Thomas Stearns Eliot

(1888-1965 / Missouri / United States)

Ash Wednesday



The text of this poem could not be published because of Copyright laws.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Thomas Stearns Eliot's Other Poems

  • The Love Song of J Alfred Pruf
  • A Cooking Egg
  • The Waste Land
  • Macavity: The Mystery Cat
  • The Hollow Men
  • The Naming Of Cats
  • Eyes That Last I Saw In Tears

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  • Jan Sweeney (3/15/2010 3:37:00 PM)

    There is no Christian message, except for the religious one. Eliot would have been the first to point that out. The Christian message is want not, seek not, crave not and do good because you are a child of God.

    Don't worry so much about 'religion, ' which has incorrectly been adopted by many as a synonym for empty moralizing. It's often wonderful and expansive. Don't learn about it from your friends and the newspapers; try it yourself. What have you got to lose, other than some mistaken ideas? (Report) Reply

  • Linda Treml (7/3/2009 9:21:00 PM)

    I first read this on Ash Wednesday and was stunned by the elegance of his passing on of the Christian message. Not the religious one, but the spirit of the words of Christ who wanted not; sought not; craved not; and judged not BUT loved so deeply that there was no room for gilding the gift of life, only appreciating and giving back. (Report) Reply

  • Jerome Ullman (2/9/2008 4:03:00 PM)

    Why is it that Eliot's poems - The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday (and more directly Prufrock) - all seem to deal with women/romance in the context of an empty/morally-empty world? To consider: is love the solution? (Report) Reply

  • Kirk Wilkins (10/4/2007 3:26:00 PM)

    Out of all of T.S. Eliot's impressive works of poetry, I somehow always enjoy and am able to relate to this one most. He captures powerfully and elegantly the experience of the Christian as they strive to reform their ways. His inimitable choice of words depicts economically the themes he is trying to convey. (Report) Reply

  • CCG Tomas (5/9/2007 1:59:00 AM)

    To add to what everyone else has been saying, I definitely think that this poem is one of repentance.
    The speaker of the poem, possibly from the point-of-view of Eliot himself, speaks about how he has lived a life without God for quite a long time and how he struggles as he continues to find himself and ultimately find salvage in God and Christianity.
    The speaker also writes as if he has committed some kind of tragic sin, so this poem could also be a plea for help, a plea for salvation. Throughout the poem, the speaker indirectly refers to himself as lowly, saying 'Lord I am not worthy/ Lord I am not worthy/ but speak the word only.'
    So although others, even himself, view him as a lowly creature, a heathen even (haha, that rhymes!) , God's grace - his 'word' - is what will save him from damnation.

    What I like about this poem is that it's very quotable.
    'Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still/Even among these rocks, /Our peace in His will/ And even among these rocks' (Report) Reply

  • Nieve Desu Yo! (5/7/2007 8:40:00 AM)

    This poem is very interesting yet i still dont understand nearly half of it. >< i could be partly because i dont understand poetry and have short attention span. But from what i could pick up, this poem is kind of sad because theres this man that feels that he is not good enough and loses hope in just about everything. He talks about his life story and relates it to a religious aspect. That about all i picked up so hopefully i can learn something from other people's comments :) (Report) Reply

  • Jordie O (5/7/2007 2:48:00 AM)

    Because...Bacause...Because...reminds me of the Wizard of Oz song. Haha and yet this poem is actually quite depressing. It seems hopeless and lost. Despairng for some great sin commited. Atonement. It seems to have mostly religious allusions and words.

    So Eliot kind of just wants forgiveness and maybe someone to listen to him? (Report) Reply

  • Errkuh Wang (5/6/2007 10:07:00 PM)

    First of all, the poem is titled 'Ash Wednesday', in reference to the first day of the Lent period, a time for repentance. The whole poem imitates this idea in the sense that the speaker constantly confesses he is unworthy. His feeling of unworthiness is portrayed in his prayer for sinners at the hour of their death. Upon reading IV, I sensed Eliot spoke of the Garden of Eden with the fountains and springs and his conclusion that humans were 'exiled'. Yet in V, Eliot continues with talking about the Word and how sinners walk in darkness. Here the theme of 'free-will' comes in, for God gave us free will to love Him and others. But along with the freewill to love, we also have the freewill to reject him. This idea is accurately described in 'those who choses thee and oppose thee'. (Report) Reply

  • Kel Tako (5/3/2007 4:33:00 AM)

    after reading everyone's responses to Eliot's 'Ash Wednesday', i am pretty sure i can't sum it up or even attempt to say it any better....but i will try anyways. (e for effort, right?) okay, so hmm...being the non-religious person with no background on Christian beliefs or biblical references, i interpreted this poem as some sort of forgiveness type of ordeal. the narrator is praying that God, or some higher power forgives him for...sins, i guess. he really believes that pleaded to God and having the willingness to accept whatever punishment as accountability, shall ease his concience? why is he really pleading? for God's forgiveness or for his own self...because some of it sounds like pity, if you ask me-but i'm not quite sure. i could be interpreting this poem incorrectly, in that i'm seeing past any biblical reference or religious devotion and faith that may lie in this poem. (Report) Reply

  • Casey Ohashi (5/3/2007 3:36:00 AM)

    This poem is Eliot's response to a religious epiphany. In an effort to express his need for God in his life, Eliot humbly admits he is 'not worthy', accepting the consequences he may have earned during his sin-ridden life. The poem is full of apologies and requests for forgiveness from God, including pleads for His pity. The heart-felt 'Lord Jesus, you are my savior, I give in to you' is a prominent theme throughout the poem, portraying Eliot's strong sense of religious devotion. Obviously, from reading the poem several times through, Eliot is committed to living his life justly, and wishes his hopes and prayers would convince those around him to do the same. (Report) Reply

  • Bc Hang (5/2/2007 11:46:00 PM)

    Eliot was trying to express his feelings about God in this poem. There are moments when a person cannot truly inderstand what is going on in his/her life, and all they know is that some force is at work that is greater than themselves. Eliot ecapsulated this feeling in the poem. There are a lot of biblical references and other literary references in this poem. But this poem speaks directly to the readers heart. If the literary work has some life of its own, has its own energy and emotion, then this poem truly has a life of its own. The emotions it evoked in me was one of awe, the great beauty and sense of something larger than myself.This poem is almost like a prayer, for forgiveness and one of thanks. (Report) Reply

  • Kie Techur (5/1/2007 8:10:00 PM)

    I think Eliot was trying to voice out different people's opinions on 'Salvation.' The sinner who thinks he can't repent, the sinner who allows himself the freedom of giving up wholly to God, and Jesus, without whom we would not be able to 'be made like we had never sinned before.' The level of sophistication that prevails throughout the whole poem, both in the wording and in the allusions, is stunning. Like 'The Wasteland, ' I don't think I'll ever be able to fully understand all of the different levels in this piece, but in it's complexity - like the complexity of human beings (Thanks MOC(k) CW) - it moves me. I can relate to the sinner who can't, and the sinner who did. (Report) Reply

  • Doug Taylor-weiss (12/23/2006 2:29:00 PM)

    Eliot is using lots of Dante in this poem. The spiral staircase resembles that in Purgatorio where each level is completed by ascending a spiral staircase. The levels in Purgatorio are the 7 deadly sins that need to be purged from Dante's life. Also, Dante is led through paradise by Beatrice, who could be the woman that Eliot is here referring to, especially since the woman and Mary seem, in Eliot, to be two different people. Eliot reflects the general loss of faith in the 20th century and the emptiness of life without hope. The writer knows of the ascent of purgatory and yet doubts that he can in fact ascend. Maybe it's not real. Maybe his doubts themselves are too heavy. The line 'Our peace in his will' is directly from Dante: in sua voluntate e nostra pace. It's a basic Christian principle of 'Thy will be done.' I think that the line 'O my people, what have I done unto thee? ' comes from the church's liturgy of Good Friday. Christ speaks, as it were, from the cross: why have you mocked me, killed me, etc. (Report) Reply

  • Veah Tapat (5/15/2006 5:07:00 AM)

    This is a poem that has so many allusions on religious things that I can't imagine how people who are not Christians or educated in it can understand it. For me, when I first began reading the poem, I had no idea what Eliot was talking about or what was going on. It's strange to think that although most people think that this is an easier poem to read than 'The Wasteland, ' I understood that poem a lot more than this. However, reaching the second part, I began to see all the allusions to Christianity and God. This poem in my opinion is like a prayer. Although I may be completely off the true meaning, it seems as though the narrator of the poem is asking for forgiveness for not repenting in his ways. He is praying to God to forgive his ways even though he 'avoid[ed] the face' and den[ied] the voice' of God (I'm assuming) .

    What I found really intersting in the poem was how it began and concluded. There was much repetition with the words, 'I do not hope' and 'i cannot hope' in the beginning and throughout, which shows such hopelessness. It's as though the narrator of the poem just gave up on his life or his circumstances. However, it concludes with 'and let my cry come unto thee, ' which I believe shows that the narrator is reaching out to someone and hoping that someone else will hear his plight and come to his rescue. Thus, he has not fully surrendered to his circumstances and still has a shred of hope left.

    I still don't fully understand the meaning of this poem, but then again TS Eliot was a literary genius and who understands genuises? (Report) Reply

  • Jonathan Inake (5/10/2006 1:47:00 AM)

    I am neither a devout religious person whom can easily understand the true meaning behind these words, nor a english scholar who has the ability to decipher and comprehend what the author was hoping to portray, these past poems that we have read, including this and the 'wastland' seem beyond me in. In attempts to understand what i'm reading i read it over and over again with no success, although this was a much less confusing poem like the 'wasteland' the words seemd to come in one ear and out the other. One thing though that i did get from this was that it seems like the general theme has to do with people who live without faith in god, and the question all the things of life. I find it interesting how many religions basis of belief is having faith in this completely intangible being of essence and that you're supposed to base all that you believe in just based on the fact that someone told someone who wrote a book about all the 'teachings' of god. I don't know, i was raised in a not so religious family which has led me to always question religion. (Report) Reply

  • Erika Howell (5/2/2006 3:47:00 AM)

    This is one of my favorite poems we've read, maybe because it did not have too many alliterations that were way over my head like some of others. Many of the lines sound familiar, for they come from prayers I've had to recite in my CCD class (I'm Catholic) . The main theme I get from Ash Wednesday is that people who live in darkness, live without faith. They do not believe in God, and it is fear of the unknown and fear of the possibility of hell, that drives them to believe near the end of their lives, because they are not sure if Mary will still accept them into the 'ivory gates' despite their lack of belief. It is said that 'if you deny Him now, He will deny you later.' (Report) Reply

  • J Gollero (5/1/2006 5:35:00 AM)

    Ash Wednesday is a very interesting poem once you stop to think about all the symbolism it actually portrays in each stanza. Eliot's use of repetition and also the significance of colors are evident in this piece. Although each section of the poem was different, each was conencted in some way. I found it clever how he linked the first section to the second by ending the first section with the use of words from the ending of the prayer 'Hail Mary' and then go into the second section which describes a woman which we can assume to be Mary, then finally in the fourth section actually mention her name. I also noticed his use of contrasts and contradictions in the poem. Profits and losses, birth and death, and of course, darkness and light. I prefer this poem over 'The Wasteland.' (Report) Reply

  • Alex Cachero (5/1/2006 4:28:00 AM)

    The most obvious aspect of this poem that stuck out in my mind was the repetition that T.S. Eliot used. There was repetition of entire passages like how he connected the first part of the poem to the last part. Also there was the repetition of single words, homonyms, and alliterations. The sound of the poem being read aloud was very lyrical and fluid despite the poem having a depressing overtone. T.S. Eliot uses a lot of symbolism for light and dark and the colors white and blue. In the poem it was easy to tell that there were a lot of religious referneces to christianity. Ash Wednesday is a day for christians to repent by getting ash rubbed into their forehead and recite a Litany of Penance. It also marks the beginning of Lent. T.S. Eliot addresses these topics and the topic of death. No matter what status or group a person belongs to, one thing to remember is that every person is a sinner. The 'veiled women' must decide who she must pray for but i think that she was included to remind everyone (or mainly christians) that God is merciful and will not judge; instead, he will forgive as long as a person is willing to repent during the forty days of Lent and starting with Ash Wednesday. T.S. Eliot uses a lot of symbolism for light and dark and the colors white and blue. (Report) Reply

  • Stacy Koyama (4/30/2006 8:02:00 PM)

    This poem was still confusing for me, perhaps because i never quite understood Eliot's other poem 'the Wasteland.' It's easier to read though, because the language and the format of the words were not as jumpy and nonsensical as 'The Wasteland.' It seems as if the narrator in this poem is thinking about his life, and of someone who seems greater than him - a woman - who he wants but is hopeless for. It also seems that he's praying to God for help, so that he can perhaps overcome his fear, and unworthiness, but fears that he will never be heard. This poem is much less 'out of this world' as other poems I've read. I'm sorry if I totally missed the real point of this poem! ! (Report) Reply

  • Russ Tolen (4/28/2006 12:25:00 AM)

    Ash Wednesday captures the genuine emotions of those who believe in God.

    The words are like a soothing melody, which reveals the sense of security one has when they have faith.

    In ways, what the poem also does is open the eyes of the readers. Eliot, already a respected poet, uses his gift of poetry, and crafts a poem about his belief in God. One may think Eliot uses this poem, and the serenity of it, to evangilize to nonbelievers, trying to persuade to them that 'this is how awesome God has been in my life, why not join me? '


    To add to that, Ash Wednesday ibecomes more than just a poem, but a personal prayer of faith. (Report) Reply

Read all 21 comments »

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