Lessons from T.S. Eliot

Ever since T.S. Eliot and I were properly introduced during my freshman year of college, I have treasured his poetry. He certainly makes you work at it, but the words, phrases, and images he offers are ones I return to again and again. 

When I think about writing, I often think of these words from his poem East Coker, the second poem in the Four Quartets.

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition— 
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. By perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Some days, I sit staring at my computer screen, my fingers poised over the keyboard, struggling to find the right words. Some days, the swirl of my own thoughts and emotions make it impossible to nail down the thoughts I wish to communicate. Some days, I get discouraged when I think I really have nothing new to say. Then, I come back to “the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again.” There is nothing new—only the rehearsing of the same old words and truths in slightly different form.

I feel like that is the fight not only of a writer but also of the life of faith. I find myself in the steady, upward cycle of forgetting and remembering, of doubting and believing, of fickleness and faithfulness. That process, that land of “the trying” is the ground on which our hearts are formed.