fBurnt Norton Context: Written during the failure of his marriage with Vivienne, after Eliot’s conversion to Anglo-Catholicism and adoption of England as his country of citizenship. Eliot had ound a lifeline from his depression and despair in a religious awakening, participating in daily services in his Anglican church in London and frequently visiting Kelham Hall on retreat, a monastic community where he learned to chant psalms, pray the Angelus and spend long periods in silent contemplation.
Eliot’s religious conversion results in the writing of a play, Murder in the Cathedral, about the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Eliot took a vow of celibacy, which he almost immediately felt some regret about when a woman with whom he shared a college romance arrives to visit England. Emily Hale was a gifted actress and drama teacher with whom he shared both intellectual passions and a deep spiritual sensibility. They visited Burnt Norton in 1934, a British estate in Gloucestershire, where they engaged in prolonged and profound conversations. This visit sets the backdrop for the poem.
Element: Air Place: Ruined manoral estate Mood; Regret, reminiscence, wistfulness Voice of children hidden in the apple tree Three ways of reading: literal, a moral and mystical (after Dante) Key symbols: Lotos rose, dry brown pool, birds, descent
Influences St. Augustine’s Confessions John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel with the reference to the “10 Stairs” and the Dark Night of the Soul: “Ridiculous the waste sad time Stretching before and after.” Heraclitis and the concept of the Logos (divine pattern)
Comparison with Beethoven Quartet Op. 132: Structure of Five Movements:
1) Allusion to “sonata-allegro form” with its focus on reconciling contrasting themes : Active/Reflective Masculine/Feminine Impersonal/Personal Voice Time past/future
2) Lyrical and intensely imagistic
3) Hymn/Prayer leading into and through darkness and stillness
4) Short, rhythmic movement with greater simplicity of language
5) Integrating Rondo, returning again to repeated phrases, passages Weaves together dark/light ( Major/minor)
Recommended Reading and Listening:
Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, Kenneth Paul Kramer