Last night I had the privilege of attending a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132 by the Ciompi Quartet followed by a reading of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets by George Gopen.
When I was a student at Duke, my favorite class was Gopen’s class on Four Quartets and music. It was a close study of Eliot’s poem. 42 hours about one poem. And not only does the poem hold up to the study, as I’ve grown older, as I’ve hit hard times and good times, my study copy of the book has become increasingly tattered and is now basically held together by marginalia and scotch tape.
The poem has meant so much to me that in 2007 I got a tattoo of the line “still and still moving” on my left thigh. It’s there in the photo above. Last night, while I was catching up with Prof. Gopen before the reading, I mentioned my tattoo. (So, yes, if you attended last night, I’m the former student who has a tattoo from the poem who he metioned in his introductory remarks.)
The tattoo isn’t just a line from the poem; it doesn’t just put the full verse it is from in my head. It reminds me of countless other lines in the poem, reminds me to be still and completely, reminds me to continue moving and completely. And, perhaps most importantly, it reminds me of the value of close study, of knowing a text, a person, a camera, a place so well that it becomes a part of my core self, in this case literally tattooed on my person so I carry it with me at all times. And it reminds me that any text, person, relationship, thing that is worth that close study continues to reveal itself and engage even when tattered and worn and beloved.
After the reading last night, I came home and pulled out my study copy and read it again, still finding revelation in the text.
So, on this week of Thanksgiving, I’m so very thankful for the poem itself, the class that began my engagement with the poem, that taught me close study, and I’m thankful that last night I got to hear it read aloud again.
Duke Performances put on the show last night and have a great introductory explanation of the poem on their blog here. If you’ve never read it, and would like to, there is a free copy online here (but it means and reads differently when you can run your fingers over the printed words, buy the book, it’s like $8). As you read, you’ll find my tattoo there near the conclusion of East Coker V.