By T.S. Eliot

Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

O my daughter.

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning


Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning


Those who sit in the sty of contentment, meaning


Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning


Are become insubstantial, reduced by a wind,

A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog

By this grace dissolved in place

What is this face, less clear and clearer

The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger—

Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye

Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet

Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.

I made this, I have forgotten

And remember.

The rigging weak and the canvas rotten

Between one June and another September.

Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.

The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.

This form, this face, this life

Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me

Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,

The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers

And woodthrush calling through the fog

My daughter.

Apparently T S. Eliot’s favorite Shakespeare Comedy was “Pericles, Prince of Tyre”. Of which I approve completely; Pericles is my favorite as well.

I was told this my favorite professor, just after reading Pericles for the first time. The play is beautiful, stunning, and thrilling all at once. It just barely skates around being a tragedy, but is saved Deus in machina. It has pirates, shipwrecks, jousts, fair ladies, treachery, brave young girls, the power of Art, the depth of human suffering, the way that suffering increase the capacity for joy!

This is a story that encapsulates almost every aspect of humanity, but particularly the simultaneous angst and hope.

And Eliot manages to capture this spirit of the story one, short poem. The title is the name of the daughter, whose artful rhetoric first staves off despair and then unites her family.

When Pericles finally knows his daughter, and in doing do takes the identity of a father, a person, the whole action of the poem comes to a thrilling summit of hope. He now knows who he is, and his vision is cleared: the life, the pulse, the sight!

‘Tis  a wondrous poem. And one of my favorites.

And seems to be one of the more artistically coherent and moving of his poems. One problems that I have with Eliot, is that with his conversion much the driving angst and power in his poetry becomes a bit subdued. “Murder in the Cathedral” is great, but can it compare to “The Wasteland”? And while the “Four Quartets” are really amazing, they seem the have a quieter drive than “Prufrock”. But that might because the drive of Prufrock was having no drive.

But in “Marina,” written right around the time of his conversion, Eliot seems to find a balance of dark and searing hopelessness, and yet end with a song of hope. It is a concentrated dash of Art, in that it both imparts a single clear vision and offers more to come if we but look longer or harder.

15 thoughts on “Marina

  1. Huh, interesting. I never read Pericles, Prince of Tyre, but I did see it performed at the Globe Theatre in London. The performance was astounding (especially the storm at sea, with acrobats on wide ribbons swinging above our heads while drums pounded to simulate the beating winds and waves!), but I confess I found the play itself exceedingly dull — I thought it was confirmation that even Shakespeare sometimes just did one for the money and didn’t only write masterpieces. Then again, I was kind of irked that they put the play in a modern setting, so Pericles walked around in a business suit and stuff like that. It felt very plot-driven rather than character-driven, and then the plot was confusing. But sometimes encountering a Shakespeare first in performance isn’t actually the best way to understand it — perhaps if I had read it it might make more sense? And perhaps understanding the play is important for appreciating the poem?

    • Ooh, I am jealous! Sort of . . . I can see how it would be difficult to portray Pericles on stage. I think it would require an overwhelming sense of the poetics and the interior drama going on in order to not be overshadowed by the crazy plot.

      But when I read it the shenanigans were only part of the background, and the real action was all in the soul. For of all three of the main characters. The plot is just the stuff that first give them the circumstances to test their hearts, and then also an outward sign of the innner turmoil. It is haunting and beautiful! But it might be harder to access after seeing what sounds like a horrible production . . .

  2. I like your phrase “deus in machina”–I wonder if that isn’t a very good phrase to describe a (or at least a certain kind of) poem/work of art. Do you think Eliot’s “grace dissolved in place” says the same thing or something different?

    You should get that summer reading group some of us were planning off the ground. We were going to start with Eliot!

    To me, this poem represents a voyage into the underworld, into death, “beneath sleep where all the waters meet”–into a place from whose borders, out of the confusion and death-bent energies and lethargies of life, a potentially salvific image seems to return, and half-coalesce–the daughter, either the literal daughter “living to live in a world of time beyond me,” or the speaker’s anima, the soul, the “unspoken,” forgotten thing, “unknown, my own,” and now seeming to appear; either the daughter, the soul, or both. The voyage is taken on the still-sailing (for now) shipwreck of his life, himself–“I made this” he recognizes. But is it only his recognition of his cobbled and lame ship which this “this” indicates, or also “this form, this face, this life / living … beyond me”?

    These ambiguities are meaningful, I think. I think Eliot might be dramatizing a statement something like this:

    Life can make two divergent things at once, the thing drawn into “the ecstasy of the animals,” into death, and somehow at the same time, half-consciously, the soul-image–here the “daughter”–which remains, invisible in this life or evanescently, circumstantially apparent, not to be grasped–the you-not-you into which, for which, you must die–and which glimmers half-promisingly beyond death.

    Though I haven’t read Pericles, I’ve always imagined that this poem was also evoking the Tempest, somehow. Father and Daughter can be a numinous pair.

    • I would love to do a summer reading group, but it will have to start after Latin ends and work no longer eats all my time. Unless there are translations of Eliot into Latin?

      I hadn’t thought about the similarities of “Deus in machina” to “grace dissolved in place,” but it does make a certain amount of sense. God’s Life in the world, the sacramental nature of art, can all be described that way. (At least those arts that teach us how to see!) Then again, in

      But that type of intersection of the outward plot and inward movement is typical of Pericles. Part of why I love this poem is because it so beautifully encapsulates the play; it really is about the movement of the soul through life and death. (I would have to go back to double-check, but I believe that many of those lines and phrases that you mention are quoted directly from the play. There is a point where Pericles wanders insane – although accompanied by his loyal men – around the sea, and has gorgeous line after line.) Pericles is so much a drama of the soul that is it like King Lear as a comedy. Which is probably why it was never very popular – tragedies have a much neater story arc and presentation, what Dr. Dupree calls the Tragic Bias.

      My house-mate keeps referring to this as “Eliot’s Poem about the Tempest,” despite my corrections! I suppose it could be as well, although I never thought Prospero was very interested in being a good father, or putting himself in any situation regarding death. He was too much in control of every situation. But if the ‘daughter’ here is more symbolic of an ‘other but part of the whole’ figure, then of the physical real daughter, that works. Is that what you mean?

      Shakespeare’s fathers and child pairs always seem particularly fascinating, but it is that father and daughter or unborn child that evoke the most soul-searching life-shaking responses. From both the characters and the audience . . . I wonder why.

  3. “King Lear as a comedy” sounds wonderful, I will have to read it. I’m both enchanted and bewildered by the late plays, and wouldn’t be surprised if they’re his best. Something lyric is happening in them, maybe. I do wonder if Shakespeare had any precedent for endowing his mad, broken characters with poetry the way he does: that weird and whimsical mixture of things now vaguely pertinent, now random and irrelevant, suddenly movingly particular–it is really remarkable.

    “Interesection of outward plot and inward movement” is the only thing I really read literature for, right now (and really ever, though I did go through a political-moral-reading phase–mostly to exorcise this impulse, I think, in the end). And I feel that this is why so many novels seem like closed books to me–Dickens, Austen, George Eliot–so many novels resist symbolic reading very stubbornly.

    An “other-but-part-of-the-whole figure” is another interesting phrase, am I beginning to recognize your talent for ingenious coinages?

    I think the Latin epigraph is supposed to be Hercules coming to himself after a fit of madness in which he has slaughtered his children and saying, “where am I?” That might correspond to the scene your describing for Pericles, but might also suggest darker possibilities (though they may be in the play too–I haven’t read it to know!).

    I wonder whether the speaker here isn’t also a figure for the dying age, the saeculum, old man West whose history has run out, run down–and now at the brink wavers toward the remeberance of some transcendent meaning that he may have half-oblivously brought forth along the way–is there somewhere a child still left?–or have none of his children survived his blind rampage and/or neglect? or were all of them children of wrath from the beginning? If I’m right about this, as Eliot represents him, at least he can do something like hope and pray at the end that he has somewhere an unacknowledged “Marina” (or “Miranda”)–and that his failed and failing life can be accepted as an offering for the possibility of hers–“let me / resign my life for this life.”

    I suppose Prospero is a father-scientist-ruler-educator who has not really been exemplary in any of these roles–but there does seem to be something potentially saving in his relationship to Miranda.

    (The bros Chichester, Liz, Veronica and I were going to have a reading-group, and were going to start with Eliot–but it didn’t manage to get started before I left for nh. And it probably won’t unless someone makes something happen. So … you should make something happen!)

    • Oh, yes, and it seems important that Prospero’s final actions are all relinquishments of control, breaking the spells, drowning the book, giving away his daughter, freeing Ariel, pardoning Alonso, Sebastian, etc. … and returning to his dukedom “where my every thrid thought shall be my grave”–There is that strange Epilogue too, where he appeals to the prayers of the audience to rescue him from his “bare island.”

    • Verily! Prospero’s final acts are his saving grace, and the only reason I do not wish him deeper than plummet sound! But doesn’t make that plea because he knows that it will take years to make up for his neglect not only of Miranda, but of the state duties? (Which neglect got him into the trouble at the start.)

      Pericles – while sinning to some extent – is certainly more sinned against, unlike Lear. His struggles do lack the depth of Lear’s, they seem similar in exploration to me. Although, I am overdue for a re-read. The lyricism may be related to Shakespeare’s entire view of art: at one point Thaisa is can only be revived from a death-like sleep by the aid of music. The art has something to do with healing, both of the body and the mind. And yet it must be united with the calm reason of Marina to cure her father . . .

      I have been wondering about the epigram. I am not seeing any mention of it in the play. But a Hercules reference would explain the sense of reawkening and agony, but I think Pericles itself offers more hope. The slaughtered child yet lives! It is certainly a mediation on death and beyond death and more than self. Some of my favorite lines come upon finding a character presumed dead: “That on the touching of her lips I may / Melt, and no more be seen – O, come, be buried / A second time within these arms!” . . . “My heart leaps to be gone into my mother’s bosom.” There is a certain loosing of self to that ‘other’, to the point of death. Which is actually Life. And Art. And Beauty. (Both literally and figuratively.) And Joy! And something about fatherhood and vocation.

      In other words, you should probably read the play and come to your own conclusions. And then there will be more about which to argue-discuss.

      By that ‘intersection’ do you mean symbolism? (A la Tate?) That is the one of the reasons why I enjoy Waugh and Percy and O’Connor so much. Eliot and Austen have so much to offer in terms of seeing human beings, particularly in the that contexts influence how we live and act and are! Also, I love their artistry and mastery of narrative! (I struggle with Dickens, but for different reasons.) In a mainly symbolic reading, do aesthetics have a specific value on of themselves in Lit?

      And the reading group . . . something might happen. When V gets back and the rest of us have lives again, we shall see!

  4. I think this is right–the possibility that the slaughtered child may yet live–is the key one for the poem. (And I do think it stands on its own feet.) So often in Shakespeare’s plays it’s the fact that the character presumed dead is still living that is the operative basis for the turning point of the action–I think this is one way of making the joy of “the resurrection” dramatically represent-able. But this somehow will not do for a lyric–because its smaller and less continuous drama is by that much more closer to the ultimate terms of its analogy: salvation/ultimate death or loss. Eliot cannot declare from without that his speaker is saved–he must represent from within what it’s like to be on the fringe of what may be salvation.

    Yes, that was an extreme (too extreme) formulation of mine: Austen etc. “seem like closed books to me”–until I actually open them! Austen seem marvellous to me when I’m reading her, and even “symbolic” in a submerged way. There’s just something resistant (never fully successfully resistant) to its own symbolism in the realistic novel. But also you’re absolutely right about the joy and interest in ethical and realistic observations about life/people.

    Symbolic reading, as I think of it, takes all characters and events as figures (not nec. one-to-one allegorical) for some underlying spiritual reality/movement that is being carried, represented, worked out or dramatized by them in the poet’s meditation. Yes, I think it’s like what Tate means–that essay is central to my literary credo.

  5. “Do aesthetics have a value in and of themselves in Lit?” Tricky question.

    The beautiful is the most elusive of “the transcendentals”–and maybe also the most powerful–I wonder if it’s ever alone? For instance, I think artists who attempt to isolate the beautiful element in their work by somehow purifying out reference to real things may be on a wrong track. They may produce a stupendously beautiful work of art–but if so, it will be because it will secretly be deriving it’s outlines and energy from some unacknowledged reference to something real.

    On the other hand, you are speaking more about technique, craftsmanship, narrative mastery etc.–these things are excellences and a source of delight, but an artist hones them in order to present or probe his real subject most effectively, I think, rather than the other way round. (The artist does not seek out a subject *in order* to exhibit his stylistic talent. Different tacts of style and craft are ways of inducing or compelling or pleading with whatever thing ought to be speaking in a work to speak. At their best, I imagine, technique is not really isolable from some real “core” of the work either.

    Reading over my post above, I see there should have been more “maybes” in it. E.g. “*Maybe* because lyric’s smaller and less continuous kind of drama …” and “I’m doubtful whether Eliot (in this poem) can declare from the outside if his speaker is saved.”

  6. My King Lear has a beach towel for a cape and carries his dead daughter Walter over his shoulder like a goat. If that’s not a comic Lear, I don’t know what is.

    I think that Shakespeare as a game, a real play if you will, should be far more prevalent.

  7. Sadly, it took me until this semester to read Tate. But that essay was the culmination of a great many thoughts that have been spinning around me for the past several years. It was amazing, and I am so sad that I had not read it earlier. I have been looking for some more of his work; is there anything that you suggest?

    I have difficulty separating Marina from Pericles, and the completed view of the play. But you are right that I am taking that too far: the poem can – and must – be able to stand on its own. The lyric is written from within the view of a character struggling through Death. I believe your lack of “maybes” to be justified!

    One thing that I have read describes Eliot as making a deliberate movement from “literature for literature’s sake” to “literature for the sake of the moral imagination”. Which seems particularly apparent in Marina – that each thing beheld by the speaker holds more than one ‘reality’.

  8. I’m trying to remember what essays of Tate we read in So. Lit–he is a dense, oblique and often difficult essayist, I find. I think the key to enjoying him is getting a sense of “the dramatic situation” and “tone” of his various essays–rather as one reads poem. But I think that difficulty is part of the point, he is trying to create a place, or show the need for the place, in which the “man of letters,” literature itself, has a public and serious voice in a culture and academy that are hostile, oblivious or patronizing. So these essays are rarely straightforward literary criticism, though they always include that, but attempts to probe and reveal warps and gaps in the modern mind. They seem to me ultimately searching for twisting pathways back into the spiritual ground of modernity–to put in literary terms (which he was committed to doing), into the fundamental reasons why the 20th century fails to produce a Dante or a Shakespeare, fails to countenance a whole living and symbolic language for common experience, a convincing image of man. To me this is most clear in “The Symbolic Imagination” and “The Man of Letters in the Modern World”–which is probably his most accessible essay. Also: “The Angelic Imagination” and “Our Cousin Mr. Poe.”

    “Tension and Poetry” looks more like literary criticism does usually, I think, and is a good essay. It takes off from “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.” “What is a Traditional Society” and “Religion and the Old South” are very helpful. And if you’re up for a challenge, you should look at “Is Literary Criticism Possible”–an unshapely, cagey and bedeviled essay–Tate at his best-worst in the thick of his predicaments.

    “The Symbolic Imagination” remains though, to my mind, Tate’s fullest and richest essay. Like Eliot’s, Tate’s career has a movement–and I think it moves through the splintered and haunted post-Western imagination of Eliot into the radiant and annealing mind of Dante’s Comedy, with its bewilderingly transfigured dramatization of the invisible community of saints–a dramatization which is nevertheless faultlessly true-to-life in its basic humanity, its undeceived affection for the human city, its unwavering faithfulness to the common thing and the pulse of lived experience. Part of the reason I love Tate is that I share with him a limitless admiration, affection and hunger (which modern literature can only rarely satisfy and which Dante cannot entirely either, for the reason that he is not entirely our contemporary–but something of a visiting alien–“a voice hoarse from long silence”) for the Dantean imagination.

  9. Awesome! Thank you! I think we only read “Symbolic Imagination”, and “Our Cousin, Mr. Poe” in SL. I will look those others up, for sure. Is Literary Criticism possible? Honestly, I have trouble reading criticism, so that most-challenging-best-worst-scariest essay sounds intriguing.

    But, obviously, I need to read more Tate. I had always that particular quality to belong more to vision than imagination, but Tate makes the distinction between the two to be somewhat hazy. The importance of that intermediary signifier – the image, language, etc, – is fascinating, and Tate in “The SI” expresses a point that seems to be at the core of both literature and life. (As the More class emphasized, the combining of both active and contemplative life. In this case, of visions and imagination.) It seems to be to be a quality that is important to living as a Catholic; this sacramental vision/imagination gives Man the hope needed to live and die.Which is apparent in Eliot – here in Marina his excursion in death holds life; it is both at once. And as such a wonderful and exquisite paradox!

    Aesthetics . . . I have been trying to find a good operative definition of ‘aesthetics’. But I cannot get my hands on a copy of Von Balthasaar. Sadly. I had meant aesthetics to mean a simple appreciation for the beauty in of itself. But you are right that I was implying the style and form too much over the meaning. Beauty isolated is certainly pointless. But then is it really beautiful?

    Sorry for the late reply: Livy has decided to consume my life. Any advice on how to spot sever verb displacement? Gah!

  10. Yes, “the importance of the intermediary signifier” is key for Tate–and I think you’re on to something to say that that importance is implied in the choice to speak in terms of imagination, rather than vision. Is it this difference that is key in distinguishing the “poetic way” from “the contemplative” or “mystic way,” perhaps?

    I think this is an accurate characterization of Tate’s view. The poet begins from what he perceives “in the wild,” or walking “the streets of Florence”–some stone cut fresh from the quarry of experience. But his meditation neither (1) proceeds from the image to a timeless order which renders the initial image obsolete, nor (2) limits the scope of the image to the moment and terms of its initial perception, as if these were the only context in which it might disclose true meanings. He neither discards the image, nor takes it as the be-all and end-all. He works with it, in it, through it–*imagines* it, in fact. The poet, then, takes a via media between (1) and (2)–between the Platonist and the empirical historian–and his via media takes the harvest of experience precisely as *the* “intermediary siginifier” of, well, of ultimate reality, of the divine–or, at least, of “as much meaning as he can see in it.” “Sacramental vision” is exactly right then, and incarnational. And yes, this is to look “beyond” to “another world” but in a way that does not see *this world* drained of, but replete with, meaning. The “hope needed to live and die” is exactly right too.

    Here’s what I learned from Dr. Sweet. Let your mind and ear follow the word order of the Latin sentence. Latin word order has its own logic and music. That’s how the Romans heard it; that’s how the author meant it to be read. It’s comforting to remember that these writers were trying to be understood–they’re on your side! If you take the sentence in “baby steps” like that, you’ll find that (even unconsciously) the expectation of a missing verb–or whatever–will be created in your mind–something suspended that’s waiting to settle into place–so that when it turns up you’ll immediately know just what it goes with or how it fits. And the writer won’t leave you suspended for an impossible length of time–he’ll have provided just what you need to follow the contours and twists of the sentence and from beginning to happy conclusion. Fight the impulse to leap out of order to the verb when you realize its being withheld! (If your teacher tells you, “first, find the subject, then, skip to the verb,” go ahead, smile and nod politely–but DO NOT DO WHAT HE SAYS!) This is what causes the tangles and hopeless traffic jams. “Baby steps,” says Dr. Sweet.

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