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.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world.
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
From Burnt Norton (No. 1 of ‘Four Quartets’) by T.S. Eliot
The postcards, in their held moment-in-time stillness, seem to illustrate ‘The still point of the turning world’ with its connotations of being a stilled centre or stationary hub within a fast spinning wheel.
Was Matlock Bath such a still place in the inter-war period as storm clouds gathered?
Did it, nestled in its deep-wooded valley, perhaps provide a moments equipoise at a time of uncertainty and in the accelerated movement towards war?
Time is slippery and inconsistent, time flies – it passes too quickly when we’re enjoying ourselves, when we want to stretch out an experience; and time drags so slowly when we’re bored, when we want an experience to finish more quickly than it does. Either way our experience of time is conditioned by our desires – to hold onto an experience or push it away. The still point or pause glimpsed in these postcards is time-less neither flying nor dragging. It is in the present moment, with no clinging nor rejecting, with no restless desire to be in another place or another time.
The postcards capture a paradox, despite their chronological age the images they contain dance at the still point that can only take place in the here and now. They’re historicised, dated yet unconstrained by the limitations of time, they speak eloquently to this, our moment in time.
The Second Coming, written by W.B. Yates in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War uses Christian imagery of the Apocalypse and second coming allegorically to describe the atmosphere of post-WW1 Europe.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
These outwardly calm, stilled, postcard images capture a point, an horizon just before ‘Things fall apart’ when ‘the centre cannot hold’. They’re eloquent in their silence. Perhaps there’s no need for words after all?