Blog Twelve: The Four Quartets
Brooks: I liked the straightforward style of the Brooks article. I think that he did the best he could to clarify a piece that is quite difficult, particularly if it is the reader’s first exposure. He comes right out at the beginning and identifies the poem as “a religious poem” that speaks to both Orthodox Christians and non-believers. (132) His main goals are dealing with big symbols, major themes, and the nature of time within the poem. He identifies sunlight and laughter of unseen children as two major symbols. (134) I noticed, as you did as well based on your notes in the margin, the repetition of the wild thyme image. I’m not sure what this was about, except that it seems to fit into a larger theme of “wild” nature which I will address later. Brooks also sees a cycle in the poem, which reminded of the 12 step program in AAA. Basically he is saying that people have to go through these “steps” (negation, acceptance, etc.) to get to the final point or goal of “integration, forming a new whole” (the equivalent of sobriety in AAA). (136-7) He sees this further in the sections, in that each section corresponds to a step or steps. This is a fairly complex argument, but it makes sense. I found the most helpful and interesting part of this article to be his discussion of time. Brooks proposes that each Quartet illustrates a different kind of time or movement of time: “Burnt Norton” is the passing moment, “East Coker” is “personal and social time,” “The Dry Salvages” shows “universal history and objective nature” as well as “the astronomical history of the cosmos,” and “Little Gidding” is about “a timeless dimension.” (140-1, 143)
Me: In my first reading of the poem, I noticed a couple of consistent themes that seemed to run through most of the sections. First, as I mentioned above, nature, especially “wild” nature, is almost always present. Flowers, birds, trees, the sea, the sun, the moon…these are all present in most of the sections. “Burnt Norton” is especially filled with these images. Nature is both older than people and seemingly wiser than people. The bird at the end of the first section of “Burnt Norton,” for example, seems to recognize both the mortality of human beings and their (human) inability of dealing with it. The contrast to “wild” nature is with modernization. The first section of “East Coker,” for example, seemed quite reminiscent of Howards End. The concern for what England and the world are becoming is clear. In the first section of “The Dry Salvages,” Eliot refers to “dwellers in cities” and “worshipers of the machine.” He seems to be creating an opposition.
Children are also a common symbol, though I’m not quite sure what to do with them. The only thing I can think of is that they are an illustration of the constant turnover of humans generally.
History seems to be an important theme, particularly toward the end of the poem. I’m not sure what he is trying to do with the idea of history, unless he is just pointing out again the constant cycle of human life. Humans are mortal and will die. Perhaps they need to prepare for that?
The idea of the happy moment comes through in parts of the poem, though they are always followed by a reminder of mortality. For example, in section three of “East Coker,” the description of “Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning. The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry, The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy” is followed by the stark reminder that it is all “pointing to the agony Of death and birth.” In other words, life can be nice, but the idea of the mortal “cycle” is always in the background. Related to that are the themes of sickness and death, which are especially prominent in section four of “East Coker.” The good news is that Eliot does offer the hope of an afterlife: “In my end is my beginning.” (“East Coker,” section five) This seems pretty hopeful, though there isn’t much elaboration.