On “Burnt Norton”

By Helen Gardner, Morris Weitz, F. O. Matthiessen, Hugh Kenner, Denis Donoghue, Donald J. Childs and A. David Moody.

on-burnt-nortonThe 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

Stretching before and after.
Read the complete article
Anyone interested in Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: A Journey Into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets may also enjoy viewing his enlightening lecture available on YouTube here: A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”
Another 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.


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