Four Quartets Characters

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Four Quartets Summary & Study Guide Description

Four Quartets Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot.

Narratorappears in Burnt Norton

The narrator sits in the beautiful rose garden at Burnt Norton. As he sits, he contemplates the idea of time being unredeemable. He thinks that what might have been what has been is an echo in one's memory. As he sits in the rose garden, the narrator hears children laughing; a bird encourages him to follow the sound and find the children. He follows the sound and comes to a pool of water which he peers into. The narrator realizes that humankind cannot bear very much reality. The narrator contemplates the movement at the still point of the turning world which he believes should not be called fixity where the past and future gather. If it were, there would be no dance, but there is only dance which is the inner freedom from practical desires. He realizes that time past and time future allow little consciousness since only in time can a moment in the rose garden be remembered; only through time is time conquered. The narrator is in a place of disaffection where shadow can be turned into transient beauty. He is distracted from distraction by distractions. He descends into the world of perpetual solitude in an abstention from movement while the world moves in abstency.

When time and the bell bury the day, the narrator wonders if the sunflower will turn to him. The light is still at the still point of the turning world. The narrator considers the fact that only the living can die; the end and the beginning are always there. The narrator feels that words strain, crack and break under the burden. He recalls that the Word in the desert is attacked by the voices of temptation. The narrator considers the detail of the pattern is movement; desire is movement, which is not in itself desirable. He believes that love is unmoving and is the only cause and end of movement which is timeless. The narrator is caught in a form of limitation between being and unbeing in the shade as the sunlight rises and he hears the laughter of the children hidden in the foliage. The narrator says that it is ridiculous, the waste sad time, stretching before and after.

Narratorappears in East Coker

The narrator watches as houses crumble or are destroyed. The houses are rebuilt; they live and die. The night sees light fall across an open field. In the warm haze, dahlias sleep, waiting for the early owl. In that open field, the narrator believes that if one does not come too close, they may hear the music and see a man and woman dancing, signifying marriage. The sounds of rustic laughter and merriment permeate the air. Dawn arrives, and another day prepares for heat and silence. The narrator is here or there or elsewhere, in his beginning which is his end. In the second part of the poem, the narrator wonders what the late November is doing. The narrator wrestles with his words, unsatisfied with the way he describes these events. He decides that poetry does not matter; nothing is as expected. He wonders if mankind has been deceived with a long hoped for calm in an age of serenity. The narrator acknowledges that wisdom is only the knowledge of dead secrets, and it is useless, or has a limited value at best. Men are only undeceived of that which can no longer harm them. The narrator does not want to hear of the wisdom of old men; he wants to hear of their folly, fear of fear and frenzied possession. The only wisdom men can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility which is endless. The narrator watches the houses go under the sea and the dancers go under a hill.

The narrator notices that all men go into the dark individually, but all of mankind joins them in the silent funeral. Yet, it is nobody's funeral; there is no one to bury. The narrator tells his soul to be still and allow the dark to come upon it. He compares this to the change of scenes in a theatre. The mind is conscious, but it is conscious of nothing. The narrator tells his soul to be still and wait without hope for hope which would be hope for the wrong thing, to wait without love because love would be love for the wrong thing. There is yet faith, but faith, love and hope are all contained in the waiting. He must wait without thought because he is not ready for thought. The narrator believes that in order to get to where one is from where one is not, it is necessary to go by the way in which there is no ecstasy. What one does not know is the only thing one knows; what one owns is what one does not own; where one is is where one is not. The narrator alludes to the necessity of Jesus Christ needing to worsen the disease before being able to cure it. In order to be warmed, one must first freeze; one must quake in frigid purgatorial fires. The narrator is in the middle with twenty years wasted, and every attempt at a new start is a different kind of failure. Each venture is a new beginning, but his equipment is always deteriorating. What is able to be conquered by strength and submission has already been discovered by men whom the narrator cannot hope to emulate. He can only try to fight to recover what has been lost, but he may neither gain nor lose. Like others, the narrator starts from home, yet the world becomes stranger as he grows older. It is not just one intense moment; lifetime burns in every moment. There is a time for evening under the starlight and the lamplight. Love is most nearly itself when here and now cease to matter. One must continue moving into another intensity, a further union, through the dark and desolation. For the narrator, in his end is his beginning.

Narratorappears in The Dry Salvages

The narrator expresses his belief that the river is a god. He compares it to the sea which tosses earlier creation on the beach. Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception, time stops, never ending, and the narrator hears the bell clang. The narrator wonders when the wreckage and calamitous annunciation will end. He realizes that there is no end, but there is an addition, more days, hours and years living among the breakage. The final addition is failing pride or resentment at one's failing powers. The narrator realizes that, like the past, there is no future not liable to have no destination; it is unchanging. He sees another pattern in the past as he ages, the means of disowning the past; he can have experience but miss the meaning. Past experiences revived in the meaning are not the experience of his life only but that of many generations; it is a backward look at recorded history. He realizes that moments of agony are permanent; though people change and smile, agony abides. He sees times as both a destroyer and a preserver which the narrator compares to a ragged rock in the river which is a monument on clear days but means danger in bad weather.

The narrator wonders what Krishna meant about the future being a faded song of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret. He knows that the way up is the way down, and the way forward is the way back. He sees time as no healer, and the patient as no longer here. The narrator realizes that time is neither action nor inaction. The narrator prays to the Queen of Heaven, asking her to pray for those in ships, the women who worry about them, and those whose voyage is ended because of the sea. He discusses communication with the gods through horoscopes, tea leaves, and palm reading which are pastimes, drugs and features of the press. This is the way it will always be, especially when there is distress and perplexity of nations. He knows that men's curiosity searches the past and future and clings to that dimension. The narrator points out that to apprehend the point of intersection of the timeless with time is an occupation for a saint as it requires selflessness. For most of mankind, there is only the unattended moment and the distractions within it. There are only hints and guesses. He sees rest as prayer, observance, disciplines, thought and action. The past and the future are conquered and reconciled. The right action is freedom from the past and the future. For most of humankind, the narrator acknowledges, this is the aim that will never be realized; man only remains undefeated because he continues trying, content if his body nourishes the significant soil.

Narratorappears in Little Gidding

The narrator explains that midwinter spring is its own season. The windless cold is the heart's heat, and there is no wind except the Pentecostal fire. Between melting and freezing, the sap of the narrator's soul quivers. The narrator wonders when summer will come. He warns visitors that if one comes this way in May, it is the same; what one thinks they come for is only a husk. He advises them not to come here to verify, instruct oneself, inform one's curiosity or carry a report to others; one should come here to kneel and pray. The narrator considers that the dead, being dead, can now tell one what they had no speech for when living. This is the intersection of the timeless moment. In the uncertain hour before morning, the narrator meets one loitering. After pointed scrutiny, he recognizes the familiar compound ghost of many dead that he half recalls. The narrator is still the same yet someone other at the same time; he assumes a double part. He trudges along the pavement with the ghost in a dead patrol. The ghost answers the narrator's wonder though he is not eager to rehearse thoughts forgotten. He advises the narrator to forgive others good and bad. Last year's word belongs to last year's language. The ghost discloses the gifts reserved for age to the narrator: the body and soul fall asunder, there is a conscious impotence of rage at human folly, and a painful reenactment of all one has done and been. The day breaks, and the spirit fades.

The narrator considers the differences and similarities between attachment, detachment and indifference to self and others; indifference lies between attachment and detachment. The narrator wonders why people celebrate dead men more than the dying since one cannot bring back a ghost; these men accept their constitution of silence. He notes that what is inherited from the fortune is taken to the defeated, a symbol perfected in death. The narrator sees that the beginning is the end; making the end means making the beginning of something new, and the end is where one starts. Every word, phrase or sentence is the end and a new beginning. Every poem is an epitaph. The narrator meditates on the idea that all actions lead to death which is where man starts; man dies with the dying and is born with the dead. He sees history as a pattern of timeless moments; history is now and England. The narrator knows that humankind will not cease from exploration, but the end of exploring will be to arrive where they started. Through the last unknown gate is the beginning, and all will be well.

Birdappears in Burnt Norton

The bird in Burnt Norton encourages the narrator to follow the voices of the children in the garden.

Childrenappears in Burnt Norton

The children hide in the rose garden, laughing, causing the narrator to search for them.

Man and womanappears in East Coker

The man and woman dance around a bonfire in an open field, signifying their marriage. They leap through the flames, keeping time to the music that plays. They eat and drink in celebration.

Surgeonappears in East Coker

The surgeon plies steel and heals people. He must hurt them in order to cure them; the surgeon is a symbol for Jesus Christ.

Riverappears in The Dry Salvages

The river is a strong, brown god. He is sullen, untamed and intractable. First recognized as a frontier, the river is nearly forgotten after a bridge is built across him. He remains implacable, keeping his seasons and rages. The river is a destroyer who watches and waits.

Ladyappears in The Dry Salvages

The Lady is also called the Queen of Heaven. Her shrine stands on a promontory. The narrator entreats her to pray for those in ships, women who have seen their sons or husbands set forth without returning and those whose voyages ended in the sand, in the sea's lips or anywhere that the sound of the sea's bell does not reach them.

Dyingappears in Little Gidding

The dying depart, and we go with them; we die with the dying. We are born with the dead, but they return and bring us with them.

Weappears in Little Gidding

"We" in Little Gidding is humankind. The dying depart, and we go with them; we die with the dying. We are born with the dead, but they return and bring us with them. We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all exploring will be to arrive where we started.

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