The Four Quartets
I am having difficulty focusing my thoughts on only one portion or theme of "The Four Quartets." There are so many interesting themes, some new and some gleaned directly from Eliot's earlier poetry, I find it difficult to focus on any theme or symbol in particular!
Eliot obviously drew on themes present in his earlier poetry (namely "The Wasteland") for "The Four Quartets." At various points I noticed the prominent inclusion of the themes of fire, water, seasons, religion, Christianity, and rebirth. Eliot seems to have wished for "The Four Quartets" to appear to be a detailed description of "The Wasteland" itself! The "compound ghost" walking the streets seems to be a clear indication of Eliot's unearthly connection with the world of the dead - exactly like "The Wasteland" where it is unclear if the characters are dead or alive.
The "compound ghost" who appears in "Little Gidding" intrigued me. Although Dante is undoubtedly a portion of the "compound" which makes up the ghost, I also saw Yeats as a portion of this compound. I thought the line “dark dove with the flickering tongue" (52) was one of the most interesting lines in the poem. It reminded me of Yeats poem, “The Second Coming,” and the beast that "slouches toward Bethlehem.”
The line, “that was a way of putting it-not very satisfactory,” (25) struck me in conjunction with what Eliot wrote about the uselessness of the language of old men. Eliot writes " Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly" (26). I am under the impression that Eliot was taking a very literal view of language and words. I contend that he actually meant that because language is such a living and breathing entity which changes daily, “last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year's words await another voice” (54). Because language changes so often, any advice old men could give would be a moot point by the time they told the story. The language they are using means something totally different today than it meant years ago.
After Eliot makes clear his contempt for old mens words, why is he so interested in the "compound ghost" and his words? I ask this question in all honesty. This ghost is obviously an old man as evident by the words, "I am not eager to rehearse/My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten./These things have served their purpose: let them be" (53). Is Eliot warning the reader to take all theory and writing with the preverbal "grain of salt?" Does he suggest that although the words of the long dead are valuable to understand bygone days, we should avoid living our lives in the past? If this is Eliot's suggestion, he effectively dismisses his own advice conveyed in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and other essays.
Time in "The Four Quartets" is a theme of particular importance to Harold Brooks in his essay, "Four Quartets: The Structure in Relation to the Themes." Brooks writes that the "Quartets" includes "three different kinds of time" and a "timeless dimension" (140). The Ghosts appearance in "Little Gidding" perfectly illustrates the "timeless dimension" Eliot wished to convey.
Again, this reading contained such dense themes and subject matter I found it difficult to focus my attentions on any one primary theme. I can only how my rambling findings have stumbled on a few themes of interest and importance. I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed with the rich thematic elements and many messages. Perhaps I should take a hint from Eliot and take this reading with "a grain of salt." Perhaps it would be more enjoyable if read simply for the language, poetry, and genius of Eliot as a writer.