A Song for Simeon – T. S. Eliot – Analysis

Looking at T. S..Eliot’s poem ‘A Song for Simeon’ based on the Gospel of Luke 2 verses 25-35 and the the followomg ‘Song of Simeon’ text –

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

My comments in bracketted italics.

A Song for Simeon

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

(The Roman Hyacinths denote the foreign domination at the time of Christ. A powerful description of old age … waiting for death … but there is sun in the distance … but waiting for the wind that chills … the ending of the journey … but Simeon is ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’ before he can die. He will eventually get a very personal appreciation of that consolation.)

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

(Simeon’s testimony to a good life … but knowing that the world will change after the birth of JC … foreseeing the future … a time of sorrow and of fleeing from persecution by escaping to the mountains … fleeing from foreign armies and their weapons)

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no tomorrow.

(It is a season of birth and death … the death of winter and the birth of spring …  the death of the old order associated with the consolation and what this will bring to the world – he is now ready to die … he has been to the Temple and held the consolation of Israel ‘the child Christ’ in his own arms)

According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

(Simeon sees the full consequences of the coming of the Lord’s Christ. He wants to depart without further participation. The ‘saint’s stair’ is not for him. His dying will be the same as those after him. The last lines give his final plea for departure having seen the ‘salvation’.)

T. S. Eliot

I have always thought the ‘Song of Simeon’ to be a beautiful representation of an aging gentleman who has led a good life and is ready to die. His life is now complete. He is happy to leave this world in peace and in the knowledge that all peoples will have access to this salvation. The inclusive nature so important in a world that is so divisive.

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