” -T.S. Eliot
Published in September 1942 as the final poem of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “Little Gidding” was completed after the poet survived the bombing of London in the Blitz. Eliot was Inspired by a visit to Little Gidding, the site of an Anglican religious community established by Nicholas Ferrar in 1625, Eliot’s poem portrays the choice he saw facing humanity: to be destroyed in the fires of war or to allow that fire to purify and restore – through God’s mercy and the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
(pic: ISIS flag flies in Asia’s Most Christian Country: Islamist insurgents in the southern Philippines force Christians to flee, hide, or die.)