Anglicans discussion

Anglican Books > The Four Quartets: Quartet #1 Burnt Norton

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. Here is a link to The four Quartets

Since this poem is in 4 parts, I will make a new topic for each part. This topic can be for Quartet #1. I got the idea to do it that way from another goodreads moderator. This way if you have not got to a part or book chapter yet, you won't find any spoilers.

message 2: by Greg (last edited Sep 06, 2009 03:03PM) (new)

Greg | 10 comments Please forgive me if I'm out of sync on this, but I couldn’t wait to kick it off and see what you all had to say. I am finding this poem very challenging!

Lines 4-5 of Quarter 1, Part I:
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
Suggest to me that current and past negative deeds and circumstances must be able to evolve, change, be corrected, result in something more positive or fortuitous or be of a nature within which potentials may come to fruition, in order for there to be hope for the future. The future must be something that does not contain the “same old same old” without a means of change, escape, completion or metamorphosis. Otherwise Time (future) is nothing more than a haunting prison of what might have been, or unfulfilled promises and dreams. Lines 6-18 seem to support this idea, with its reference to “perpetual possibility”, “what might have” and “what has been” pointing to what is “always present”.
The remainder of Part I seems to describe the insistence of the Human Heart, spurred on by Nature (lines 21-27) to find meaning in the hope that the future is not the same prison as the past and current time, where no more than just a wish for fulfillment is possible, but that the Future encompasses the reality of the fruition of that hoped for.

However, I can’t escape the idea that it isn’t Time that needs to be redeemed, or is even possible of “redemption”, but rather, it is that which happened/happens inside Time, as a function of our choices, that the poet eludes to in lines 11-20, to which redemption can be applied if we “follow”:
“…There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.” (line 32). This idea appears elsewhere in our culture in places like the saying “Time heals all wounds”, “Good things come to those who wait” and the idea that the passing of time lessens the sharpness of emotional losses. Here, Time is the redeeming factor, not the object to be redeemed. And yet, perhaps it is the hope for the possibility of the redeeming power of Time to which the poet intends to refer?
The ambiguity of the verse is truly “Romantic” in the classic sense. Within this ambiguity, there are fragmented images about which it is not quite clear whether we are looking at possibilities that were not chosen, or “what might have been” but was lost, or whose potential remains unfulfilled, and yet from which we cannot let go, but can neither comprehend nor bear to look at too long:
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality. (lines 44-45)

Looking at it from a different perspective, the “book end” verses at the beginning and ending of Part I:
Time present and time past… (line 1)
Time past and time future…. (line 46)
encompass realities and incompressible possibilities that all point to some other eternal reality behind them all (lines 47-48)
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Perhaps this is “reading in” too much, but, by the Romantic nature of the poem, the author invites the “stuff” of my own experiences and mindset to complete the creation in a personally unique way and thus suggests to me “The Eternal One”.

message 3: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. Hi Greg,I am gathering my thoughts. I'll try and post something today. I have read a few sections from this part.

message 4: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. Wow, this takes some reading over and over and really thinking.I like your analysis Greg, especially this,"The remainder of Part I seems to describe the insistence of the Human Heart, spurred on by Nature (lines 21-27) to find meaning in the hope that the future is not the same prison as the past and current time, where no more than just a wish for fulfillment is possible, but that the Future encompasses the reality of the fruition of that hoped for. At first I thought he was talking in circles, but then I realized that he points to God being outside of "our time" and truly eternal. This verse shows it so clear:
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

message 5: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. Part 3 is interesting. It seems as if he may be showing the emptiness of being in the world too much, in his example of The "men and bits paper."
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.

Prior to that section his other sections talk of beauty in nature, gardens ect.. a contrast to section 3.

Boy, I love his choice of words and just how the poem sounds, when it is read aloud.

message 6: by Greg (last edited Sep 06, 2009 03:00PM) (new)

Greg | 10 comments I agree with you, Karen. My first couple readings of just Part I of First Quartet felt like "Philosopher Babble", and I love Philosophy! I also tried to read the "Ash Wednesday" poem, which I was told was written immediately after his conversion and deals with the Anglican ethos in worship and spirituality. Although I fancy myself something of a well read Anglican, fairly deep into the tradition, I confess, I don't get it, yet.

The copy of the poem I have has a sort of prolog to it that consists of two verses in Greek from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. As a pre-Socratic, Heraclius was dedicated to finding the "single Unifying Principle" of the Universe. Plato would later expound on the same idea, but in a philosophy that is sometimes deemed "proto-Christian". Socrates, on the other hand, was more concerned with "particulars" than "the One" unifying principle.

The famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel shows Plato and Socrates disputing. Plato is pointing up with one finger and Socrates stands, with both hands extended, palms down, with all ten fingers pointing toward the earth. The Heraclitus/Plato perspective is probably good to keep in mind as we read, listening also for a dispute against Socratic pragmatism. Reasonably well translated (I hope professor Ann Castro would agree)the verses are:

"Although universal Truth ("logos") is common to all, most people live as if they had a wisdom of their own." (or "law unto themselves")


"The way (path) upward and the way downward are the same."

The first verse makes all the sense in the world to me - it is the "Sin of Adam", stated by Protagoras as "Man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not" (in other words "men make their own rules and decide what is what for themselves". The second, verse from Heraclitus hasn't solidified for me yet - any ideas?

A foot note at the bottom of the page says that the essence of these two verses is important for "unlocking" the imagery and meaning of the Four Quartets. Supposedly, the meanings of the respective verses are present, interwoven and expounded upon throughout the poem in a specific pattern; the first verse ("logos" verse) is supposed to be present in meaning in parts I and II of each of the four Quartets, the second ("way" or "Path" verse) is present in parts III and IV of each Quartet and part V of each Quartet is supposed to reflect a harmony or combining of the two verses' meaning or truth.

This "hint" was not particularly helpful to me, yet, but I hope it may be later, and maybe it will help others as they look for a "handle" on his creative mode.

I have not yet tackled anything other than part I of the First Quartet and the overview of "Ash Wednesday" but I can see these will require a lot of thought and open imagination - and then there are no guarantees! My first three or four readings yielded very little in "logical message" but a ton of sympathetic imagery. Hence my comment about the "truly Romantic" nature of the poem. Music from the Romance period was meant to be unlike "Program Music", which told a story (Peer Glint Suite, New World Symphony, etc). In stead, it was meant to be ambiguous or fragmented or incomplete. The experiences and mindset of the listener was supposed to complete the experience.

I believe, the more I read of Eliot, and this work in particular, that this point about literature of the Romance period is key to understanding his work, or at least this poem, even though the date of writing is later. In one sense, the Anglican ethos has always borne a relation to what would later develop as a unique style in the Romance period. It is one of the ways Anglicanism differs from Roman Catholicism on the one hand, and Iconoclastic Puritanism on the other.

I'm going to think more about the "logos" verse and read through Parts I and II of Quartet 1 together.

message 7: by Skylar (new)

Skylar Burris (skylarburris) | 134 comments I think Eliot was highly influenced by Hinduism prior to his conversion to Christianity (not that he was a Hindu, but that the philosophy influenced him), and it may be hard to read Four Quartets apart from that understanding. I find Four Quartets a struggle to understand in the same way I find parts of the Bhagavad Gita a struggle to understand - Eastern philosophy is foriegn to my western mind. In Eastern philosophy, there is a lot of time spent saying contradictory things--it's almost like talking aloud, talking it out, trying to find the meaning. In this poem, Eastern and Western philosophy, influences of hinudism, buddhism, and Christianity flow into one poem.

"What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present."

The present is the only time when a person can act, can alter the future or the past (not that he can really alter the past), and thus all time is present; no other time matters?

Trying to wrap my head around it all still.

message 8: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. Hi Skylar, I remember reading that he was very steeped in the eastern Religions before his conversion to Christianity. Apparently a lot of what he says in the poem is influenced by the Bhavgad-gita. Oh I am trying to wrap my head around it too!

I just like the sound of his poems. The words just sound beautiful. Some of the images are nice too. Yet no doubt, he sometimes can sound as if he is still talking eastern mysticism.

message 9: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. Our homeschool schedule is getting to be more routine, so I should be able to post some of my thoughts on the other parts to this poem shortly.

message 10: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. In Part 4 & 5 of Burnt Norton I get this sense that he simply wants us to stop look and listen; also to treasure nature, treasure our words and think deeply about things.

Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

He seems to perhaps want us to think about how when we look at something in nature closely and admire it, that time can almost stand still in those moments. At least that is how I feel when I read these last two sections of the first quartet.

message 11: by Karen L. (new)

Karen L. This is a hard work to discuss. I read somewhere on line (don't remember where) that T. S. Elliot himself wrote mostly thinking of the sound and beauty of the words and their arrangement into poetry.

back to top