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.
Hands up if you think you fully understand the poetry of T.S. Eliot (I mean other than Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which, tellingly, is not included in my nice Faber & Faber edition of his Collected Poems).
Yeah, me neither. I mean, take that bit above, which is the opening of Four Quartets: I sort of follow the collapsing of linear time, it potentially being unredeemable (though, I’m not sure I agree with that… like, if you believe in redemption, then some of time must be redeemable – like, post-redemptive act – and if all time is the same, then it must logically all be redeemable, no?), the idea of perpetual possibility, maybe, abstraction, not so much.
But, amazingly, I quite like not understanding it all. I mean, I’m not averse to going deeper – I am, after all, currently musing over an essay on ‘The Theology of History in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets’ (Yes, I know how to spend my Sunday evenings, what now?), and I’m sure that advance knowledge-ing makes the reading richer – but worrying about needing to understand it all as you read, it kinda gets in the way.
Going through fifty pages of Four Quartets, line by line, that would be a PhD thesis. It’s probably already several. But you’d probably still not be there. Some bit of meaning would hover, just out of reach, just above your head, buzzing.
Last Sunday I spent some time recording Little Gidding (other friends were recording the first three parts). It was quite strange, reading a poem I know bits of quite well and other bits not at all, understanding all of the words but not all of the sense of them all together. I kept falling over my reading as my brain caught up with bits of it, and stumbling as it mused on other bits, but I resolved not to stop and think it all through until afterwards. And somehow, reading it all through, and listening back to check it, and then listening to Rach and Jenny and Kelly’s recordings made sense – the kind of sense you can’t explain, that’s just rhythm and beat and something that hits the bones and floats in the aether, and vanishes the moment you try and claim it. You just have to live with it, or let it live with you.
So, without further ado: Four Quartets, for you to listen to:
1. Burnt Norton, read by @RachClements