Tuesday, May 12, 2009

T S Eliot's Four Quartets

The sermon this Sunday in church included a meditation on T S Eliot's Four Quartets. I haven't even thought about those poems in over 20 years, but I went home and dug out my old copy of Eliot's poems and re-read them. I was pleased to find that the language was as beautiful as I remembered. But I was less pleased to discover that the poems were just as difficult as I remembered. However, with the help of the notes I scribbled in the margins during some long ago class and some surfing on the Internet I was able to bring a new, more mature perspective to the poems.

Eliot wrote the Four Quartets over a long period of time that included WW II. He was focused on writing dramatic works but found some of his thoughts just didn't belong in a play. He brought those stray lines together into the Quartets. The Quartets are not quite as bleak as his earlier masterwork The Wasteland, but they are definitely not praise songs.

Looking at Eliot's poetry brought home just how little poetry there is in life today. We are constantly surrounded by (you might even say assaulted by) pop songs everywhere, but most of that writing is far from rich and poetic. I read somewhere that today it is easier for a poet to find a publisher than a reader. I don't know if that is actually true, but I do know that neither I nor anyone else I know spends much time thinking about poetry anymore.

But I do miss the wonderful sense of the discovery of great beauty when I first read Wallace Stevens. I loved the straight forward imagery of William Carlos Williams. I even enjoyed the hokey rhythms of Vachel Lindsey. I'm sure there are poets today writing quality works, but most of us don't pay attention.

So maybe we should resolve to read at least one poem a week. You might not want to start with T S Eliot, but maybe Emily Dickinson or William Blake or William Carlos Williams. The library has lots of material, both anthologies and books of poetry and guides and criticism. The web has lots of public domain poetry available, as well as resources to help make sense of what you're reading. Give poetry a try!

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