masterpiece is Four
Quartets, which was issued as a book in 1943, though each
"quartet" is a complete poem. The first of the quartets,
"Burnt Norton," had appeared in the Collected Poems
- It is a subtle meditation on
the nature of time and its relation to eternity.
- On the model of this Eliot
wrote three more poems, "East Coker" (1940), "The
Dry Salvages" (1941), and "Little Gidding" (1942), in
which he explored through images of great beauty and haunting power
his own past, the past of the human race, and the meaning of human
history. Each of the poems was self-subsistent; but when published
together they were seen to make up a single work, in which themes
and images recurred and were developed in a musical manner and
brought to a final resolution.
- This work made a deep
impression on the reading public, and even those who were unable to
accept the poems' Christian beliefs recognised the intellectual
integrity with which Eliot pursued his high theme, the
originality of the form he had devised, and the technical mastery of
- This work led to the award
to Eliot, in 1948, of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
- An outstanding example of Eliot's
verse in Four Quartets is the passage in "Little
Gidding" in which the poet meets a "compound ghost,"
a figure composite of two of his masters: William Butler Yeats and
Stéphane Mallarmé. The scene takes place at dawn in London after a
night on duty at an air-raid post during an air-attack; the master
speaks in conclusion:
- From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
- Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
- Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.
- The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
- He left me, with a kind of valediction,
- And faded on the blowing of the horn.
The passage is 72 lines, in
modified terza rima; the diction is as near to that of Dante as is
possible in English; and it is a fine example of Eliot's belief
that a poet can be entirely original when he is closest to his
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