A Time for Starlight and Lamplight.

By: Jen Shoop
"There is a time for the evening under starlight / A time for the evening under lamplight" - T.S. Eliot

*Image via.

T.S. Eliot wrote a series of four long and characteristically dense poems that were eventually strung together and published under the title “Four Quartets” in 1943. Across them, Eliot’s verses pitch forth like javelins, powerful and weighted, plunging into the heart of things. Reading them requires intellectual athleticism. You have to be willing to clear the hurdles over and over again, straining to chase its allusive, obscure, deeply muscled, fast-moving meaning. Because of this, I dreaded his work in both my undergrad and grad school days, always doubted my own grasp of it, and I still lack much of a stomach (perhaps mind) for him. However — taken in small sips, a couple lines at a time, he can absolutely transform your thinking.

For some reason, many years ago, I excerpted a few sections of the the “East Coker” poem from the “Four Quartets,” and each time I happen to re-encounter those clippings, I find something new and earth-shattering.

Today, let’s sit with these:

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated

Of dead and living. Not the intense moment

Isolated, with no before and after,

But a lifetime burning in every moment

And not the lifetime of one man only

But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

There is a time for the evening under starlight,

A time for the evening under lamplight

(The evening with the photograph album).

Love is most nearly itself

When here and now cease to matter.

Old men ought to be explorers

Here or there does not matter

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,

The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

Of the petrel and the porpoise.

In my end is my beginning.


I would bet a lot of money that each of us is surfacing with a different phrase, or a different view on a phrase, clenched in her fist. “In my end is my beginning” (!), “Old men ought to be explorers” (!!), “As we grow older, the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated” (!!!). Any of these have assuredly been inscribed on t-shirts, coffee mugs, social media profiles, etc. They are profound and perfectly cast. We could talk at some length about what he’s saying about aging, about what it means to live and die, just working with these spare couplets. But on this most recent revisiting, I was electrified by the phrases:

There is a time for the evening under starlight,

A time for the evening under lamplight

(The evening with the photograph album).

They resonate so powerfully with some of my recent writings on this new and more settled phase of life, on the quarterlife roam, on years that ask versus answer. When I read those lines, I think: there are seasons of life for exploration, for wandering starstruck, and equally seasons for quiet domesticity, for remembering, for the cloistering that comes with feeling settled. Both are illuminated (illuminating), just from different sources of light. I love the echo and resolution: the near-cinematic way in which we move from moon-lit pine needles to the yellow glow of a lamp after dinner. There is a time for both. There is an appropriateness, a designation, for each season. I find this reassuring in a time where I occasionally wonder what I’ve lost, if anything, in this gradual process of nesting inward. Are the wild starlight days gone? Have I lost my curiosity, my tolerance, my hunger for new and different experiences? I think not; there is, simply, a time for both.


+On a different season of life, that called me inward: new motherhood.

+”I will look at the cliffs and clouds with quiet eyes.”

+Life is not a dress rehearsal.

Shopping Break.

+I do not need another woven bag BUT. I am currently debating between this Altuzurra (on super sale) in the rainbow stripe or one of these Marni micros. What do you think?

+Perfect under-$150 wedding guest dress for an affair that skews a bit more formal.

+Into these wide leg navy trousers.

+Been hearing good things about Charlotte Tilbury’s new blush. I’m still obsessing over this Merit one — I have two colors, but I’ve been wearing the bright pink Stockholm color daily since it arrived.

+This Gap denim dress is perfect.

+Love Sabre’s colorful cutlery sets. So fun — they make weeknight dinners feel festive, celebratory, whimsical!

+SUCH a cheery crochet dress. Love.

+This chocolate brown tank would look so chic with ecru jeans/trousers.

+Chic outdoor planters, on sale.

+I panic-ordered an enormous tin of Harney’s chamomile tea the other night at 1:45 a.m. We’ve all been working our way through a bad cold and I had a coughing fit in the middle of the night so I went down to make some tea. I took the last packet of chamomile! I must have it, and Harney’s peppermint, on hand at all times. They make everything better. Someone had sent me a Corksicle mug as a gift awhile ago, and I’d not used it until this night, but it was weirdly perfect? It kept the tea really warm at my bedside so I could sip it throughout the night, and it has a kind of…padded? underside that makes no noise on the bedside table, which is nice so I wouldn’t wake Mr. Magpie with both my coughing AND my clambering for a cup of tea.

+Into the retro vibes of these athletic shorts.

+Pretty linen dress.

+Fun rainbow striped tunic.

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2 thoughts on “A Time for Starlight and Lamplight.

  1. The section of poem that you excerpted is beautiful. His words are so vivid – the imagery it brings to mind! My first thought when I saw the verses you pulled out (“There is a time for the evening under starlight./A time for the evening under lamplight”) was that it’s similar to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which starts with, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Similar sentence structure (I’m a sucker for parallelism/repetition) and similar sentiments.

    Also – love chamomile tea! We always had Sleepytime tea in my house growing up, but I don’t like the spearmint in the Sleepytime. I found plain chamomile tea at Trader Joe’s recently and it’s so soothing to make a cup in the evenings. I’ll need to try the Harney’s the next time I run out.

    1. I love this and can completely see the echo with Ecclesiastes. Gorgeous, and so true, I think. Or, at least, reassuring!

      You’ll love Harney’s! I’m obsessed with their teas.


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