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Four Quartets

Collected Poems, 1909–1935, New English Weekly, Murder in the Cathedral

eliot ‘little time ‘burnt

the last of T. S. Eliot's major poetic works, first published in its entirety in New York in 1943. Each of its four sections, which sustain a meditation on the temporal and eternal orders of reality, reflects one of the four seasons and draws concrete and associational imagery from the location whose name supplies its title: ‘Burnt Norton’ is a Cotswold house the poet initially visited in 1934; ‘East Coker’ is a Somerset village with which Eliot had ancestral connections; ‘The Dry Salvages’ is a rock formation off Cape Ann, Massachusetts, which served him as a marker when sailing as a boy; and ‘Little Gidding’ is the Huntingdonshire Manor where Nicholas Ferrar established his community in 1625. With the exception of ‘Burnt Norton’, which concluded Eliot's Collected Poems, 1909–1935 (1936), the successive parts first appeared in the New English Weekly in 1940, 1941, and 1942 respectively. The poems' expression of the continuity of values amid the uncertainty of the Second World War gained them a wide readership and reinforced Eliot's reputation. The sequence originated in lines discarded from Murder in the Cathedral (1935), ‘Time present and time past | Are both perhaps present in time future’, which form the opening of ‘Burnt Norton’; Eliot's theatrical work is also echoed in the restrained declamatory tone which gives the sequence the quality of a poised dramatic monologue enacting the shifting movement of thought. Each of the four parts has within it five divisions providing a structure for parallel developments from the opening statements of themes suggested by local context through to the hesitant resolutions of the conclusions; in the case of ‘Little Gidding’ the ending is more climactically affirmative, envisioning the moment out of time when ‘the fire and the rose are one’. ‘Little Gidding’ is also notable for fusing evocations of wartime London with more purely imaginative elements, an achievement exemplified in its Dantean encounter with ‘a familiar compound ghost’ in deserted streets after an air-raid.

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