Four Quartets

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Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

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) which has been acclaimed by many as one of the greatest works of mystical poetry ever written, and one of the greatest poetic compositions of the twentieth century. It requires little to appreciate the beauty of the words and the mysteries it evokes, but a great deal of knowledge and reflection to adequately appreciate many of the mystical and historical allusions that it makes. These selections are but excerpts that indicate the worth of the whole.

Burnt Norton (1935)[edit]

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
  • Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future
    And time future contained in time past.
    (I)
  • 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.

    But to what purpose
    Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
    I do not know. (I)
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
  • 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...
  • 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)
All is always now.
  • 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. (II)
  • Words move, music moves
    Only 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 movement
    Not 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)[edit]

In my beginning is my end.
  • 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)
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
  • Do not let me hear
    Of 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 hope
    For 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 repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again...
  • You say I am repeating
    Something 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)
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.
  • Trying to use words, and every attempt
    Is 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)
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
  • And so each venture
    Is 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)
As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living.
  • Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
    The 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)
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion...
  • Love is most nearly itself
    When 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)[edit]

  • I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
    Is 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)
The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.
  • 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 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
  • 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 past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station…
  • Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
    Into 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)
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
  • 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 inaction
    You 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 apprehend
    The 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)
Right action is freedom
From past and future also.
  • For most of us, there is only the unattended
    Moment, 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 freedom
    From 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)[edit]

Prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
  • 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 for
    Is 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)
The communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
  • 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 moment
    Is England and nowhere. Never and always. (I)
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.
  • Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
    To 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)
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
  • 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.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre —
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
  • We cannot revive old factions
    We cannot restore old policies
    Or follow an antique drum. (III)
  • Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
    We 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)
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
  • The dove descending breaks the air
    With 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)
A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
  • What we call the beginning is often the end
    And 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)
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.
  • 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 fails
    On 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 exploration
    And 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 gate
    When 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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