They may be rioting in London, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, rioting and looting and setting stores on fire, burning cars, smashing windows, as if these venerable law-abiding cities were as combustible as Newark or Detroit in 1967. The images are astonishing to one who spent a couple of relentlessly peaceable years at Cambridge, and I had to rub my eyes a little: are they really torching BBC radio cars in Salford, the quietest and grayest of northern cities, an offshoot of Manchester? You could hear the sound of bewilderment in the voices of shopkeepers and clerks. "Salford's not a bad place at all," one said. "I've worked here seven years. We have a lot of shoplifting, but stuff like this never happens."
Still, those with lasting values on their minds are managing to keep the disturbances in the broader British perspective. One such "action group" is lobbying hard to keep the Somerset village of East Coker as is, out of harm's way, and far from the hands of land developers. East Coker provides the title and the backdrop for one of T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets," which you either consider the pinnacle of civilization (in a tie with Valery's "Cimetiere Marin" and Rilke's 10th elegy) or you don't, but it's still up there, it has the grave lines about the underground ("O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark"), it has certain Eliotic pieties delivered poker-faced like unconscious self-parodies ("In order to arrive at what you are not, / You must go through the way in which you are not"), and it has a passage of unrivaled eloquence about the nature of writing:
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.
"Trying to use words," because "I've got to use words when I'm talking to you" -- this is Eliot's starting point. But . . . in his beginning is his end. Pictured is St. Michael's, the parish church in East Coker where Eliot wanted his ashes to be interred.
The East Coker loyalists have circulated a petition to "save" the rural village that inspired Eliot, population 1,149, which is "under threat" from "rampant development and urban-sprawl." The specific development is the plan to construct 3,700 new housing units in the neighboring town of Yeovil. It is thought that East Coker could not survive such an encroachment and that "the UK's official planning authorities" are guilty of promoting a project that would "extinguish the unique heritage and identity of T S Eliot's EAST COKER as an independent village habitat." The petition is directed to the attention of the Prime Minister. You can read about it here. -- DL