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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Time and timelessness in The Prelude of William Wordsworth and Four Quartets of T. S. Eliot Elsted, Janet Elizabeth


Structurally, The Prelude and Four Quartets seem to have very little in common. The former is an autobiographical poem in a narrative mode; the latter, a metaphysical poem in a meditative mode. Yet, each has as its focus the representation of timeless experience. Wordsworth's "spots of time" are the expressions of such experience in The Prelude. Eliot's "rose-garden" is the most fully developed timeless moment in Four Quartets, but the poem as a whole deals with various qualities of timelessness and time. Timelessness is a state of being in which time and space are transcended imaginatively. The Imagination acts upon the external world, integrating a series of perceptions into a single, transcendent vision beyond time and space. This integrating activity of the Imagination is a central topic in The Prelude. Wordsworth is as interested in the imaginative process toward transcendence as in the state of timelessness itself. Eliot, on the other hand, passes over the process and concentrates on the nature of the timeless state. He interprets this state in terms of Christian beliefs, and particularly in relation to the "Incarnation" as the "impossible union" of time and timelessness, flesh and spirit. Four Quartets is a Christian poem; The Prelude fundamentally secular. The difference in perspective between Wordsworth's emphasis upon process and Eliot's upon a state of being may be seen in the form of the timeless experience in the two poems. Wordsworth moves through the "language of the sense" through concrete and sensual imagery — to an abstract language, in order to convey a transformation of feeling in the experience; Eliot uses abstraction blended with lyrical imagery to recreate the spiritual quality of the experience. Wordsworth represents the sensual and transcendent in sequence, while Eliot attempts to convey them simultaneously. This thesis is concerned with analyzing prosody and overall structure in the two poems, especially as it relates to the presentation of the timeless or transcendent moment. The Prelude gives a linear structure to experience: time progresses in a narrative sequence interrupted momentarily by the "spots of time." Four Quartets is based essentially on a pattern of reiterations in which time is circular movement rather than progression: the end and the beginning are one; the "way up" and the "way down" are the same. Timelessness is not the suspension of time as in The Prelude, but the "co-existence" with time, "the still point of the turning world."

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