'Four Quartets' Rehearsed: A Commentary on T. S. Eliot's Cycle of Poems

'Four Quartets' Rehearsed: A Commentary on T. S. Eliot's Cycle of Poems

'Four Quartets' Rehearsed: A Commentary on T. S. Eliot's Cycle of Poems

'Four Quartets' Rehearsed: A Commentary on T. S. Eliot's Cycle of Poems

Excerpt

Mr. Eliot once said--I do not know how seriously--that he would prefer an illiterate audience; and an illiterate audience might at least possess the honesty and humility which are sometimes lacking among his literate critics. Poetry can be enjoyed but not criticized before it is understood; and a pretence of understanding will not serve as a basis of criticism --or of anything else except a deplorable form of snobbery. By understanding Four Quartets I mean more, of course, than the ability to produce a paraphrase of a given passage that will pass muster: I mean a possession of the poems which may, together with the ability to see them in relation to the European tradition of religious verse, take the place of criticism. The aim of this book is mainly to deal with obstacles in the way of understanding which readers of Four Quartets may encounter. I have tried not to avoid any of the difficulties which I have myself found; and I am indebted to those with whom I have discussed the poems for suggesting others and for their help in meeting them. I am aware that 'explanation' of poetry can very easily falsify it. But a commentary which contains honest attempts at explanation is in a modest if only negative way more useful than a commentary which is a series of evasions. I have in mind two reasons for making these attempts: they may provide a few signposts for many readers of the poems; and they will for all readers bring out by contrast the mastery of the original language. And the second point is as important as the first. For here--I assume that the reader has the poems by him--is a voice which compels attention and commands understanding, a medium which is hard and which cuts clean, a language which is charged with controlled suggestion. And it is this compelling quality which leads us to feel as we read many passages those 'moments of happiness', that 'sudden illumination' which Mr. Eliot has done more than speak of; to feel that though

We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form . . .

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