T.S.Eliot and a footnote to the dawn. (Writing in the plain style is hard work.)


It's only chemo

This line from Little Gidding— ‘The first-met stranger in the waning dusk’ — is always mis-read. We dusk think it means evening, but it means dawn. Eliot struggled to get this right, and sent a series of letters about it.

As he said, ‘it is surprisingly difficult to find words for the shade before morning.’ English describes the dusk better than the dawn.

Dusk can refer to the morning. It means ‘the darker stage of twilight’, which itself only ‘esp.’ applies to the evening, according to the OED. But Eliot was relying on precedent from Tennyson and knew it didn’t really work. But he was stuck.

He was going to write, ‘The first-met stranger at lantern end’, because he was thinking very specifically of the time of day when people put night lanterns out. But it was ‘too quaint’ and there ‘is so much ending at the beginning.’…

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By penwithlit

Freelance writer and radio presenter

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