Fr. Dwight Longenecker: On Covid and the Grimpen

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Image: A chapel and cemetery in East Coker.

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Crisis Magazine, May 27, 2020

Father Dwight Longenecker is the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author, most recently, of Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness (Sophia Institute Press, 2020). Read more at

Fr. Dwight LongeneckerThe pandemic has suddenly thrown
 our affluent and seemingly secure and safe lives into a tailspin. In fact, the security and certainty was always an illusion, and in East Coker T.S. Eliot ponders life’s shifting uncertainty:

And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The line that always catches my imagination is, “On the edge of a grimpen, where there is no secure foothold.” Eliot liked word games, and the very strangeness of the word “grimpen” served his purpose. The word is not in the dictionary. We may not know what a grimpen is, but we suspect it is the endless bog, the slough of despond, the windswept moor with hidden pits of tar, or the jungle swamp ambushed with quicksand.  …

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