Four Quartets Study Guide

Four Quartets

Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot

Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot is a work of four poems: Burnt Norton (1935), East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941), and Little Gidding (1942).

Burnt Norton (1935)

  • Time present and time pastAre both perhaps present in time future

    And time future contained in time past. (I)

  • What might have been and what has beenPoint 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.

    But to what purpose

    Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves

    I do not know. (I)

  • Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.

    Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind Cannot bear very much reality.

    Time past and time future What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. (I)

  • 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. (II)

  • Time past and time futureAllow 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. (II)

  • Words move, music movesOnly in time; but that which is only living

    Can only die. Words, after speech, reach

    Into the silence. (V)

  • Or say that the end precedes the beginning,And the end and the beginning were always there

    Before the beginning and after the end.

    And all is always now. Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Will not stay still. (V)

  • Desire itself is movementNot in itself desirable;

    Love is itself unmoving, Only the cause and end of movement,

    Timeless, and undesiring

    Except in the aspect of time

    Caught in the form of limitation

    Between un-being and being. (V)

East Coker (1940)

  • In my beginning is my end. (I)
  • There is, it seems to us,At best, only a limited value

    In the knowledge derived from experience.

    The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,

    For the pattern is new in every moment

    And every moment is a new and shocking

    Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived

    Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm. (II)

  • Do not let me hearOf the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,

    Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,

    Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

    The only wisdom we can hope to acquire Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless. (II)

  • O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,

    And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,

    Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury. (III)

  • I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hopeFor hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. (III)

  • You say I am repeatingSomething I have said before. I shall say it again.

    Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

    To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

    In order to arrive at what you do not know You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess You must go by the way of dispossession. In order to arrive at what you are not You must go through the way in which you are not.

    And what you do not know is the only thing you know

    And what you own is what you do not own

    And where you are is where you are not. (III)

  • Trying to use words, and every attemptIs a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure

    Because one has only learnt to get the better of words

    For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which

    One is no longer disposed to say it. (V)

  • And so each ventureIs a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,

    With shabby equipment always deteriorating

    In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,

    Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate—but there is no competition— There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.

    For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. (V)

  • Home is where one starts from. As we grow olderThe world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated

    Of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment And not the lifetime of one man only But of old stones that cannot be deciphered. (V)

  • Love is most nearly itselfWhen here and now cease to matter.

    Old men ought to be explorers

    Here or there does not matter We must be still and still moving Into another intensity For a further union, a deeper communion

    Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,

    The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

    Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning. (V)

The Dry Salvages (1941)

  • I do not know much about gods; but I think that the riverIs a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,

    Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;

    Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;

    Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges. (I)

  • The river is within us, the sea is all about us (I)
  • It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar

    And the gear of foreign dead men. (I)

  • The sea has many voices,Many gods and many voices. (I)
  • It seems, as one becomes older,That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence—

    Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy

    Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,

    Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past. (II)

  • The moments of happiness— not the sense of well-being,Fruition, fulfilment, security or affecton,

    Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—

    We had the experience but missed the meaning, And approach to the meaning restores the experience In a different form, beyond any meaning We can assign to happiness. I have said before

    That the past experience revived in the meaning Is not the experience of one life only But of many generations— not forgetting Something that is probably quite ineffable (II)

  • Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,

    Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,

    Is not in question) are likewise permanent With such permanence as time has. We appreciate this better In the agony of others, nearly experienced, Involving ourselves, than in our own.

    For our own past is covered by the currents of action,

    But the torment of others remains an experience

    Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.

    People change, and smile: but the agony abides. (II)

  • You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here. (III)
  • Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the pastInto different lives, or into any future;

    You are not the same people who left that station

    Or who will arrive at any terminus,

    While the narrowing rails slide together behind you (III)

  • Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;You are not those who saw the harbour

    Receding, or those who will disembark.

    Here between the hither and the farther shore While time is withdrawn, consider the future And the past with an equal mind. (III)

  • At the moment which is not of action or inactionYou can receive this: 'on whatever sphere of being

    The mind of a man may be intent

    At the time of death'— that is the one action

    (And the time of death is every moment) Which shall fructify in the lives of others: And do not think of the fruit of action. Fare forward. (III)

  • To apprehendThe point of intersection of the timeless

    With time, is an occupation for the saint—

    No occupation either, but something given

    And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,

    Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender. (V)

  • For most of us, there is only the unattendedMoment, the moment in and out of time,

    The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

    The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

    Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

    That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

    While the music lasts. (V)

  • The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.Here the impossible union

    Of spheres of evidence is actual,

    Here the past and future

    Are conquered, and reconciled… (V)

  • Right action is freedomFrom past and future also.

    For most of us, this is the aim

    Never here to be realised;

    Who are only undefeated

    Because we have gone on trying;

    We, content at the last

    If our temporal reversion nourish

    (Not too far from the yew-tree)

    The life of significant soil. (V)

Little Gidding (1942)

  • If you came this way,Taking the route you would be likely to take

    From the place you would be likely to come from,

    If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges

    White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness. (I)

  • And what you thought you came forIs only a shell, a husk of meaning

    From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

    If at all. Either you had no purpose Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places

    Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,

    Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—

    But this is the nearest, in place and time,

    Now and in England. (I)

  • If you came this way,Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

    At any time or at any season,

    It would always be the same: you would have to put off

    Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,

    Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

    Or carry report. You are here to kneel

    Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more

    Than an order of words, the conscious occupation

    Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

    And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. (I)

  • Here, the intersection of the timeless momentIs England and nowhere. Never and always. (I)
  • Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled usTo purify the dialect of the tribe

    And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,

    Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age

    To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.

    First, the cold fricton of expiring sense

    Without enchantment, offering no promise

    But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit

    As body and soul begin to fall asunder.

    Second, the conscious impotence of rage

    At human folly, and the laceration

    Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.

    And last, the rending pain of re-enactment Of all that you have done, and been; the shame Of things ill done and done to others' harm Which once you took for exercise of virtue. Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains. From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire Where you must move in measure, like a dancer. (II)

  • History may be servitude,History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,

    The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,

    To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

    Sin is Behovely, but All shall be well, and All manner of thing shall be well. (III)

    • "Sin is Behovely, but All shall be well, and All manner of thing shall be well." and similar lines later in the poem, are actually quotations of Julian of Norwich.
  • We cannot revive old factionsWe cannot restore old policies

    Or follow an antique drum. (III)

  • Whatever we inherit from the fortunateWe have taken from the defeated

    What they had to leave us— a symbol:

    A symbol perfected in death.

    And all shall be well and

    All manner of thing shall be well

    By the purification of the motive

    In the ground of our beseeching. (III)

  • The dove descending breaks the airWith flame of incandescent terror

    Of which the tongues declare

    The one discharge from sin and error.

    The only hope, or else despair

    Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—

    To be redeemed from fire by fire. (IV)

  • Who then devised the torment? Love.Love is the unfamiliar Name

    Behind the hands that wove

    The intolerable shirt of flame

    Which human power cannot remove.

    We only live, only suspire

    Consumed by either fire or fire. (IV)

  • What we call the beginning is often the endAnd to make an end is to make a beginning.

    The end is where we start from. (V)

  • Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,Every poem an epitaph. And any action

    Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat

    Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

    We die with the dying:

    See, they depart, and we go with them. (V)

  • We are born with the dead:See, they return, and bring us with them.

    The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

    Are of equal duration. A people without history Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern Of timeless moments. (V)

  • So, while the light failsOn a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel

    History is now and England. (V)

  • With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

    We shall not cease from explorationAnd the end of all our exploring

    Will be to arrive where we started

    And know the place for the first time. (V)

  • Through the unknown, remembered gateWhen the last of earth left to discover

    Is that which was the beginning;

    At the source of the longest river

    The voice of the hidden waterfall

    And the children in the apple-tree

    Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea. (V)

  • Quick now, here, now, always—A condition of complete simplicity

    (Costing not less than everything)

    And all shall be well and

    All manner of thing shall be well

    When the tongues of flames are in-folded

    Into the crowned knot of fire

    And the fire and the rose are one. (V)

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