Little Gidding

This belongs to Mariel.

I am an English teacher and all of my tattoos are literary.

[This is] a photo of my back tattoo. It is from “Little Gidding” which is the last segment of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” This quotation actually is from the very last portion of “Little Gidding,” of which I chose to tattoo the first four and last five lines together (I didn’t have the guts at the time to go whole hog and tattoo the entire section. I wish I had.).

I got this tattoo because my husband is in the Air Force, which requires that I move far, and often, from my home in Hawaii. What speaks to me in this text is the idea that we will all go on journeys in life, but the answers we seek will often be found at our place of origin, whether that is a physical location or not. We never know what we will find when we go back home, but we will see it with new eyes and a new understanding. The last five lines of the poem, the ones with which Eliot concludes the “Four Quartets” are also important because they speak to the ultimate fact (to use the cliche) that everything will be okay in the end, no matter what happens. These lines, which were inspired by writings of the mystic Julian of Norwich, have been crucial in helping me cope with difficulty.

Literary Tattoos: T.S. Eliot Little Gidding Four Quartets

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, remembered 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 flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

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