Time Transcended: Eliot’s Four Quartets

  • Konstantin Kolenda


‘Burnt Norton’ introduces Eliot’s main theme and states his basic problem. The theme is the essential temporality of human existence, and the problem ‘Can time be transcended?’ In several different ways Eliot calls attention to the concatenation of the three time-dimensions: past, present and future. Every passing moment contains in itself, or points to, its past and its future. There is even a hint of determinism in this view; what might have been belongs only to the world of speculation, says Eliot. Of course, that world too is a part of the real world, in the sense that our unfilfilled dreams are a part of what we are. Thus, glancing back to our past, we recall the poignancy of unfulfilled longing, which is just as much a part of ourselves as consummated satisfactions. Eilot sounds a theological note in saying that ‘If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable.’ That conclusion is logical enough. From the point of view of eternity the world must be seen as completed, and, if so, unchangeable. So, if the timeless substance of the world is essentially unsatisfactory, there is no way it could be made better or redeemed. Eliot’s stumbling, hesitant soul-searching in this poem reveals his profound misgivings about our ability to find the world satisfactory. But the poem also contains his confessional appraisal of situations in which the possibility of affirmation is fleetingly glimpsed.


Horseshoe Crab Underground Train Human Darkness Human Sinfulness Passing Moment 
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Copyright information

© Konstantin Kolenda 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Konstantin Kolenda
    • 1
  1. 1.Rice UniversityUSA

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