Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eliot's Four Quartets

My initial reaction to the Eliot’s Four Quartets is the resemblance to The Waste Land. Most obvious likenesses are the structure of the division of sections in The Waste Land and the division in Four Quartets, as well as the concern for the spirituality of the world, or the seeming lack of spirituality. The Four Quartets is a new experience for me with Eliot. My knowledge of Eliot prior to this class revolved mostly around The Waste Land, which though it is a great poem, it leaves little hope in the reader. Four Quartets is a much more uplifting poem and it seems like it highlights the lesser known parts of Eliot’s life. As Eliot begins the poem musing on time and how it works or perhaps why it works, I began thinking of his poetry and the ways he attempted to “make it new.” As the poem begins “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future (1-2, 1)”, I am reminded of his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” As time is something that Eliot wrestles with throughout the poem, it seems that the ways in which we be part of time, or control or dominate time, is through our work, the poet through his poetry. The time past (the works of past authors) becomes time present when they are brought together and made “new” by the modernists, becoming “present in time future.” As I said Four Quartets reminded me of The Waste Land though brighter, there does seem to be a slight return to the pessimism of The Waste Land in the second and third part of the Four Quartets. It seems that Eliot, or the speaker of the poem is questioning why it matters to learn the past, though I take this to be a part of the process of one understanding life during World War II. It’s interesting how Eliot brings the four sections together using many of the same themes and elements from The Waste Land such as the river and fire and water. Four Quartets is obviously far more favorable of religion than The Waste Land. Throughout the many references to Christianity and the Bible in The Waste Land, I always felt that Eliot was not interested in them for their spiritual guidance. Four Quartets makes it much more obvious that Eliot was a religious man and likely devout after his conversion to Anglo Catholicism. Four Quartets definitely gives me a new understanding of Eliot, though I feel I can only scratch the surface of understanding the poem.

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