Ash Wednesday has a beautiful rhythm to it. I read the poem early this morning as I prepared breakfast for my children and phrases (such as the beginning lines above) have played again and again in my mind throughout the day. Of course, the poem also relies on familiar prayers (or Eliot's slight variations on familiar prayers) to keep the poem easily in one's mind. There are references to the Hail Mary, the "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof" part of the Mass, as well as the first chapter of John dialogue on the Word (in the Traditional Latin Mass, this was the Last Gospel at each Mass and in Ash Wednesday it appropriately comes near the end of the poem).
What struck me this year in my reading were the similarities between Ash Wednesday and The Waste Land. The discussion of bones in section II of Ash Wednesday reminded me of the bone imagery throughout The Waste Land, including the line, "Dry bones can harm no one," which is itself a reference to the bones of Ezekiel. My attention was also drawn to section IV, which begins:
Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
These lines about a mysterious figure walking reminded me of the lines from The Waste Land that reference Jesus' appearance to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus after his resurrection:
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman --
But who is that on the other side of you?
Because I begin Lent with Ash Wednesday and end Lent with The Waste Land, finding these similarities between the two poems was a special treat for me. Lent is a time for reflection and there's nothing like a little T.S. Eliot to spark reflection.