‘A Pattern of Timeless Moments’: Four Quartets

  • Nancy K. Gish


Despite more than thirty years of commentary, there is little agreement on the nature and quality of the Four Quartets. Most would agree that they are uneven, but relative excellence varies with the reader. To take an obvious example, Helen Gardner finds ‘particularly beautiful’1 the opening lines of ‘The Dry Salvages’ which Donald Davie cannot hear without embarrassment.2 There is, however, increasing agreement on two important points. Unlike Eliot’s earlier work, the Four Quartets are said to make statements which must be understood and evaluated. Moreover, it is generally assumed not only that doctrine is important but that we know what the doctrine is, its essential character being an aspiration for a non-living, non-temporal ideal based on a religious tradition of renunciation. Evaluation of the poem is said to depend on the ability to accept such a doctrine. Critical disagreement, according to Davie, is simply between the religiously inclined, who admire it, and the secular, who do not, and Graham Hough acknowledges that, ‘there can be little doubt that the radical difficulty is doctrinal.’3


Mystic Experience Fourth Movement Temporal Life Formal Garden Refining Fire 
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  1. 4.
    Helen Gardner, The Composition of Four Quartets (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 29.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Fayek M. Ishak, The Mystical Philosophy of T. S. Eliot (New Haven, Connecticut: College & University Press, 1970), p. 135.Google Scholar

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© Nancy K. Gish 1981

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  • Nancy K. Gish

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