In this profound poem TS Eliot describes the experience of “the stillness, between the two waves of the sea” – which is an obvious reference to the meditative experience of mental silence that is found in the space between two thoughts.
Like the ancient eastern mystics, he expresses his belief that all spiritual knowledge exists like an undiscovered country within us.
Importantly, he describes this experience and innate knowledge from arising from a “hidden waterfall” and the “longest river” which ca be understood as metaphors for the experience of the awakened kundalini energy. According to ancient yoga tradition when this energy is awakened it triggers an experience whose main feature is a state of awareness that transcends thought. Similarly, his description of how “the tongues of flame” are “in-folded…Into the crowned knot of fire…And the fire and the rose are one.” reflects the ancient yogic understanding of the sahasrara (crown) chakra which, when activated by the awakened kundalini, is described as emitting a spiritual light not unlike petals of a flower or the tongues of flames.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
Thank you for this very apt interpretation of one of my favourite poems. It does indeed contain many metaphors for the state of true meditation. It also feels amazing to read!
Eliot said that immature poets imitate whereas mature poets steal, which is what he does here in the first line ‘We shall not cease from exploration’ which is ‘stolen’ from Blake’s Jerusalem. Interesting that both Eliot and Blake in these poems are talking about a seeking for a state of enlightenment and grace.
If you would like to listen to Eliot himself reading this excerpt you can go to 15.25mins