"The New Yorker," yes, the New Yorker is a magazine I've been reading for more than 40 years. It's one of those journals that causes regret. We regret we simply do not have the time to read it as we should. Except for its dark, Tina-Brown-led years when it became flip and slipshod, the New Yorker has been intelligent, entertaining, important and fun.
Some years ago, the magazine inaugurated something called "The New Yorker Festival." Three days of events featuring writers affiliated with the New Yorker and people its organizers deemed would be interesting to its readership. Three years ago, my wife and I did an eating and walking tour of lower Manhattan with the great humorist Calvin Trillin. Last year we took a tugboat tour of New York harbor and its many estuaries. And yesterday we went to a preview of Ralph Fiennes' soon-to-be-released movie, "Coriolanus," followed by a chat with Fiennes and New Yorker movie reviewer Anthony Lane.
Every once in a while, maybe especially if you live in a great city like New York, you see something that makes you want to pinch yourself. I took my kids, for instance, when they were young to hear Ray Charles wail in Radio City Music Hall. When he sang "Hit the road, Jack," I was for a moment thrilled to be alive. I saw Meryl Streep outdoors in the New York Shakespeare Festival playing in Brecht's "Mother Courage."
Yesterday afternoon, after Coriolanus (which was great) and after their chat, Anthony Lane asked Fiennes a favor. Would he read from TS Eliot's "Four Quartets"? Fiennes agreed and in his sonorous voice read, slowly and deliberately from number 2, the first part of East Coker.
The New Yorker and its Festival isn't crowd-sourced. The public doesn't vote on what it wants to see and read. It is tightly led and edited. Thank goodness.
Fiennes cleared his throat. He sat upright and leaned toward the audience. He read. Eliot sprang to life. The audience sat silent and listened, really listened.
In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.
In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.
Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.