By Helen Gardner, Morris Weitz, F. O. Matthiessen, Hugh Kenner, Denis Donoghue, Donald J. Childs and A. David Moody.
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
In 1931, while listening to a gramophone recording of Beethoven’s String Quartet in A minor (Op. 132), T. S. Eliot wrote a letter to his friend Stephen Spender, the English poet and novelist. Eliot found the Beethoven piece “quite inexhaustible to study,” he wrote.
“There is a sort of heavenly, or at least more than human, gaiety about some of his later things,” Eliot continued, “which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruits of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.”
Eliot did so in “Four Quartets,” his series of four lengthy, connected poems written over six years and first published together in New York in 1943. Among Eliot scholars, it seems, there is debate about how, precisely, this effort was inspired by the Quartet in A minor, one of Beethoven’s astonishing late works.
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Listen to the Borodin Quartet play Beethoven’s string quartet, Opus 132 in A minor – the music that inspired T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for details. Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.
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.
Read the complete poem
An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for details. Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems. Two suggestions for study: G. Douglas Atkins’ Reading T. S. Eliot: Four Quartets and the Journey Toward Understanding (admittedly, a rambling, tedious read) and Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: A Journey Into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (a very readable and enlightening book). Both books are difficult to find in print, but both are available as Kindle downloads.
There are several excellent audio versions of the Four Quartets, but by far the best, in my opinion, is by Alec Guinness, which is available on YouTube here: Alec Guinness reads Four Quartets by TS Eliot.
Filed under Poem, Reminder
Many thanks to Susan Koppersmith for making us aware of this poignant YouTube video about W. S. Merwin; an appropriate hors d’oeuvre for our upcoming Merwin feast this Thursday. Watch it here: W. S. Merwin – his life and what lives in his poetry.
One more reminder to check the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of Merwin poems to be read and discussed.
You that sang to me once sing to me now
let me hear your long lifted note
survive with me
the star is fading
I can think farther than that but I forget
do you hear me
do you still hear me
does your air
oh breath of morning
night song morning song
I have with me
all that I do not know
I have lost none of it
but I know better now
than to ask you
where you learned that music
where any of it came from
once there were lions in China
I will listen until the flute stops
and the light is old again.
A final reminder that Bill Ellis and Graeme Hughes will be reading and discussing a selection of poems from W. S. Merwin’s book, The Shadow of Sirius, on January 26, 2017. “The Nomad Flute” will be one of the featured poems.
See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the complete list.
Filed under Poem, Reminder