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“This twittering world” – T. S. Eliot

"Dear Mrs. Eliot" by Karen ChristensenTime present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

These lines from T. S. Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton” have appeared in some of our promotional materials as I explained the importance of our work on world history, and the future.

But I ought to read more thoroughly. I have to thank a friend, Dan Burstein, writing on a listserv, for bringing the following section of the poem to my attention. Dan brought this up in reference to current discussion about the effects of social media on our ability to concentrate. I had no idea that Eliot wrote about “twittering.”

Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

You can read about my days working in London with Valerie Eliot on the T. S. Eliot Letters. This article, “Dear Mrs. Eliot,” was the cover story of the Guardian Review in January 2005.

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