The title of the poem is derived from the terminology of music. ‘Quartet means a set of four voices or instruments. Each part of the poem is divided into five movements equivalent to the five musical movements of a symphony : allegro, andante, minuets, scherzo and rondo… Eliot achieved the height of his musical skill in Four Quartets and he, himself, has said in his essay, The Music of Poetry, that poetry maybe benefited by a quantum of musicality in it.
The four parts of Four Quartets are not independent poems because they revolve around the same central theme of time. Therefore, the four parts make a definite pattern which is the unity of the poem. Eliot speaks of two kinds of time : the ordinary fleeting Time, and the eternal Time that he refers to as the ‘still point’ in which past, present and future stand united.
Here, I am going to look at the first, the second and the fifth movements of Burnt Norton – the first poem ; and at the fifth movement of Little Gidding – the fourth poem. However, I have hyperlinked all the Four Quartets in the references. I recommend a guided study using one of the many critiques in print. The idea of ‘eternal children’ silently hidden in the rose garden is taken from a poignant, thought-provoking short story by Rudyard Kipling of a blind English mistress in a large country estate. It is called ‘They’ because the blind lady is aware of the inside and outside of her vast estate in terms of the activity of these children and their giggles and laughter. She always refers to them as ‘they’.
You will see that in Four Quartets Eliot has carried the ‘still point’ beyond ‘fixity’ and enriched it by curling various ‘times’ into it – past, present and future :
“Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
And, as if to stress the overlap of the beginning and the end, Eliot uses the same lines to both open and close the Ist movement of ‘Burnt Norton’. In the same movement, the poet also says:
“And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.”
Here, Eliot is very close to the Purānic creation myth in which Vishnū, the Sun God & the Preserver gives birth to Brahmā, the Creator riding a lotus emanating from his nābhī or navel. In fact, nābhī is a group word for bindu and is the seat of the third Chakra i.e. the Manipura . And, as the creation happens ‘the pool’ reflects the mayānvi universe.