Martin Heidegger and T. S. Eliot: Birthday Greetings

Today, September 26, is the birthday of the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger.  It is also the birthday of T. S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest English language poet who ever lived.

Heidegger was great philosopher, or so we are told.  I am not sure I can agree.  He was an admirer Adolf Hitler and his gang of Nazi warlocks, even long after the horrors of Nazism were well documented.

Garrison Keillor reminded us of these two notable births in today’s broadcast of “The Writer’s Almanac.”  Here is a quotation from Heidegger’s On Time and Being provided by Keillor:

“It has not been demonstrated that the sort of thing which gets established about the Being-present-at-hand-together of the changing and permanent when one takes time as one’s clue, will also apply to the connection between the ‘in me’ and the ‘outside of me.’ But if one were to see the whole distinction between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ and the whole connection between them which Kant’s proof presupposed, and if one were to have an ontological conception of what has been presupposed in this presupposition, then the possibility of holding that a proof of the ‘Dasein of Things outside of me’ is a necessary one which has yet to be given, would collapse.”

I have had some experience with the German language, having spent two years as a student at the University of Bonn where, I might add, Karl Marx once studied.  I cannot imagine trying to read Heidegger in the original German.  If Heidegger’s mind is reflected in his writing style, need we wonder at his coming under the spell of Nazism?

T. S. Eliot, however, spoke to the soul as well as the mind in his poetry.  One might struggle with understanding “The Waste Land,” or “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but there can be no doubt about what he wanted to say in “The Journey of the Magi”:

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times when we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wineskins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Both men were indwelt by a spirit, but a different spirit.  Some might be attracted to Heidegger’s philosopher.  I prefer T. S. Eliot’s poetry.

Until the next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always
live under the mercy.

You can listen to T.S. Eliot reading “The Gift of the Magi” at

2 responses to “Martin Heidegger and T. S. Eliot: Birthday Greetings

  1. Loved Eliot’s poem. Keep up the good work.


  2. I prefer Eliot as well…
    Thanks for posting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s