The wisdom of humility

One of my favorite poetry collections is T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, which consists (as its title hints) of four long poems. I first read it around the age of twenty, after I became infatuated with Eliot in a literature class at university.

I owned1 a slim, second-hand paperback of the Quartets that easily fit in the small messenger bag that went everywhere with me in those days. I often carried the book when I figured I wouldn’t have time to read, and so ended up reading random pages in parks and bars, in public transport, in the houses of friends and strangers. On occasion I’d been known to read out loud.

I’ve written before about some of the real-life circumstances surrounding this book. Right now, I just want to highlight a passage from “East Coker,” the second poem in the collection:

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

There is much to mull over in these plain lines. I keep returning to them over and over again, in different contexts, and always find something else, something more to understand.

  1. And still own, in fact. Although I’ve been giving away most of my physical books over the last couple years, there are a few I’ve been hesitant to part with. ↩︎

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