Monday, March 08, 2010

The boarhound and the boar

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.
--T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

I daresay, "garlic and sapphires" is a phrase that catches one's attention. We are beginning to enter the planting season here in New Mexico (still too early for many things) and the thought of garlic or onion sets being put into the soil, or being found in the mud, is not striking. Sapphires, on the other hand, we do not expect and would be startled indeed to find them. In our back yard, that is.

Yet sapphire mining involves the gathering of gem-bearing earth and sifting it at the edge of a river, so sapphires are actually discovered in the mud, reminding us not to fit the world too quickly into our own preconceptions.

Not only do we encounter these disparate natural items in the mud but they "Clot the bedded axle-tree." So many images and suggestions are found here. The axle allows wheels to function as means of transport and here the axle-tree is stuck in the mud. The turning wheel is going nowhere. Motion and stillness come up against each other. "Clot" can also suggest blood and circulation of bodily fluid will become explicit a few lines later with "The dance along the artery/ The circulation of the lymph." The axle also suggests the axis mundi, the fixed line about which the earth rotates, as well as the mythic world tree.

Eliot is busy linking all this imagery, or suggesting it to our minds, as he spins a complex web of relationship. Like many conceptual systems in philosophy or mythology, the macrocosm and the microcosm are linked, even as time and eternity are linked in this poem.

Neural impulses (the "trilling wire"?) and the pulse of the blood provide rhythm here in our time-bound incorporate reality and these continue in spite of ancient wars, now forgotten. There, under our scars, we may still feel the relentless beat of life that corresponds to the drift of the stars above. We ascend the tree, not merely climbing a tree in our orchard in summer but also rising along the world tree, the axis of our world, moving above it in light, as though rising now on the sun's rays. As we rise to such great heights, where we might hear the music of the spheres, Eliot reconnects our imagination once more to the earth, to "the sodden floor below."

There we hear the sound of a struggle between life and death, "the boarhound and the boar." Hunter and hunted, opposites in dynamic relationship, forever pursuing and pursued, as though captured in a pattern - frozen on a vase or a frieze - yin and yang, complementing one another and "reconciled among the stars."

Calydonian Boar hunt. Corinthian black-figured aryballos, ca. 580 BC.
Musée du Louvre
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Eliot sees all existence in a pattern so vast we need to move to the scale of the stars to comprehend it, just as we need to allow our minds to enter eternity where we may see past, present, and future united.

Have I seen sapphires today, in all their beauty, but failed to notice the garlic that nourishes body and palate? Or have I been lost among the bulbs of garlic and ignored the flash of the sapphire's beauty? Have I felt the motion of the tides in my own blood or cut myself off from the mysteries and magic of creation all about me?

Do I remain below and never ascend the tree or do I rise without anchor to my roots?

Am I the hunter or the hunted, the boarhound or the boar? Can I allow the perception that I am both?

How may ways do I manage to fragment myself? My world? My relationships?

Can I pause, reconsider, and open myself to wholeness again?

Am I willing to transcend duality?

--the BB

1 comment:

Midnight Robber said...

This is an insightful commentary on Eliot's work.

The bedded axle-tree is a fundamental part of shamanistic practice, especially that of West Africa and its deratives both within North America and the Caribbean. It points upwards to the Lodestar, the Pole Star around which all the heavens circle..., including the Great Bear of course, the other animals, why not the boarhound and the boar...

At the still point of the turning world...there the dance is...

So too the shaman and the devotees dance round the axle-tree, centre of the universe(s)

And in Iranian Sufism, the Pole Star is the orientation of the Man of Light...