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What is a Still Point?
One of these days I will introduce you to a powerful influence of mine, T. S. Eliot, but right now is no time to get side-tracked.
Suffice to say he is considered by many English Literature scholars to be the most important poet of the twentieth century.[i]
The reason, I believe, he is an important voice worth listening to is because he goes into uncomfortable and yet deeply important topics intended to help us navigate life.[ii]
He didn’t invent the concept of the still point, but he certainly appropriated it. Because his use of words and phrases is difficult to grasp at first, let me describe what he was saying.
Eliot spoke of a “still point of the turning world,” meaning that all of us living on this globe are in motion, but also that there is a center point where no motion exists.
He said none of this involves man. We didn’t start it. We can’t stop it. We can’t even influence it. The world turns and at its center is a still point. But he isn’t referring to the physical center of the earth. It isn’t about that kind of “fact.” Instead he is using this picture to describe our lives as constantly in motion from birth to death. Now that’s certainly an interesting idea, but not a remarkable one.
So Eliot then takes this idea of a motionless point around which everything moves in time and space and he says, “…at the still point, there the dance is…” and then he goes on to say, “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”[iii]
[i] If you have the margin and the interest, do look into TS Eliot, but it isn’t important for our time together whether or not you do.
[ii] Note, I didn’t just say reading because poetry is more than words, it’s sounds and rhythm as well.
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Quartet No. 1: Burnt Norton.