“Four Quartets” by T. S. Eliot

I chose to read Four Quartets because of this fascinating blurb at Wikipedia,”Four Quartets are four interlinked meditations with the common theme being man’s relationship with time, the universe, and the divine… Eliot blends his Anglo-Catholicism with mystical, philosophical and poetic works from both Eastern and Western religious and cultural traditions, with references to the Bhagavad-Gita and the Pre-Socratics as well as St. John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich.”

Eliot’s mastery of the English language, and his ability to condense into a few clear and concise lines a whole school of philosophical, religious thought, are both awe-inspiring and delightful.

Burnt Norton

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling 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.

I get different, though related, interpretations each time I re-read part II.

First reading: The still point and time remind me of the Wheel of Fortune in The Consolation of Philosophy. A concentric model of the universe, which Dante elaborated in The Divine Comedy.

“Imagine a series of concentric circles revolving round the same axis;… As reasoning is to understanding, as becoming is to being, as time is to eternity, as a circle is to its mid-point, so is the shifting chain of Fate related to the unchanging oneness of Providence.”

“God by Providence orders what is to be done in a unified and unchanging manner, but by Fate he carries through these arrangements in a manifold way within the bounds of time.”

Second reading: I think of the Platonic notion that the nature of Man corresponds to that of the Universe, and both are circular, after the pattern of the rotation of the soul, “with slow rotation suggesting permanence”. Each Man is like a Universe in pattern. The circulation of blood and the lymph are figured in the drift of stars. Similarly, the (cosmic) wars are also figured in the scars on a human body.

Third reading: The tree, the blood, scars and wars point to the Crucifixion, the scars on the Body of Christ, a memorial of the spiritual wars that He has fought and won. The wars are “long forgotten” because a creation is born anew in Him, just as a woman forgets her birth pangs for joy that a child is born. Through the Body of Christ, the second Man, the world is reconciled to God. The Stars are, one and all, restored to their Axis, and each Man is recollected to his Center, “Christ in you the hope of glory”. Concentration without elimination. Immortality is brought to light, and with it partial ecstasy of heaven and partial horror of damnation, partial for we know and understand in part, through the weakness of the changing body.


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