The Dry Salvages— presumably les trois sauvages— is a group of rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages. Groaner: a whistling buoy.”
So runs the little note at the beginning of T.S. Eliot’s “The Dry Salvages,” third poem in his sequence Four Quartets. The note is a poem in itself, really: factual-sounding at first, nearly pedantic, a miniature lecture (on etymology, pronunciation, definition) that nonetheless deepens on every side into shivery Eliotic resonance. He could have used pages, our poet, or rages—but no, it had to be the King James-y assuages. Suffering and succor. The name of the rocks themselves: aridity, salvation. And floating out there somewhere, the hopeless, enduring, sad old groaner.