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T.S. Eliot – The Four Quartets

Burnt Norton


Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them
Round the corner. Through the first gate
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world
There they were, dignified, invisible
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern
Along the empty alley, into the box circle
To look down into the drained pool
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly
The surface glittered out of heart of light
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present


Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree
The thrilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time
The inner freedom from the practical desire
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy
The resolution of its partial horror
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future
Only through time time is conquered


Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
Wtih slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world

Descend lower, descend only
Into the world of perpetual solitude
World not world, but that which is not world
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property
Dessication of the world of sense
Evacuation of the world of fancy
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement
But abstention from movememnt; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future


Time and the bell have buried the day
The black cloud carries the sun away
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher's wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world


Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts
Not that only, but the co-existence
Or say that the end precedes the beginning
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end
And all is always now. Words strain
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation
The crying shadow in the funeral dance
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera

The detail of the pattern is movement
As in the figure of the ten stairs
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving
Only the cause and end of movement
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always-
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after

East Coker


In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field,, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the elctric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence
Wait for the early owl

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie˜
A dignified and commodious sacrament
Two and two, necessarye coniunction
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling
Eating and drinking. Dung and death

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning


What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns

That was a way of putting it - not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter
It was not (to start again) what one had expected
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience
The knowledge inposes a pattern, and falsifies
For the pattern is new in every moment
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 rahter of their folly
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless

The houses are all gone under the sea

The dancers are all gone under the hill


O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away-
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing-
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstacy
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not


The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That quesions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind us of our, and Adam's curse
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere

The chill ascends from feet to knees
The fever sings in mental wires
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars

The dripping blood our only drink
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good


So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business

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

The Dry Salvages

(The Dry Salvages - presumably les trois sauvages - is a small
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.)


I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god - sullen, untamed and intractable
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
The only a problem confronting the builder of bridges
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities - ever, however, implacable
Keeping his seasons, and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting
His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom
In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard
In the smell of grapes on the autumn table
And the evening circle in the winter gaslight

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices
Many gods and many voices
The salt is on the briar rose
The fog is in the fir trees
The sea howl
And the sea yelp, are different voices
Often together heard: the whine in the rigging
The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water
The distant rote in the granite teeth
And the wailing warning form the approaching headland
Are all sea voices, and the heaving groaner
Rounded homewards, and the seagull:
And under the oppression of the silent fog
The tolling bell
Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried
Ground swell, a time
Older than the time of chronometers, older
Than time counted by anxious worried women
Lying awake, calculating the future
Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel
And piece together the past and the future
Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception
The future futureless, before the morning watch
Whem time stops and time is never ending;
And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning
The bell


Where is there an end of it, the soundless wailing
The silent withering of autumn flowers
Dropping their petals and remaining motionless;
Where is there and end to the drifting wreckage
The prayer of the bone on the beach, the unprayable
Prayer at the calamitous annunciation?

There is no end, but addition: the trailing
Consequence of further days and hours
While emotion takes to itself the emotionless
Years of living among the breakage
Of what was believed in as the most reliable-
And therefore the fittest for renunciation

There is the final addition, the failing
Pride or resentment at failing powers
The unattached devotion which might pass for devotionless
In a drifting boat with a slow leakage
The silent listening to the undeniable
Clamour of the bell of the last annunciation

Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing
Into the wind's tail, where the fog cowers?
We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
Or of an ocean not littered with wastage
Or of a future that is not liable
Like the past, to have no destination

We have to think of them as forever bailing
Setting and hauling, while the North East lowers
Over shallow banks unchanging and erosionless
Or drawing their money, drying sails at dockage;
Not as making a trip that will be unpayable
For a haul that will not bear examination

There is no end of it, the voiceless wailing
No end to the withering of withered flowers
To the movement of pain that is painless and motionless
To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage
The bone's prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable
Prayer of the one Annunciation

It seems, as one becomes older
That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence-
Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution
Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past
The moments of happiness - not the sense of well-being
Fruition, fulfilment, security or affecton
Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness. I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations - not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable:
The backward look behind the assurance
Of recorded history, the backward half-look
Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror
Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony
(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding
Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things
Is not in question) are likewise permanent
With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better
In the agony of others, nearly experienced
Involving ourselves, than in our own
For our own past is covered by the currents of action
But the torment of others remains an experience
Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition
People change, and smile: but the agony abides
Time the destroyer is time the preserver
Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops
The bitter apple, and the bite in the apple
And the ragged rock in the restless waters
Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;
On a halcyon day it is merely a monument
In navigable weather it is always a seamark
To lay a course by, but in the sombre season
Or the sudden fury, is what it always was


I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant-
Among other things - or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened
And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back
You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here
When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours
Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
Watching the furrow that widens behind you
You shall not think "the past is finished"
Or "the future is before us"
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
"Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: 'on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death' - that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action
Fare forward
O voyagers, O seamen
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea
Or whatever event, this is your real destination."
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle
Not fare well
But fare forward, voyagers


Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory
Pray for all those who are in ships, those
Whose business has to do with fish, and
Those concerned with every lawful traffic
And those who conduct them

Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
Women who have seen their sons or husbands
Setting forth, and not returning:
Figlia del tuo figlio
Queen of Heaven

Also pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea's lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them
Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell's
Perpetual angelus


To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits
To report the behaviour of the sea monster
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors-
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual
Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:
And always will be, some of them especially
When there is distress of nations and perplexity
Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road
Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of evidence is actual
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement—
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil

Little Gidding


Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic
Whem the short day is brightest, with frost and fire
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches
In windless cold that is the heart's heat
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading
Not in the scheme of generation
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

If you came this way
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness
It would be the same at the end of the journey
If you came at night like a broken king
If you came by day not knowing what you came for
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time
Now and in England

If you came this way
Taking any route, starting from anywhere
At any time or at any season
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying
And what the dead had no speech for, when living
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always


Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse
The death of hope and despair
This is the death of air

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil
Laughs without mirth
This is the death of earth

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot
Of sanctuary and choir
This is the death of water and fire

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: "What! are you here?"
Although we were not. I was still the same
Knowing myself yet being someone other—
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded
And so, compliant to the common wind
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol
I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember."
And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten
These things have served their purpose: let them be
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction
And faded on the blowing of the horn


There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation - not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well
If I think, again, of this place
And of people, not wholly commendable
Of not immediate kin or kindness
But of some peculiar genius
All touched by a common genius
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad
And of one who died blind and quiet
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching


The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire

Who then devised the torment? Love
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home
Taking its place to support the others
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious
An easy commerce of the old and the new
The common word exact without vulgarity
The formal word precise but not pedantic
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one

In 1931 TS Eliot wrote to Stephen Spender: "I have Beethoven’s A minor Quartet on the gramophone, and I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly, or at least more than human gaiety, about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die."

Eliot’s Four Quartets are to some extent inspired by this quartet – the only Beethoven Quartet in 5 sections, as are all four of the Eliot Quartets. Eliot said he wanted to get "beyond poetry, as Beethoven in his later works, strove to get beyond music".

The language and thought in the Four Quartets is so elliptical and compressed that it would be inappropriate and presumptuous to match the poetry and the music too literally. The aim has been to allow the poetry to breath by placing moments of musical reflection between the 5 sections of the poem. In some cases the music matches the mood in others it provides a contrast. Below I have suggested some tangential (possibly subconscious) connections between the words and the music. However these are entirely personal and hopefully the programme stands on its own without a knowledge of these connections.

Section 1:
“Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future”
The opening section introduces the theme of time. The poem considers the relationship between life in time, a life of bondage and suffering, and life in eternity, freedom, and happiness. This leads into the “Et vitam venturi” from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. In this part of the Mass, Christians look forward to the life to come when they will live outside of Time. Beethoven constructs his fugue subject out of a chain of descending thirds which return to the original note – a concise emblem for eternal recurrence in eternity.

Section 2:
“Garlic and sapphires in the mud”
Eliot develops the theme of time and memory – “To be conscious is not to be in time”. One of the central images of the poem is the memory of a rose-garden with a pool. Takemitsu’s Quotation of Dream plays with memories of Debussy’s La Mer and transforms the material into a Japanese flower-garden with a lake

Section 3
“Here is a place of disaffection”
Eliot contrasts the redeemed time of eternity with the bondage of temporal time where “time-ridden faces” are “distracted from distraction by distraction.” In later years he admitted that the section beginning “Descend lower, descend only / Into the world of perpetual solitude” was inspired by the London Underground, “a place of disaffection” where “the world moves / In appetency, on its metalled ways / Of time past and time future.” John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine suggests the mechanistic world of fast travel and machines – though he possibly found it more exhilarating that Eliot.

Section 4
“Time and the bell have buried the day”
Much of the inspiration behind the Four Quartets came from Eastern philosophy with its emphasis in eternal recurrence and withdrawal from the temporal world of will and illusion. In this section the poet withdraws into the world of night where “the light is still / At the still point of the turning world.” The 4th movement of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony is a setting of a passage from Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra in which the Eastern prophet Zarathustra meditates on Night and Eternity

Section 5
“Words move, music moves / Only in time”
Eliot explores the connection between music and time. The idea that music exists both inside and outside of time. In other words we experience music through time but it also exists as an abstract concept outside of time – “the end precedes the beginning, / And the end and the beginning were always there / before the beginning and after the end.” We end with the poem’s inspiration, the last section of the central movement from Beethoven’s late A minor quartet in which for pages time itself seems masterfully suspended.

Helen Gardner
The more familiar we become with Four Quartets, however, the more we realize that the analogy with music goes much deeper than a comparison of the sections with the movements of a quartet, or than an identification of the four elements as 'thematic material'. One is constantly reminded of music by the treatment of images, which recur with constant modifications, from their context, or from their combination with other recurring images, as a phrase recurs with modifications in music. These recurring images, like the basic symbols, are common, obvious and familiar, when we first meet them. As they recur they alter, as a phrase does when we hear it on a different instrument, or in another key, or when it is blended and combined with another phrase, or in some way turned round, or inverted. A simple example is the phrase 'a shaft of sunlight' at the close of 'Burnt Norton'. This image occurs in a rudimentary form in 'The Hollow Men', along with a moving tree and voices heard in the wind:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
At the close of 'Burnt Norton' a 'moment of happiness', defined in 'The Dry Salvages' as a 'sudden illumination' is made concrete by the image of a shaft of sunlight which transfigures the world:
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always --
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.
This is the final concrete statement of what 'Burnt Norton' is about; but it recalls the experience we have been given in a different rhythm and with different descriptive accompaniments in the second half of the first movement, as the sun for a moment shines from the cloud, and the whole deserted garden seems to become alive:
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
The image repeated, but with such a difference, at the close establishes the validity of the first experience. Brief and illusory as it appears in the first movement, it has not been dismissed. It has remained in thought and it returns. Though
Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away
when the 'sudden shaft' falls, it is time that seems the illusion.
From The Art of T.S. Eliot. Copyright © 1949 by The Cresset Press.

Helen Gardner
The subject of Burnt Norton can be defined in various ways. If we adopt the method of commentators on The Divine Comedy, we may distinguish a literal, a moral and a mystical meaning. The literal meaning is simply that the poet has felt a moment of inexplicable joy, a moment of release, like the moment Agatha speaks of when she looked 'through the little door, when the sun was shining on the rose-garden'. It is a moment of escape from the endless walking 'down a concrete corridor'; or 'through the stone passages of an immense and empty hospital'. This moment of release from the deadening feeling of meaningless sequence, 'in and out, in an endless drift', 'to and fro, dragging my feet’, into the present, the moment when, in Agatha's phrase, 'the chain breaks', is connected here with the memory of 'what might have been'. The poem springs from this experience, and it sets by it another experience, which is sought deliberately, but which is the same, for 'the way up is the way down'. If we pass from the literal to the moral meaning we may say that the virtue to which Burnt Norton points us is the virtue of humility: a submission to the truth of experience, an acceptance of what is, that involves the acceptance of ignorance:
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit.
If we pass then to the use of theological terms we may say that mystically the subject of Burnt Norton is grace: the gift by which we seek to discover what we have already been shown.
From The Art of T.S. Eliot. Copyright © 1949 by The Cresset Press.

Morris Weitz
However, it is in the Four Quartets that the immanence theory of time is worked out fully in poetic terms. The first lines open on what seems to be the classical Augustinian conception of time, with its placing of the sense of the past and the future in the present; but the poem soon shifts to an orthodox neo-Platonic theory:
[Quotes first 10 lines of "Burnt Norton"]
The present and the past are perhaps already part of the future but the future is determined by the past. In this sense, all temporal experiences are in the present, at every moment, and we cannot redeem the temporal because it is never away from us to be redeemed. Also, and this becomes clear in the total context, 'All time is unredeemable' has another meaning: There is no redemption if we recognize only the flux. Further, even the realm of pure possibilities, of things that might have happened, is no different from the temporal: Past, present, future and possibility point to one end which is always with us; that is, which end, as the Eternal or Timeless, immanent in the flux, is the ultimate source of explanation of it.
This notion of the Eternal or ultimate reality being immanent in the flux as the Logos which anyone can discern, but which only a few do discern, clarifies most of 'Burnt Norton'. Consider the following lines;
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
The rose-garden is the key idea in this passage. Eliot has used this image in much of his poetry and there is cogent conflicting opinion about its meaning. Whatever the general meaning may be, if there is one, at least here it seems to function in a double sense, as an actual place -- a rose-garden; and as a symbol of those temporal experiences which reveal most poignantly the immanent character of the ultimately real. Like the Christian 'Kairos', the rose-garden symbolizes those moments that show, more than any others, the meeting of the Eternal and the temporal.
Besides the echo of the Logos, which is the meaning of the temporal, there are other echoes in the garden. There is, first, the deception of the thrush, calling us to a world of mere temporality. But such a world is one of indolence and desiccation, a reiteration of the waste land and the land of the hollow men:
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air. . . .
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting,
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
There is also the echo of the undeceiving bird, who leads us to other, more alive voices, to those who are less dignified and patterned: to those who can see the reality of the roses, for the roses do have 'the look of flowers that are looked at'. These are the voices of the children, hidden excitedly in the apple tree, who are laughing and singing; but who are, as we realize in 'Little Gidding', 'Not known, because not looked for / But heard, half-heard, in the stillness / Between two waves of the sea.'
The bird is the messenger of Truth, telling us that the rose-garden echoes with life: and that this life itself is a manifestation of something which is more than the mere flux. But the bird also knows that man will not acquiesce to that which is true:
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
The second movement of 'Burnt Norton' sharpens the immanence conception of time: that the Eternal or Timeless is the ultimate dimension of the flux and gives it whatever reality and meaning it has. After an introductory passage, in which physical movement, 'The trilling wire in the blood', epitomized in the struggle between the boarhound and the boar that ends in death, is falsified as the only movement there is, we come to true, nonphysical movement:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
The still point, of course, is the symbol of the Logos, but it is also the symbol of the Christian God. In God is the source of movement and the temporal. Not that God is movement; rather from Him emanates movement, to utilize a neo-Platonic idea. There is the temporal, the flux; but without God, the Timeless, there would be no temporal.
To experience the Eternal, the 'still point', is to transcend the temporal; it is to give up desire, action and suffering; to rise upto God, but with no physical action; and to understand both theTimeless and the temporal for the first time:
[Quotes from "I can only say, there we have been; but I cannot say where" to "The resolution of its partial horror."]
We must start with the temporal, the ever-changing experience; and come to see its dependence upon the Timeless:
                                Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
In the final movement of 'Burnt Norton', the distinction between the Timeless and the temporal becomes the distinction between The Word and words. Words lie, but it is only through words that we can conquer them, to express the truth which is The Word. And what we want to say we cannot say because words are always changing, being in the flux; but even with words we can suggest The Word: That God, Who is the Final
Cause, did initiate the first event and does determine the last event:
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
The movement and the poem end with a concrete and visual return to the rose-garden with their contrast between the inadequate affirmation of the sole reality of the flux and the true recognition that there is something more, the Eternal, echoing in the laughter of the children. How ridiculous, then, the sole acceptance of 'the waste sad time Stretching before and after'.
From "T.S. Eliot: Time as a Mode of Salvation." Sewanee Review (1952).

F. O. Matthiessen
It seems doubtful whether at the time of writing 'Burnt Norton', just after Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot had already projected the series. His creative energies for the next three years were to be largely taken up with The Family Reunion, which, to judge from the endless revisions in the manuscript, caused him about as much trouble as anything he has done. With 'East Coker' in the spring of 1940 he made his first experiment in a part for part parallel with an earlier work of his own. Again Donne's practice is suggestive: when he had evolved a particularly intricate and irregular stanza, he invariably set himself the challenge of following it unchanged to the end of his poem. But in assigning himself a similar problem for a poem two hundred lines long, Eliot has tried something far more exacting, where failure could be caused by the parallels becoming merely mechanical, and by the themes and rhythms becoming not subtle variations but flat repetitions. 'East Coker' does indeed have something of the effect of a set piece. Just as its high proportion of prosaic lines seems to spring from partial exhaustion, so its resumption of themes from 'Burnt Norton' can occasionally sound as though the poet was merely imitating himself. But on the whole he had solved his problem. He had made a renewal of form that was to carry him successively in the next two years through 'The Dry Salvages' and 'Little Gidding'. The discrimination between repetition and variation ties primarily in the rhythm; and these last two poems reverberate with an increasing musical richness.
A double question that keeps insisting itself through any discussion of these structures is the poet's consciousness of analogies with music, and whether such analogies are a confusion of arts. One remembers that Eliot, in accepting Lawrence's definition of 'the essence of poetry' as a 'stark, bare, rocky directness of statement', drew an analogy with the later quartets of Beethoven. This does not mean that he has ever tried to copy literally the effects of a different medium. But he knows that poetry is like music in being a temporal rather than a spatial art; and he has by now thought much about the subject, as the concluding paragraph of 'The Music of Poetry' shows:
I think that a poet may gain much from the study of music: how much technical knowledge of musical form is desirable I do not know, for I have not that technical knowledge myself. But I believe that the properties in which music concerns the poet most nearly, are the sense of rhythm and the sense of structure. I think that it might be possible for a poet to work too closely to musical analogies: the result might be an effect of artificiality.
But he insists -- and this has immediate bearing on his own intentions -- that 'the use of recurrent themes is as natural to poetry as to music'. He has worked on that assumption throughout his quartets, and whether he has proved that 'there are possibilities of transitions in a poem comparable to the different movements of a symphony or a quartet', or that 'there are possibilities of contrapuntal arrangement of subject-matter', can be known only through repeated experience of the whole series. All I wish to suggest here is the pattern made by some of the dominant themes in their interrelation and progression.
'Burnt Norton' opens as a meditation on time. Many comparable and contrasting views are introduced. The lines are drenched with reminiscences of Heraclitus' fragments on flux and movement. Some of the passages on duration remind us that Eliot listened to Bergson's lectures at the Sorbonne in the winter of 1911 and wrote an essay then criticizing his durée réelle as ‘simply not final'. Other lines on the recapture of time through consciousness suggest the aspect of Bergson that most stimulated Proust. But the chief contrast around which Eliot constructs this poem is that between the view of time as a mere continuum, and the difficult paradoxical Christian view of how man lives both 'in and out of time', how he is immersed in the flux and yet can penetrate to the eternal by apprehending timeless existence within time and above it. But even for the Christian the moments of release from the pressures of the flux are rare, though they alone redeem the sad wastage of otherwise unillumined existence. Eliot recalls one such moment of peculiar poignance, a childhood moment in the rose-garden -- a symbol he has previously used, in many variants, for the birth of desire. Its implications are intricate and even ambiguous, since they raise the whole problem of how to discriminate between supernatural vision and mere illusion. Other variations here on the theme of how time is conquered are more directly apprehensible. In dwelling on the extension of time into movement, Eliot takes up an image he had used in 'Triumphal March': 'at the still point of the turning world'. This notion of 'a mathematically pure point' (as Philip Wheelwright has called it) seems to be Eliot's poetic equivalent in our cosmology for Dante's 'unmoved Mover', another way of symbolising a timeless release from the ‘outer compulsions' of the world. Still another variation is the passage an the Chinese jar in the final section. Here Eliot, in a conception comparable to Wallace Stevens' 'Anecdote of the Jar', has suggested how art conquers time:
            Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
From The Achievement of T.S. Eliot. Oxford UP, 1958.

Hugh Kenner
The third section of 'Burnt Norton' provides a second experience, located not in the Garden but in the City, or rather beneath the City, on an underground platform, no doubt of the Circle Line. The Underground's 'flicker' is a mechanical reconciliation of light and darkness, the two alternately exhibited very rapidly. The traveller's emptiness is 'neither plenitude nor vacancy'. In this 'dim light' we have
                                neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
There is rotation, but it does not suggest permanence; there is darkness, purifying nothing; there is light, but it invests nothing with lucid stillness; there is a systematic parody of the wheel's movement and the point's fixity --
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
not like the souls of Paolo and Francesca, who were somewhere in particular throughout eternity for a particular reason known to them, nor even like de Bailhache, Fresca, and Mrs Cammel, who were disintegrated; but simply
    The strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration.
Light and darkness are opposites, apparently united by this flicker. Their actual reconciliation is to be achieved by 'descending lower', into an emptier darkness:
    Descend lower, descend only,
Into the world of perpetual solitude,
World not world, but that which is not world,
Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way ...
Opposites falsely reconciled, then truly reconciled: in the central section of the poem its central structural principle is displayed. The false reconciliation parodies the true one, as the Hollow Men parody the saints, as Gerontion parodies Simeon, as Becket suicide would have parodied Becket martyr, as the leader's eyes in which there is no interrogation parody that certainty which inheres 'at the still point of the turning world'.
In this Underground scene curiously enough, the instructed reader may catch a glimpse of the author, sauntering through the crowd as Alfred Hitchcock does in each of his films. For its locale, Eliot noted, sharing a private joke with his brother in Massachusetts, is specifically the Gloucester Road Station, near the poet's South Kensington headquarters, the point of intersection of the Circle Line with the Piccadilly tube to Russell Square. Whoever would leave the endless circle and entrain for the offices of Faber & Faber must 'descend lower', and by spiral stairs if he chooses to walk. 'This is the one way, and the other is the same'; the other, adjacent to the stairs, is a lift, which he negotiates 'not in movement, but abstention from movement'. As Julia Shuttlethwaite observes in The Cocktail Party, 'In a lift I can meditate'.
After this whiff of the Possum's whimsy, section IV displays the flash of the kingfisher's wing, to offset an instance of the Light which rests. The sun is the still point around which the earth turns, and light is concentrated there; it subtly becomes (for Eliot does not name it) a type of the still point where every variety of light inheres, which transient phenomena reflect. And section V presents language itself as a transience on which sufficient form may confer endurance. The poem ends with a reassertion of the possibility, and the significance, of timeless moments:
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always --
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.
In this elusive vision the moving dust in sunlight suggests the conditions of human existence, dust sustained and made visible by whatever power emanates from the still point; 'quick' means both instantaneous and alive; here and now acquire momentarily the significance of 'always'; and the 'before and after' which for Shelley contained those distracting glimpses of 'what might have been', cease to tantalize: they are merely aspects of 'the waste sad time' which the timeless moment has power to render irrelevant.
This remarkable poem, which no one, however well acquainted with Eliot's earlier work, could have foreseen, brings the generalizing style of the author of 'Prufrock' and the austere intuitions of the disciple of Bradley for the first time into intimate harmony. Suggestion does not outrun thought, nor design impose itself on what word and cadence are capable of suggesting. It was a precarious unobtrusive masterpiece, which had for some years no successor. . . .
The five-parted dialectic of 'Burnt Norton' is exactly paralleled three times over, and so raised by iteration to the dignity of a form.
Or so one would say, were not 'Burnt Norton', surprisingly enough, the exact structural counterpart of The Waste Land. That form, originally an accident produced by Pound's cutting, Eliot would seem by tenacious determination to have analyzed, mastered, and made into an organic thing. 'Burnt Norton', terminating the 1935 Collected Poems, appears meant to bear the same relation to The Waste Land as Simeon to Gerontion. Its rose-garden, for instance, with the passing cloud and the empty pool, corresponds to the Hyacinth garden and the despondent 'Oed' und leer das Meer', while 'the heart of light, the silence' that was glimpsed in the presence of the hyacinth girl is the tainted simulacrum of that light which 'is still at the still point of the turning world'.
Each Quartet carries on this structural parallel. The first movement, like 'The Burial of the Dead', introduces a diversity of themes; the second, like 'A Game of Chess', presents first ‘poetically' and then with less traditional circumscription the same area of experience; the third, like 'The Fire Sermon', gathers up the central vision of the poem while meditating dispersedly on themes of death: the fourth is a brief lyric; the fifth, a didactic and lyric culmination, concerning itself partly with language, in emulation of the Indo-European roots exploited in 'What the Thunder said'.
from The Invisible Poet: T.S. Eliot. W.H. Allen & Co., 1959.

Denis Donoghue
The fifth and last movement of the poem is its most contentious part, for reasons I'll try to explain. Much depends on the value we give to the first three lines: 'Words move, music moves / Only in time; but that which is only living / Can only die.' It recapitulates the statement about being conscious and remembering; as if to say that while of course we have to live in time, we are not obliged to live according to its chronometer or in deference to its 'metalled ways'. The distinction between Chronos (Yeats: ‘the cracked tune that Chronos sings') and Kairos, the time of meaning and value, is much to the point here. The silence into which words reach is, so far as it is attended to, their meaning, not their defeat:
                        Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.
In The Living Principle Leavis gives an account of this passage so invidious that it impels him beyond the necessity of his argument into a commentary, finally negative, on Eliot's entire later poetry. It is clear that he reached this position for many complicated reasons; including a radical shift in his scale of values, such that Eliot must be diminished by a revised comparison with Lawrence, a fate that Lawrence, too, suffered by still later comparison with the Tolstoy of Anna Karenina. Leavis allowed himself to be scandalized, in his commentary on 'Burnt Norton', by Eliot's insistence -- at least it appeared to Leavis to amount to insistence -- that 'the really real ... is the eternal' (177). Except by relation to the ultimately real, which is eternal, human life has no significance: this is what Leavis accused Eliot of believing, on the evidence of 'Burnt Norton'. Eliot, that is, 'insists on the unreality, the unlivingness, of life in time' (179).
I don't find Eliot believing anything of the kind: he couldn't have believed it and still be a communicant of a Church which is founded upon the redemption of time by the Annunciation. How Eliot judged those forms of temporal life which, were content to be, in every limiting sense, merely temporal, and to obey the call of punctuality and immediacy, is of course a different matter: on that, the evidence he has left is clear.
In 'Burnt Norton', the words which induced Leavis to protest are those which seem to entail a claim, on Eliot's part, to know what 'the meaning' is; such words as 'form' and 'pattern', and, from an earlier movement, 'the dance'. 'The ultimate really real that Eliot seeks inFour Quartets', according to Leavis, 'is eternal reality, and that he can do little, directly, to characterize' (175). Directly, of course not. Nor is there any pretence of 'characterizing'. Form, pattern and dance are merely analogies, ways of putting not 'eternal reality' but the poet's striving to apprehend it. Form, pattern and dance denote the point at which an otherwise mere event may be brought to disclose its meaning; brought, by exerting upon it the pressure of a more demanding moral and spiritual perspective than any judgement entailed in the immediacy of the event itself.
That the meaning is dynamic is clarified by the 'Chinese jar' which 'still / Moves perpetually in its stillness'. Where Eliot comes a cropper is in his attempt to be more specific than that, distinguishing between a visible and an audible stillness, and trying to go beyond the distinction. 'Not that only, but the co-existence': the co-existence of what? He finds it impossible to say just what he means; as the passage about the incapacity of words goes on to confess almost at once.
In the interval between Murder in the Cathedral and The Family Reunion, Eliot had temptation much on his mind; the temptation of Thomas á Becket, of Harry's father, of Christ in the desert and more generally the temptation of silence to dissolve in chatter. The last lines of this movement are perhaps melodramatic:
                        The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.
I can't find any particular -- or particularly cogent -- meaning in the last two lines: what the shadow is, or who or what the disconsolate chimera is. Eliot is rattling old bones.
The poem ends more quietly in another attempt to represent the pattern as dynamic:
[Donoghue quotes from "The detail of the pattern is movement," to "Stretching before and after."]
Structurally, it is a return to the beginning, a discursive passage about time, love and desire; a passage in which the English language, in this respect like Mallarmé's French, seems to be intoning itself without requiring either a speaker or a listener to be in attendance. As in the first movement, we are released from its monitions to the imagery of gardens, children and laughter. The figure of the ten stairs comes from St John of the Cross and may be left unglossed; it sustains the Heraclitean motif of the way up and the way down. It would be more useful to quote, from the third movement of 'Little Gidding', the passage about the use of memory:
                This is the use of memory:
For liberation -- not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past.
This is what 'Burnt Norton', and indeed the other Quartets, are about: starting from the unquestionably rich ground of laughing children in the foliage, how to avoid losing or, worse still, humiliating the promise implicit in the sunshine and the laughter. How to convert the low dream of desire into the high dream of love.
In the chapter on Alice in Wonderland in Some Versions of Pastoral William Empson remarks how a certain feeling about children developed in England after the eighteenth-century settlement had come to seem narrow and inescapable; a feeling 'that no way of building up character, no intellectual system, can bring out all that is inherent in the human spirit, and therefore that there is more in the child than any man has been able to keep' (260-1). This idea of the child, 'that it is in the night relation to Nature, not dividing what should be unified, that its intuitive judgment contains what poetry and philosophy must spend their time labouring to recover, was accepted by Dodgson and a main part of his feeling' (261).'Burnt Norton' is full of this feeling, along with a doomed conviction that it can't be recovered, and that the only thing possible is to invoke the plenitude of one's memory of such unity, and start again from there under better, because more exacting, auspices.
The success of 'Burnt Norton' is still in dispute. The reason is, I think, that none of the critical procedures developed and employed in the fifty years since the publication of the poem has been responsive to the kind of poetry we find in 'Burnt Norton'. I can put this briefly by saying: nobody, not even Leavis, took up where D.W. Harding's account of the poem left off. Most of the critical procedures which have been used with success in the analysis of poems have concentrated upon one or another of a limited set of terms: image, symbol and structure. No critical method has arisen which proposes to show the poetic character and potentiality of discourse. It is still an effort to take the harm out of the word 'discursive'; as reviews of John Ashbery's poems sufficiently indicate.
From "On ‘Burnt Norton’" in Words in Time: New Essays on Eliot’s Four Quartets. Ed. Edward Lobb. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Donald J. Childs
Here is part of the argument and imagery of Four Quartets. First there is the argument by Bergsonian, Christian and Indian mystics alike that the moment of illumination reveals (as in Plato's metaphor of the cave) the distinction between reality and its mere shadow. The sunlight fills the empty pool; presence is overcome by absence; meaning seems to be revealed. Then there is Eliot's reservation about the Platonic language of light and shadow, for, given the values of light and shadow defined in the early essay, one finds a significant ambiguity in this mystical moment of illumination in 'Burnt Norton'. It is not clear what has been revealed, what truth it is that humankind cannot bear. Is the light (presumably the light of the Gospel of John that becomes the Word by the end of this poem) real, marking all else as merely shadow? Or is shadow real (the darkness that comes with the cloud), marking the momentary light as merely an illusion? It is not clear which of these phenomena the bird is calling 'reality'. The ambiguity is no accident; it comes from Eliot's disenchantment with the 'meretricious captivation' of this sort of 'promise of immortality' that he had encountered in Bergsonism. His fear was that the inner light was no more trustworthy than the inner voice, I which breathes the eternal message of vanity, fear, and lust.' As always, the test is pragmatic; these moments 'can be judged only by their fruits.'
And yet pragmatism is no simple alternative to this mystical moment, Bergsonian or otherwise. One therefore also finds in 'Burnt Norton' the twenty-year fear of pragmatism's replacement of the spiritual part of our diet by fiction. The mysterious, lyrical fourth section of the poem focuses upon this fruitless option. The puzzling rhetorical questions serve to mock the pragmatic proposition that reality is a function of human need. The passing away of the sun (as in the first section of the poem, symbolically the reality outside the human being) exposes the ludicrousness of the suggestion that we could replace the sun: 'Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis / Stray down, bend to us: tendril and spray / Clutch and cling?' How can the world's being depend on human being? This section of the poem ironically reverses the bird's claim that humankind cannot bear very much reality: it is no longer to bear reality in the sense of 'to endure' reality; it is to bear reality in the sense of 'to sustain, support, create' reality.
From "Risking Enchantment: The Middle Way between Mysticism and Pragmatism in Four Quartets." In Words in Time: New Essays on Eliot’s Four Quartets. Ed. Edward Lobb. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

A. David Moody
Thus, in the first movement of Burnt Norton, the theme of Time and its end is introduced in the voice of impersonal thought, seeking a universal truth through abstraction, logical argument, and the resolution of paradox. This modulates in the course of lines 11-19 into a personal voice with a contrasting sense of "What might have been and what has been," a sense arising from experience rather than from abstract argument. Memory and imagination combine in a sustained development of this second theme as a paradoxical experience of the world of light. At its close, ("a cloud passed and the pool was empty"), this voice rises in intensity - and then abruptly gives way to the detached voice of the opening lines. The arrangement of the voices in the second movement is the reverse of the first. It opens with a passage of taut lyrical writing in a symbolist manner, as if memory and imagination were essaying their own statement of the universal truth of sensual experience. Then thought takes over and continues to the end in a sustained exploration of how time and the sensual body might be transcended. "At the still point of the turning world" appears at first to take up the conclusion of the lyric; but the series of paradoxes would have us conceive a realm beyond sense and contrary to sense. In fact the meditation begun in the opening lines of the poem is being resumed. If there is a pattern in earthly experience it is because "the one end, which is always present" may be found "At the still point of the turning world." The meditation unfolds through three distinct sections: eight lines of paradoxes determined by negatives and exclusions are followed by nine lines positively affirming what is to be aspired to; then there is a return to the inescapable complications of a consciousness that is in time and in the sensual body. Here memory and imagination re-enter, but now we find that they have been incorporated into the process of thought and subjected to its perspective and its ends: "only in time can the moment in the rose-garden ... Be remembered; involved with past and future."
In the third movement the thought does what it will with the world of experience, determining its nature, and then dismissing it with outright satire. With "Descend lower, descend only" the meditation modulates rather suddenly into a third voice, that of prayer or exhortation. The desire and direction of the will which have been present but in suspense from the beginning here reveal themselves as the motive-force behind the thought, from which they effectively take over now that it has done its work and prepared their way. The fourth movement, like the lyric at the start of the second movement, is an account of the world of experience. But it differs from it in being informed by the thoughtful critique of experience, and it affirms the light that is beyond sense. Moreover, it does this with an air of desiring to be with that light, and thus to transcend time. It would seem then that the three voices previously made out, and which have followed one upon another, are here heard in unison, thus producing the fourth voice which completes the quartet. It is wholly characteristic of Eliot that there should be a hierarchy of instruments, that the lower should give rise to the higher, and then be caught up into the ultimate voice and vision. (In the fifth movement of Burnt Norton the three individual voices are heard both separately and together.)
From "Four Quartets: music, word, meaning, and value." In The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot. (Ed.) A. David Moody. Copyright © 1994 by Cambridge University Press.

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