Thursday, September 18, 2014
Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot or How Poetry Gets Around & Acorns
Four Quartets has the acclamation T.S. Eliot's most famous work. I went in search of this poetry after reading one line of it:
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Now "All shall be well" is a classic quote from Julian of Norwich, unless it goes back further. However, I went looking for quotes about "the rose" after I read Neil Gaiman's book, "The Ocean at the End of the Lane." In it, he made this fabulous mind stopping statement:
“The second thing I thought was that I knew everything. Lettie Hempstock’s ocean flowed inside me, and it filled the entire universe, from Egg to Rose. I knew that. I knew what Egg was—where the universe began, to the sound of uncreated voices singing in the void—and I knew where Rose was—the peculiar crinkling of space on space into dimensions that fold like origami and blossom like strange orchids, and which would mark the last good time before the eventual end of everything and the next Big Bang, which would be , I knew now, nothing of the kind….I saw that there were patterns and gates and paths beyond the real. I saw all these things and understood them and they filled me, just as the waters of the ocean filled me.”
Now I had read Gaiman's book because I was researching fantastical ocean stories for a novel I wanted to write. And I wanted my novel to have something about this rose concept because, yes, I was researching an image from a dream.
So as you can see, if you try to chase an image down, you will find poetry gets around. I mean this to say reading an image in a poem, a story, a dream, or a piece of sculpture, or art. It's all the same. Images have intrinsic meaning whether we attribute that to some collective unconscious passed down in the subfolders of our genetic mind, or just by chance. A symbol is a symbol is a symbol is a symbol.
And as this gets rather convoluted, it's best to keep images in poetry and art and not try to talk about them too much or you begin to sound crazy. Possibly why this beautiful rose image is placed at the end of T.S. Eliot's "best work ever," and at the climactic point of one of Gaiman's smaller, simpler books of fantastical fantasy and not the topic of some essay or random blog, such as I am doing here.
The four quartets are supposed to be four longer poems about mankind's relationship to time and the divine-- or so I was told. At first I was disappointed in the poems. I found them hard to read. They looked like unedited poems written in free form. I couldn't find order of any kind-- that I could decipher at first glance. I knew there must many essays on the subject, so I put them aside to read again later.
Since then, I've come across dozens of minor adjectives, metaphors, even nouns in all sorts of texts: novels, text books, poems, biographies. And each time I am quite sure they are borrowing from T.S. Eliot's work. Something about his writing seems to bleed into the work of everyone else. Something about the words he chooses words or images seem to fill the holes just where people felt they needed to borrow a phrase. Upon a little more research, I see that while some of his work may seem opaque, he definitely has purposeful meaning even if it his hidden in the subtext of the fourth or fifth read.
One other unexpected affect of reading these poems: after reading them, I feel much more free to write my own poetry. I don't feel worried about hiding meaning in my poems-- especially in ones that don't have much of it. I don't feel worried about writing poems that don't have any meaning at all. So I'd have to say this work is very freeing, and I'm sure that further study would reveal many wonderful layers of meaning yet to be discovered even meaning that makes this blog rather pointless.
What I truly admire, on the whole, the fact that so many people are still thinking about the words of these poems and letting them germinate in their own work, so that these particular poems seem to seed so much written word.
Poetry gets around. Poetry is full of nothing, everything, regular things, and things that we love. If what my favorite poetry teacher said once, that writing poetry “is what makes words into a material thing, hard and solid as a table” then I’d say T.S. Eliot does one better, he pretty much throws acorns all across the literary world.