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UBC Theses and Dissertations

T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets : their pattern and meaning Erickson, Eric E.


This thesis is an attempt to describe T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets as a work that is highly dependent upon pattern. This is in keeping with the views of those critics (e. g. Helen Gardner, Harry Blamires, Elizabeth Drew) who feel that the Quartets, throughout all four books, are the drawing out of a continuous thread of meaning. The underpinnings of the poem are religious and sacramental and its purpose is to bring a sense of the eternal to the temporal world. Throughout, one is guided by the notion that Eliot is describing the way to religious vision. Chapter one, therefore, is a discussion of Eliot's attempts to establish a fundamental point of view, the point at which vision begins. One is required to seek the meaning of individual words and the pattern of key images which lead to what Eliot calls "a condition of complete simplicity." The conclusion of the chapter suggests that vision begins where it ends, that Eliot's goal is the extinction of the bodily eye and the kindling of the light of inner vision. Chapter two proceeds to discuss the circular pattern of the Quartets, the constantly reiterated theme that in order to make a beginning one must make an end, or "the end is where we start from." It is argued that the thing that prevents one's making an end is one's fear of change. Thus it is the fear of change that clouds the way to mystic vision. Following is a chapter on the mandala and how it relates to the general pattern of poetic imagery. It is viewed as a synthesis of many meanings, most particularly what mystics call the "downward way to wisdom." The mandala, that is, is a symbolic way of stating the paradox that vision occurs through darkness. And as the mandala resolves this one paradox so it resolves many others. The intensely complex association of ideas that the mandala represents is interpreted to be an image of "enlightened consciousness." Chapter four develops this same theme, only going into more detail as concerns the finer points of the pattern. Here is discussed the descent into darkness and what this signifies in the general pattern of mystic thought. Also discussed is the relationship of images of darkness and light and how this leads to a sense of a pattern of growth. Symbolic of this latter pattern are images of the tree and its leaves to which chapter six then gives expression. A brief summary looks at the pattern of development in Eliot's prose, poetry and drama and draws the conclusion that Four Quartets is the work of the mature artist, sure of his talents and able to speak in the affirmative voice that had eluded him in much of his earlier work. In all, Four Quartets represents the coherent ordering not only of the pattern of one man's life but of the life of a people as he observes it to be.

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