T.S. Tuesday: Communing with the Dead

T.S. Eliot

I have friends in dead places, and, according to Scott Cairns and T.S. Eliot, that is okay.

I recently read a chapter by Scott Cairns–who taught a spiritual writing class I had the privilege of taking last semester–in the book, A Syllable of Water, about poetry, Cairns’ forte.

After 15 weeks of class, I wasn’t surprised by Cairns’ emphasis on the ongoing dialogue between the writers of today and the writers who have influenced them, dead or alive.

He breaks many of the myths about poetry being self-focused and self-referential, doodling verses composed by closed off hermits and dreamers and maybe even hobbits, too.

Cairns writes,

“Solitary as it often seems, the discipline of poetry offers us a way out of our private isolations, our culturally encouraged solipsism; it is a journey that joins us to an amazing community of like-minded folk, the poets who precede us… I’m talking about the living and the ostensibly dead.”  

I’m glad to hear this because I commune with a lot of dead people: poets and theologians and writers of all stripes whose works offer me the chance to grow and learn, to recreate and regenerate my own thoughts and works. From T.S. Eliot to Henri Nouwen to Jane Austen, some of my most kindred spirits are not living.

Scott Cairns–still very much living–became another kindred spirit when, later in his essay, he mentions the seemingly omnipresent T.S. Eliot (convenient for this post, eh?). He quotes Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent:

“No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.” 

Both Eliot and Cairns assert that the point of poetry specifically, art in general, and–I hope–the words shared on this blog, is to continue the conversation, to engage in the ongoing recreation of the world. To create space for continued dialogue. To leave my thoughts and words in a way that you can make of them what you will.

I don’t claim to be a poet or an artist for that matter, but I am grateful to the many “like-minded folk” who have preceded me and allowed me to learn and glean and grow from their art.

And even if you don’t consider yourself an artist or a poet or a writer, I want to extend a welcome to this community, an invitation to share your thoughts, and encouragement to join in a great conversation between friends, both living and dead.

Who are the most influential authors you’ve read? Your favorite “friends in dead places”? What pieces of art–poetry, other types of writing, or otherwise–can you come back to time and again learn something new? 


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