Choruses from The Rock – T.S. Eliot

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.
Forgetful, you neglect your shrines and churches;
The men you are in these times deride
What has been done of good, you find explanations
To satisfy the rational and enlightened mind.
Second, you neglect and belittle the desert.
The desert is not remote in southern tropics
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother.
The good man is the builder, if he build what is good.
I will show you the things that are not being done,
And some of the things that were long ago done,
That you may take heart, Make perfect your will.
Let me show you the work of the humble. Listen.

In the vacant places
We will build with new bricks
There are hands and machines
And clay for new brick
And lime for new mortar
Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every son would have his motor cycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.

Much to cast down, much to build, much to restore;
Let the work not delay, time and the arm not waste;
Let the clay be dug from the pit, let the saw cut the stone,
Let the fire not be quenched in the forge.

The Word of the LORD came unto me, saying:
O miserable cities of designing men,
O wretched generation of enlightened men,
Betrayed in the mazes of your ingenuities,
Sold by the proceeds of your proper inventions:
I have given you hands which you turn from worship,
I have given you speech, for endless palaver,
I have given you my Law, and you set up commissions,
I have given you lips, to express friendly sentiments,
I have given you hearts, for reciprocal distrust.
I have given you the power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.
Many are engaged in writing books and printing them,
Many desire to see their names in print,
Many read nothing but the race reports.
Much is your reading, but not the Word of GOD,
Much is your building, but not the House of GOD,
Will you build me a house of plaster, with corrugated roofing,
To be filled with a litter of Sunday newspapers?

And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger.

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is shall shadow
The man that pretends to be.

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of
the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self seeking as always before, selfish and
purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on
the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has
never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?

There came one who spoke of the shame of Jerusalem
And the holy places defiled;
Peter the Hermit, scourging with words.
And among his hearers were a few good men,
Many who were evil,
And most who were neither,
Like all men in all places.

In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.

Our age is an age of moderate virtue
And moderate vice

The soul of Man must quicken to creation.

Out of the meaningless practical shapes of all that is living or
Joined with the artist’s eye, new life, new form, new colour.
Out of the sea of sound the life of music,
Out of the slimy mud of words, out of the sleet and hail of verbal
Approximate thoughts and feelings, words that have taken the
place of thoughts and feelings,
There spring the perfect order of speech, and the beauty of incantation.

LORD, shall we not bring these gifts to Your service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order,
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The LORD who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.
For Man is joined in spirit and body,
And therefore must serve as spirit and body.
Visible and invisible, two wolds meet in Man;
Visible and invisible must meet in His Temple;
You must not deny the body.
Now you shall see the Temple completed:
After much striving, after many obstacles;
The work of creation is never without travail;
The formed stone, the visible crucifix,
The dressed altar, the lifting light,

The visible reminder of Invisible Light.

Be not too curious of Good and Evil;
Seek not to count the future waves of Time;
But be ye satisfied that you have light
Enough to take your step and find your foothold.

O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.

O Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening,
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
O Light Invisible, we worship Thee!

We thank Thee for the light that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!

In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light. We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends; and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired: children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired; and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!

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35 thoughts on “Choruses from The Rock – T.S. Eliot”

  1. I enjoyed reading this. “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

  2. Thank you for posting T.S. Eliot’s “Choruses from The Rock” on your website. I have been looking all over the Internet for the complete poem of “Choruses”, but only found it on your website.

    I think Eliot’s “Four Quartets”, “The Waste Land” and “Choruses” may be his best three poems.

  3. Tim, thanks for your comment. This is not the full poem, but I did end up finding it online. I can send it over.

  4. Thanks for putting this online. I came across a couple of typos:

    I will show you the things that are noW being done,

    Visible and invisible, two woRlds meet in Man;

    We thanK Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the

  5. Thank you so much for posting this; the excerpt I am familiar with is: ‘Here were decent godless people, etc…’, however I always thought that was from The Waste Land. And it is wonderful to see so much more of this poem.

  6. Thank you so much for posting “Choruses from ‘The Rock’.” As Holy Week overlaps with National Poetry Month, I began re-reading the poem in Eliot’s book of Collected Poems and was taken by the prophetic voice and timely word in this 77-year-old poem.

  7. Hi Daniel.

    Listen, thanks first of all, for posting this, as it is very useful to have Choruses from ‘The Rock’ available online. I just wanted to mention whether it is possible that you may have omited a section from section I? In T.S. Eliot Selected Poems 1909 – 1962, page 161, after the line “Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust”, there seem to be 27 lines missing, from “I journeyed to london, to the timekept City” … until “The God-shaken, in whom is the truth inborn” …

    I haven’t seen anything else for the moment. Hope this is of help to you, please keep up the good work!

    Greg Morgan, Rome

  8. Hi Daniel,
    From memory, Line 100 should read ‘…for endless palaver’, I think.
    Great work getting this extraordinarily rich (and ignored) poem online!

  9. It is wonderful t read eliot’s poem the waste land.thez lines “where is the life.we hv lost in living.?” are fascinating

  10. In the section beginning with “But it seems that something is happening…” (approx. 10 stanzas or so from the bottom) five lines down from that, the line ending with “…Life, or Race, or Dialectic. two lines are missing that read “The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do” then the next line “But stand with…” etc is there. i am quoting from “The Complete Poems and Plays” Library of Congress # 52-11346

  11. Daniel, You could not be more timely than You are. That is a great thing to see. i wanted to share that stanza (?) with a friend but did not want to type the whole thing; so i looked on the web and there You had it. The lines missing were two of my favorites, so that was all i had to type myself, because You had all the rest for me. Thank You. Hope You have a Lovely Holiday……..c

  12. Thank you, thank you. Have always loved ‘The Chorus’ and Four Quartets

  13. Thank you for including this moving poem in your site.

    I have heard that at the main entrace of a US university there is big stone where one can read

    “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

    Do you know which university is that?

    In my statistics and computer science courses often I refer to the above two lines of the poem. Then with due respect I add
    “Where is the information we have lost in data?” and reflect on this with students. Aftewards, I give students reference to T.S.Eliot and the date when it was the poem written. Students reactions are extremely interesting.


  14. Would anyone have access to Thomas Whitbread’s poem titled “T.S. Eliot” ? It seems to be a commentary on Eliot’s spiritual journey to faith—cannot find. The first line is “Eliot saw much, thought he saw more”. Thought is a noun, not a verb in this line–

  15. I would also be interested in learning which university has that rock. I wish I had read this poem back when I was teaching; it would have been a good starter for the Christianity and Technology paper every student was required to write.

  16. i am glad to have been included in this continuing commentary on “The Rock”. Hearing a section of this Poem read on the radio by a Minister, was one of several “Art” things that reached into my heart while i was a member of a religious cult, and helped me begin to re-think my personal connections to the Lord… Fond memories. “Thank You all for Your contribution to my continuing education!”

  17. Purple poet, thanks to this continuing commentary, and help from Daniel above, I was able to reconnect with Thomas Whitbread’s beautiful celebration of TS ELIOT’s artful call to Faith:

    Eliot saw much, thought he saw more
    Hairshirt as summer underwear
    Showed forth that he, like Everyman, bore
    More than almost every man could bear,
    Yet quietly, in what he wore.

    He was the poets’ astronaut,
    He voyaged backward to Donne,
    and onward to a still point, thought
    To be beyond, though like, our Sun
    And far past, though not unlike, Nought.

    Yet, thank his dance, his stillest point
    Flew like a locus into seas
    And through backyards, making conjoint
    Sweet peas with apotheoses,
    Big Muddy with all blood anoint.

  18. We have a poetry group that meets once a month in our house (Dublin.)

    Something special is delivered in the second half of the evening.

    I will deliver this Poem when it is my turn next.
    Think it a fabulous poem.

  19. Did you know that these were written for a celebration of the building of the Churches of London? – Eliot wrote the verses, a priest wrote the other spoken dialogue (between those who had built the churches over the century). I once tried to get hold of a full copy of the play- the Library system could only find ONE copy in the whole of England!
    The non-Eliot writing is not of a high standard, but does set the Choruses in their context. You would think that important enough to keep a few copies around.

  20. Hello Daniel,
    This was written by t. S. Eliot many years after the WASTELAND.

    Can we have the complete poem, please~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~if this is not the full one.

    Thank you

  21. Thanks for posting this. I, too, was looking for the entire poem and grateful to find most of it here. I noticed you found a link to the entire poem and wondered if you would please send it to me. Thanks.

  22. Thanks for publishing one if TS Eliot’s work.
    This is beautiful & timeless piece.

  23. I teach this poem, or at least excerpts. I just reread the poem and I am so torn about it. I LOVE Eliot’s poetry. It is probably more timely than when it was written. I am always saddened by this poem in its specificity of dogma. As I read this I can’t help but see it as generally try about the current state of mankind, but it doesn’t have to be in specific reference to Christianity. I know that he had converted at this point, and that it is a very dogmatic poem for this reason. Still, can’t we understand that we have lost so much in the pursuit of information, and that we have lost our sense of community in this modern world, without demanding an obedience to Christian theology. I love this poem and hold it close to me, but I am not a Christian, and don’t see the need to be one to accept the beauty of the points that Eliot makes in these lines. They are true on a much deeper level than obedience to one specific religion.

  24. I came across this poem, I believe on your cite, almost three years ago. I am just getting around to commenting here because I have just happened to think of it again in recent weeks. I love your edit of the poem. You seem to have omitted the very things I would have also. I hope to recite this poem at my church. I am stunned by the beauty of Eliot’s words and by just how relevant they seem to be still.

  25. There are so many fine lines and ideas in a body that doesn’t quite function that I can’t help feeling that this was a late poem which he didn’t have time to complete.

  26. I am surprised I had not heard of this poem before. It is filled with gems. Yesterday, for the first time, I came across this bit of it in a great book by John Eldredge entitled Waking The Dead:

    The endless cycle of idea and action,
    Endless invention, endless experiment,
    Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
    Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
    Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
    All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
    But nearness to death no nearer to God.
    Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

    Thanks for the posting and thanks for all the comments…

  27. And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
    Their only monument the asphalt road
    And a thousand lost golf balls.”

    Thanks for posting this poem. Using these lines in a sermon for Christmas Eve, and our need for a Redeemer.

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