'All Shall Be Well' - the Conclusion of 'Little Gidding'


As previously discussed, poetry lies at one end of a spectrum: poems are by definition highly precise, usually much shorter, concentrations of meanings and sounds, regulated and shaped by the gaps, holes, absences or vacuums both in sound and in meaning which create the pulse we know as rhythm. Whereas a writer can safely use prose to transmit broad meanings, exact and intense experiences tend to move towards poetry by their nature.

In Eliot’s case with Little Gidding, given his broad sweep of philosophy and his attempt to approach a meaning which embraces all of Life, it might be considered that prose would have been the better medium - but Eliot wants not only to communicate an idea but the experience of transcendence itself, and so uses poetry with its tiny vacuums or gaps which draw in our attention more completely and more deeply. Taking more care in selecting words with their differences in meaning is only part of it: the poet uses rhythm to bring on a conclusion forcefully. In the fourth section of Little Gidding, the rhythm grows more intense, even breathless, just as the religious imagery becomes more explicit and Pentecostal:

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 of pyre-

To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Oxymoronic juxtaposition of opposites has become a charge towards one extreme or the other, Hellfire or Pentecostal flame, which resemble each other in their burning. But the source of both pains is again an unexpected opposite:

Who then devised the torment? Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name