Pentecost: The Dove Descending Breaks the Air

From Little Gidding, TS Eliot:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flames of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Igor Stravinsky’s “The Dove Descending”:

A sermon by Michael Sadgrove, “On The Day of Pentecost”

May is a white time in T. S. Eliot’s poem from the Four Quartets, ‘Little Gidding’. His welcome to the whiteness of spring time draws on the memory of snow and the longing for release from winter’s captivity. This leads him to reflect on the four elements, earth, air, water and fire. It is the last, fire, the primal and ultimate element that is the theme of this great poem.

It was prompted by the searing experience of the Luftwaffe raids on London whose hellish wild fires costing so much in human life and property he saw as a symbol of sin and destructiveness. But as he scans the Christian memory for other fiery associations, he begins to enlarge his understanding. There is the fire of purgation that leads to repentance and a new vision of life that purifies humanity of base corruption and its propensity to embrace evil. And there is the fire of healing and redemption, the Pentecostal fire that renews and makes it possible for life to begin again. But the human race must choose between the fire of the Holy Spirit or Dante’s inferno which the bombing of London symbolises. It is the choice between being redeemed or being destroyed. God, says the poem, invites humanity to be redeemed, consumed by the fire of love and escape the living hell through purgation by the ordeal of fire

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