In my beginning is my end.
T.S. Eliot, East Coker
I don't know if everyone does this, but there was a time when I, as a young man, made some effort to acquaint myself with the literary classics. A combination of circumstances that I cannot now recall led me to Blackwell's in Oxford, and I emerged with a stack of publications, mostly poetry, that I felt sure would guarantee my literary worldliness.
One of these was a Faber paperback, Collected Poems 1909-1962, by T.S. Eliot. This same volume, aged and transported back and forth between the England and United States two times out and one time back, caught my eye tonight. I pocketed it and headed off to the Wei Hong restaurant for a supper of beef Chow Fun and a re-read.
It was only when I opened this book, now quite yellowed and with the beginnings of brittleness around the edges, that I realised that, for all my good intentions, I had read only a small sampling of the poems therein, and of those chiefly The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land.
Perhaps it was time to look at the others, I said to myself, and turned towards the end of the volume and the late poems known as the Four Quartets. I read them with no thrill of recognition apart from the quote above, and I am sure I have heard that elsewhere. But these ruminations on the nature of time drew me in, and with a jolt I came across the line photographed above:
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened
On yellow pages in a book that, yes, had been opened but not with any great concentration on these particular lines.
I was quite taken aback by this extraordinary coincidence and it added greatly to the power of the poem in a way that was unlikely to have been forseen by the poet (or perhaps not). Regardless, the interaction of the real physicality of the book and the words written within added layers of philosophical meaning to what are already deeply searching poems. I felt this was a very special moment, and a frisson of enlightenment ran down my back and up and down my arms. A precious thing.