Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service

Original Text: 
T. S. Eliot, Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920): 10-14. E546 A753 1920a Fisher Rare Book Library.
Look, look, master, here comes two religious caterpillars.
3Drift across the window-panes.
5In the beginning was the Word.
12The wilderness is cracked and browned
13But through the water pale and thin
14Still shine the unoffending feet
15And there above the painter set
. . . . .
18The avenue of penitence;
21Under the penitential gates
23Where the souls of the devout
24Burn invisible and dim.
25Along the garden-wall the bees
26With hairy bellies pass between
30Stirring the water in his bath.
31The masters of the subtle schools
32Are controversial, polymath.


1] The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe (1564-93), supplies the epigraph, which is spoken by Barabas's servant about two friars, a religious type attacked for their parasitic nature from the time of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.
The first edition reads "religions" for "religious".
Polyphiloprogenitive: `prolific of offspring' (Eliot's usage here is the first example in the Oxford English Dictionary, but Matthew Arnold uses it in Culture and Anarchy. Back to Line
2] sapient sutlers: wise suppliers of provisions (`sutler' is originally a term for someone who sells things at a military post). Back to Line
4] John 1.1, the interpretation that this New Testament gospeler makes on the account of creation in Genesis. Back to Line
6] Superfetation: conceiving while already pregnant so that the uterus has foetuses of different ages.
Eliot's Greek letters are transliterated and italicized in this edition. The Greek words mean: "the One." Back to Line
7] mensual: monthly. Back to Line
8] enervate: exhausted, without vital powers.
Origen (185-254), a major father of the ancient church who castrated himself so that he would not be tempted by the flesh. Back to Line
9] Umbrian school: 15th-century school of art linked with Umbria in the Italian Apennines. The painting could be "Baptism" by Piero della Francesca, which Eliot could have seen in the National Gallery in London (B. C. Southam, A Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot, 6th edn. [San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1994]: 117). Back to Line
10] gesso ground: plaster surface applied to walls to make them suitable for artistic painting. Back to Line
11] nimbus: a vaguely circular cloud of light surrounding the head of a saint or a god. Back to Line
16] Paraclete: the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, the third member of the Christian Trinity (with God the Father and God the Son). Back to Line
17] sable: mourning, dressed in black.
presbyters: priests, members of the clergy. Back to Line
19] pustular: pimply, suffering acme. Back to Line
20] piaculative: a new word, for which this is the first example in the Oxford English Dictionary: it means "expiatory or appeasing on account of sins or crimes" and refers to those who obtain forgiveness by the Church through offering money in charity to it. Back to Line
22] Seraphim: one of the order of angels. Back to Line
27] staminate and pistilate: having stamens (which bear the "male" spores) and having pistils (the "female" ovaries of a seed-bearing plant). Cf. Jules Laforgue's "Ballade":
Une chair bêtement staminifère,
Un cœur illusoirement pistillé,
Sauf certains soirs, sans foi, ni loi, ni clé,
Où c'est précisément tout le contraire.
(Poésies complètes, ed. Pascal Pia [Le Livre de Poche, 1970]: 229). Back to Line
28] office: job.
epicene: either sexless, or having commerce with both sexes, as the bees do in transferring pollen from stamen to pistils. Back to Line
29] Hams, found at the back of the knee, are crooked; and the term comes from a root so meaning. Sweeney is celebrated by Eliot in two other poems, "Sweeney Erect" and "Sweeney among the Nightingales." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
"Four Poems," Little Review 5.5 (Sept. 1918). In England published in an almost identical book, Ara Vos Prec (London: Ovid Press, [1920]). Donald Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (London: Faber and Faber, 1969): A4b, C45.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Special Copyright: 

© T.S. Eliot and Faber and Faber Ltd 1974