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T. S. Eliot Poem: The Four Quartets


Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
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.

                      T.S Elliot.

Continuing my musings into poetry, verse and musical expression, and how they often express the same moods, ideas and themes, I now look at T.S Elliot- one of my favourite poets.

The Quartets are a set of four poems that are interlinked meditations, the themes being humankind’s relationship with time, the Universe and the Divine. They remind me of the feel of Beethoven’s late string quartets ( and also piano sonatas) in that there is a timeless, and introspective exploration in the feeling and atmosphere created. Like T.S Elliot, Beethoven read philosophical and ancient texts (such as Indian and Greek) and explored spirituality ( see my post on Beethoven’s spirituality).

Rather fancifully, some might say, I am inclined to consider that works of musical and poetic genius, like Elliot and Beethoven, might have been accessing the same imaginative realms to bring forth their works. Certainly in the nineteenth century it was often expressed by those who had creative genius to refer to Muses as the source of their inspiration, together with the “Divine”. Both Elliot and Beethoven’s work show monumental mastery of their art, and great profundity that still affects us deeply today. Their messages are still pertinent.

By Elliot naming the set of poems “Quartets” this reminds me of these musical works. Like Beethoven’s music, where themes are developed and repeated, these poems have a continuity, and Elliot himself described them as “auditory imagination.”

Verse 4 of Burnt Norton in The Quartets I find particularly mood evoking. Even the rhythm is interesting- if you recite it out loud, lines may be emphasised like musical statements heard in classical music. There are also pauses, that come before the emphasis.

Time and the bell have buried the day,
the black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

I am reminded of a passage in the third movement of Beethoven’s late piano sonata no 31. Below is a video of it played by Ronald Brautigam on a Paul Mc Nulty fortepiano. At 50:52- 51:11 you can clearly hear a church bell tolling sombrely. (This is not so marked on a modern piano as it doesn’t have the rich tonal ability to allow for such variety in the registers of sound. This is often described as tonal colours. Listen to it on a modern piano and you will see the difference. David Schrader demonstrates the difference in this great video on you tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9IaE2i-DmA ). I am quite certain this was Beethoven’s intention to evoke the sound of a church bell tolling. It doesn’t sound like anything else and fits the mood of the passage perfectly.

Reading Elliot’s verse above whilst listening to this passage, I feel that the moods are similar…..considering mortality, the passage of time and memories….

Elliot begins the set of Quartets with the following:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
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.

“Footfalls echo in the memory…” What an evocative and affecting expression! It gives one shivers down the spine. I hope dear readers that this will inspire you to read these brilliant Quartets at:


And for the wiki article on the Four Quartets:


And the wiki entry for Beethoven’s Piano sonata, no 31: