‘The Word Within the World’: Ash-Wednesday and the ‘Ariel Poems’

  • Nancy K. Gish


With the ‘Ariel Poems’ Eliot’s work becomes more overtly philosophical, the voices less concerned with describing sordid reality and more prone to seek, through thought and prayer, some understanding of their condition. Increasingly, the poems depict a search for some transcendent and eternal value now believed to exist if not yet attained. But if the concepts are more affirmative, experience is often more anguished. As expressions of Christ’s coming, ‘Journey of the Magi’ and ‘A Song for Simeon’ are peculiarly joyless. Drawing again on Andrewes’ 1622 Nativity sermon for the first poem, Eliot dwells less on their great faith than on their ‘cold comming’ and uncertain reward. What Simeon does see has less force than his regret for what he cannot experience. In each poem we find a puzzling sense of something missed rather than found. Except for ‘Marina’, they are oddly neutral in tone despite the fulfillment they assume.


Mystic Experience High Dream Brown Hair Dark Night White Horse 
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© Nancy K. Gish 1981

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  • Nancy K. Gish

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