A Conversation for 'Four Quartets' by TS Eliot
Nice article but...
Researcher 126107 Started conversation May 15, 2000
It's a nicely written article, but ... I don't agree with the conclusions.
There are several contributing factors.
1) I've been reading the _Four Quartets_ since I was 16 (I'm now almost 40), well before I knew most of the references which Eliot uses in the poems and I don't think I ever found the text particularly obscure in vocabulary ("chthonic" isn't _that_ difficult a term, and it has no simple equivalent) although there _are_ many references -- to Mallarme, Rolle, Julian of Norwich, the history of the civil war, etc. -- which will deepen the poetry considerably if they're known. But I don't think that they need to be known to grasp the poems.
2) The poems are in particular about a particular aspect of religious belief: they involve the addressing of the relationship between experience and metaphysical truth in the context of a catholic -- Eliot was a strong Anglo-Catholic -- understanding of the development of christian doctrine and the nature of the Church. In this context particularity is important, if not vital, and the foci Eliot uses, including his ancestral past (East Coker/Sir Thomas Elyot), the English Civil War/Caroline divines (Burnt Norton, Little Gidding), and the mediaeval English mystics (Little Gidding) are key points within the definition of the English and Anglican traditions. Obscurity is a by-product of coming from outside the tradition.
3) The poems are written from _within_ a particular religious and cultural tradition; they aren't efforts at general evangelism, as the "Choruses From The Rock", or _Murder in the Cathedral_, say, were. Much of what it draws on, moreover, (explicitly in Little Gidding) is a _mystical_ tradition for which there seems no good reason to claim that "surely any religious revelation must be accessible" for "ordinary readers" (i.e. random ones) . To judge them by the standards of apologetic seems to me to use the wrong yardstick.
4) Finally, I think it inaccurate to say that "it does stray occasionally from the conventional orthodox Christian path"; the claims and themes of the poem are fully orthodox and conventional within the understanding of "orthodox" and "conventional" which would have been understood at, say, St. Stephen's Gloucester Road, where Eliot was churchwarden.
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