Thursday, June 16, 2011

Oxford,T.S. Eliot, and Wood Ducks

Well, this is new, this blogging often thing! But I suppose I brought this on myself. Yesterday I did some hardcore reminiscing of Oxford, and nothing quite sparks the need to write in me like reminiscing. So, I wrote something that I've been meaning to write for a long time, based on an experience I had mid-way through term on my way to the EFL...or perhaps it was Wycliffe for lecture and tea on Wednesday. It's all right if it sounds too melodramatic or like it's trying to be one of the "deep, introspective" things. I'll fully admit that I aspire to be one of those deep, introspective people, but suspect I might never become one because farts make me laugh. So if this piece sounds fake, I apologize, I didn't mean it to be. I just might have been distracted by some passing of gas or something.

The Wood Duck

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance
–T.S. Eliot  "Four Quartets, Burnt Norton"

It was chilly. Not the type that makes you shiver as you walk, but the type that takes up residence in the tip of your nose as soon as you step out the door, to which the nose protests by running until it can breathe in warmer air. It’s a healthy sort of chill, one that gently reminds you that you are in fact alive. 

It was this type of reminder that caused me to stop on the path, on the bridge over that small daughter of the Thames tributary and realize that almost five weeks had passed. It’s a funny thing about time; it never can be measured by its duration, how long it feels—it almost always ends up being counted in other ways. In times opening a bright red door, in times pouring boiling water into a teacup, in words written, in miles traveled, in friends made.

The trouble is that in the middle of it, you forget to count these things—until a chill tweaks your nose, and suddenly you realize how much has happened, and is happening. The more experiences you have, the faster times feels. The world is turning.

So on that chilly day, I stopped on the bridge, and felt a bit paralyzed. Michaelmas term would be over before I realized it. Going backwards was impossible, but moving forward promised more of the same, being so caught up in the experience that I never stopped to look at it. 

So instead I watched the ducks. A gathering of mallards floated calmly in the water around bridge. And thena wood duck. He was the only one, his long-feathered head standing out among his companions. I had seen him before, other times that I had passed this bridge. But today I noticed him, and remembered that he had been there; every time I passed by and looked beside the bridge, that one solitary wood duck in a crowd of mallard brethren was there.

And suddenly the world stopped spinning for one moment: anchored to a constant wood duck—something living that didn’t seem to change, only returned and returned again to the waters by the bridge.

Of course, he will change. If I return to Oxford, there probably won’t be a wood duck by that bridge. Who knows, the bridge might even be gone. But he reminded me to take time to stop and watch, and anchor myself in something constant; he reminded me of God—

The still point of the turning world.


  1. I never cease to be amazed by your writing :)
    This was a lovely piece...made me miss Honduras. See you Saturday I think!

  2. It's just eerie how similar I felt in Oxford sometimes Abby--and while watching ducks nonetheless. I only have eerie, utter sympathy for this piece of excellent writing. Thanks for taking the time to blog it friend! Warms my heart :) -Zach

  3. I think it is very appropriate that a wood duck remind one of God.