T.S. Tuesday: The Spiral Staircase

So for this T.S. Tuesday I’m going to steal not only from T.S. Eliot, but one of the authors who originally introduced me to Eliot’s poetry: Karen Armstrong.

I read Karen Armstrong’s memoir, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness, my senior year in college. The year I spent writing a memoir trying to make sense of the poverty and injustice I saw and the anger and questions that surfaced with it. Her eloquent memoir is a story of climbing out of the depths of depression and self-hatred into contentment, empathy, and love. At that point, I resonated only with the depression and self-hatred, and had yet to experience sustained love or self-acceptance. Hers was the first memoir I read where a spiral into darkness didn’t end in the dark. And it gave me hope.

In the Preface of her memoir, Armstrong explains how her title, The Spiral Staircase, was inspired by the image of winding staircase evoked in T.S. Eliot’s poem, Ash-Wednesday.

She explains that “This image is reflected in the twisting sentences of words and phrases, apparently making little headway, but pushing steadily forward nonetheless.”

She compares this slow, circular journey to her own climb out of darkness, saying, “the strange and seemingly arbitrary revolutions of my life led me to the kind of transformation that –I now believe—was what I was seeking all those years ago.”

I loved it then and I love it now.

And now for some actual excerpts from the poem, Ash-Wednesday, I.

“Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things”


“Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice”


“Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.”


If you’d like to read the whole poem, click here.


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