Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"That unnameable something..."

.... C.S. Lewis names this longing with the German word sehnsucht. He calls it “the inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.” At the end of Pilgrim’s Regress he said it was, “That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”

This longing remains dormant in daily life until it is sparked by a profound aesthetic experience. Suddenly the soul awakes, and the longing is fleetingly fulfilled. C.S. Lewis called this surge in the heart, this uplift “Joy”. This painfully exquisite joy comes unbidden and echoes in his heart like the sounding of the distant horn of a long lost hero. ....

This same sense of longing linked with memory echoes through T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Each of the quartets summons up the memories of the past through a particular place that surges with meaning for Eliot. Burnt Norton was the site of a ruined country house and garden in Gloucestershire that Eliot visited with an old school friend....

.... They wander through the garden in silence. The afternoon light is still and unmoving. Birds call and the longing for “what might have been” is palpable. The entire poem can be read as an extended explication and meditation on Lewis’ sehnsucht. For Eliot this intense longing leads to the heart of contemplation at “the still point of the turning world.” This contemplative moment is, “By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving, Erhebung without motion, concentration without elimination, both a new world, And the old made explicit.”

Erhebung” is a German word which means “lift” or “upsurge” and Eliot uses it here to imply the emotional lift which Lewis terms “Joy.” .... [more]