Erstwhile- Evanescent- Panacea
“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect… but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff,” claims the Doctor in the British television show, Doctor Who. In one episode, he explains to a friend, of the vast intricacies of time, hoping to convey its elusiveness in reality, paradoxical nature, and the inability to complete translate its whole meaning into words. The Doctor, a time and space traveling Time Lord alien, who ages past nine hundred years, and whose cosmic intellect allows him to save not only his loved-ones and friends from imminent danger, but also on several occasions, saves the entire planet, stands as the sole being in the universe to have the ability to grasp an understanding of time and its complexities. Not unlike twentieth century, Nobel peace prize winning, critically acclaimed poet, T.S. Eliot, the Doctor consistently finds himself wrapped in the fabric of time. Yet, unlike the Doctor, Eliot attempts a much more humble approach to seeking time’s meaning. Instead, he composes “Burnt Norton,” a Nobel peace prize winning verse that aids readers in constructing a personal comprehension of reality and experience in the context of time. In T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton,” Eliot uses poetic verse to bring about a personal comprehension of reality and experience by utilizing theory of time and relative paradoxes, effective word choice, and contextual imagery.
Primarily, Eliot theorizes heavily upon the concept of time in order to conquer the unreality of time itself within the audiences’ understanding brining about a personal comprehension of reality and experience. Eliot’s usage of his own personal theory of time, that time remains wholly in its constituents nonrelative to reality yet allows for the comprehension of reality itself, illustrates to his audience his own nonlinear perception of time by describing time from an outside viewpoint, allowing for the prerequisites to understanding reality and experience. Beginning his verse, Eliot first breaks and dismisses the natural human perception of time by explaining its unnatural qualities that normally escape the human view: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.” (Eliot 1.1-3) Dismantling the reader’s idea of time, Eliot, “collapses the divisions of time, giving us the eternal presence of all time or the aspect of eternity” (Williamson 211). Thus with the strength of time to bend to his will, Eliot continues to expand the reader’s understanding to time’s abstractness. Continuing on the abstractness Eliot writes: “If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable” (1.4-5). The reader comes to understand that, “‘all time is unredeemable,’ ” for redemption depends upon the differences in time, what might have been remains possible only in thought. Yet, the unrealized and realized aspects of the past point to the same end when all time is collapsed into the present” (Williamson 211). Thus with the understanding of time’s ubiquitous nature, Eliot aims to explain the solid point of time, “time is unredeemable.”
Continuing upon an explanation of the nature of time itself, Eliot begins to describe the focus of the poem that connects to the very creation of ideas from experience, issuing an understanding of reality and experience. Ideas of human nature sprout from memory and experience of reality, thus in attempting to explain this quality of experience Eliot incorporates it: “What might have been is a distraction / Remaining a perpetual possibility / Only in a world of speculation” (1.6-8). Aiming to fulfill a new perception of time, “Eliot’s poem suggests an awareness that the “present” means more than “here and now” – it also means “apparent to the imagination” (Bush 197). Speculation of what “might have been” indicates Eliot’s aim, that he pursues the understanding through a course of speculation of analyzing scattered memories, giving the present more meaning. A source of new memories, the present, to Eliot, means “apparent to the imagination.” The grasp of time requires one to understand that, “[time’s] psychological demands is to make us accept the necessity of history and future projection” ( Gould 1213). In that, time’s elements relate directly to one’s source of knowledge, that because of time we speculate out actions of consequences pertaining to history and the future; this allows us to gain a new sight on how time causes experience and reality to fluctuate.
Furthermore, having conquered human perceptions of reality and experience through analyzing time itself from a non-linear viewpoint, Eliot builds upon his newfound conception of time by analyzing its paradoxes in order to bring about a personal comprehension of reality and experience. By breaking down the conceptions of time into ideas that transcend literality, Eliot expands upon a personal comprehension of reality and experience. Jumping from abstractness to utter paradoxical ideas, Eliot pursues the elusive nature of time in that: “what might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present” (1.9-10) Eliot describing the meaning of speculation of the past, claims that it “points to one end.” The end, that being the present, represents the meaning of speculation and, “when the word [end] is linked with ‘beginning’ in the context of ideas about form and pattern and life have apparently paradoxical statements that we begin to think of end as meaning ‘completion,’ ‘purpose,’ and even ‘final cause’” (Garden 52). Thus, Eliot suggests that in the present one should seek “end,” that “final cause” and “purpose” that offers validation to speculation.
Initiating verse with a contemplation of the abstract paradox of love existing as an effect of the ‘present’ but having a purpose outside of a ‘present’ view of time allows Eliot to dig deep into a personal comprehension of reality and experience:
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself, unmoving;
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring,
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being. (5.26-32)
Thus, in order to conquer time and fulfill that paradoxical “end” one must use love, for, “love is timeless, and only appears as desire when caught in the aspect of time, the realm of Becoming, not of Being. Thus desire may lead to love, movement to stillness, and the conquest of time through time is achieved” (Williamson 217). Experience, Eliot perceives, contains meaning within the human sense of time, yet more importantly, experience contains meaning in the paradoxical nature of time. In that, it allows action to even occur; he suggests that experience of love, something that remains unmoving in the nature of time, for it, itself remains like time, timeless, causes the wheels and grinds of one’s life to move.
Plundering the depth of his perception of time’s paradoxes, Eliot furthers his conquest with other much more subtle tools. The word choice Eliot utilizes emphasizes emotion that allows him to construct a personal comprehension of reality and experience. Eliot uses a carefully chosen association of words in order to effectively pull the reader into the depth of the poem to bring about a personal comprehension of reality and experience. Intending to dive into the cavern of human understanding, Eliot calls out to the reader to allow his entrance into their hearts. He beats on the perception of time and reality and experience until the reader recognizes its intricacies. He sounds your memories, calling you in, in that your: “footfalls echo in memory” (1.11). These five words, carefully chosen by Eliot describe that, “‘footfalls echo in the memory,’ has a three-dimensional solidity which connects the poem to the external world at the same time as it connects back to the abstractions already detailed for us in the opening lines” (Raffel 128). With the intention of the reader being unable to ignore his or her own memories, being called by this outside source, Eliot forces the reader to realize the interconnectedness of the external and abstract worlds that exist around and within the present. Traversing onward, Eliot figuratively walks with the reader down the lanes of the of their memories to worlds of speculation, which the reader can now access:
Down the passage we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind (1.12-15).
Eliot, with the intention of building a personal comprehension of time, ensures that the reader can create his or her own unique comprehension through the exploration of completely original memories. Eliot cleverly knows that, “memory or the mind includes both aspects of the past, both the unrealized and realized. Thus his words can raise echoes in the reader, who has had similar experience” (Williamson 211). With master technique, Eliot manipulates the reader’s conscientious to resonate and, “echo” their own memories within their own mind, creating a truly personal comprehension of reality and experience.
Consecutively, Eliot’s mastery of word choice in order to communicate abstract ideas enables him to build a personal comprehension of reality and experience. By using words to signify a depth that can have purpose when exposing the nature of memory and time, Eliot constructs verse to bring about a greater personal comprehension of experience and reality. Playing with words to entice the reader to follow, Eliot writes that: “other echoes / Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow” (1.19-20) Eliot aims to grapple with the external world with a human perception of the internal by utilizing memory and the ability to speculate, and thus chooses the correct words to subtly convey this to the reader. Grappling with the non-reality of the subject in how it pertains to the memories that shape experience, Eliot has the reader hear that, “other echoes besides the footfalls inhabit the “rose-garden,” which has become associated with “what might have been.” And he can invite the reader, who is now his fellow, to follow them” (Williamson 211). Thus with this tool, Eliot can explore with the reader their own comprehension of reality and experience in that he can have the reader search out his or her own echoes, not one of his creation, but of theirs. Traveling at this speed, Eliot flushes the reader onward: “Down the passage we did not take / Towards the door we never opened / Into the rose-garden (1.12-14). Attracting the reader, “Eliot’s pattern directly in contrast with the sense and rhythm pattern sounds the footsteps of a being that can have no more concrete manifestation. / We are conditioned by the time we follow Eliot “Down the passage we did not take / … Into the rose-garden,” his words have indeed echoed in our mind” (Bush 198). Eliot wraps the reader around his will in that he can further his search for meaning and understanding.
Beyond the surface of word choice to deliver the necessities to grasping a personal comprehension of reality and experience, the contextual imagery that Eliot employs concerning the garden develops into a tool that he exploits in order to bring about a personal comprehension of reality and experience. Eliot uses the bird as a tool and the sense of childhood urgencies to compel the reader to cross with the bird on its venture to further an understanding in the reader of a personal comprehension of reality and experience. With playful images, Eliot calls to the bird that calls back to have the reader follow:
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world. (1.21-24)
The image of the thrush, a phyla of bird species, peels the reader into the rose-garden, pass the gates, into their first world of memory where Eliot can expound understanding. Levity to the dense subject explains Eliot’s use of the bird in that, “the bird acts as if in a game, introducing us to the childish vision which “confounds the actual and the fanciful” – here used to convey something real, yet not real, unrealized desire or experience” (Williamson 211-212). Using this kind imagery, Eliot furthers it with: “go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children, Hidden, excitedly, containing laughter” (1. 42-43). Thus discussing the utter elusiveness of time, Eliot asks the reader to withhold their mature judgment and instead requests that the reader “sees the bird the bird as an evocation of childhood urgencies” (Raffel 128). All allows Eliot to effectively pull the reader into the chasm of unreality that allows the reader to speculate on time, giving them a personal comprehension of reality and experience.
Moreover, the choice of imagery of which Eliot utilizes, conveys the intention of his attitude toward the predicament and aid in structuring the comprehension of reality and experience. Attempting to bring about a clear personal comprehension of reality and experience, Eliot creates imagery to evoke memories in the reader to aid in their understanding. Vaguely, Eliot describes an idea of a memory that sprouts from the reader; the essence of a lighter movement:
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage (5.3-36).
This call upon memories invokes a new sense in the reader, “at the close of “Burnt Norton” a ‘moment of happiness’ / … is made concrete by the image of a shaft of sunlight which transfigures the world” (Garden 48). Even with the complexity of time, Eliot wants the reader to know of its beauty, to know that in time there lays memory of beauty, gleeful like “children in the foliage.” Eliot intends for the reader to know that time finds itself surrounded by life, that “this is final concrete statement of what Burnt Norton is about; but it recalls the experience we have given in a different rhythm and with different descriptive accompaniments in the second half of the first movement, as the sun for a moment shines from the cloud, and the while deserted garden seems to become alive” (Garden 49). Eliot proceeds to wipe the humanity of time, he explains for the last time that time remains outside the context of human understanding: Quick now, here, now, always- / Ridiculous the sad waste time / Stretching before and after (5.37-39). With the last stroke, Eliot recalls to the reader that time starts where it ends, and ends where it begins, hence the play with words in the second the last line, and the explanation in the last.
In T.S. Eliot’s, “Burnt Norton,” Eliot employs graceful rhyme to convey a particular understanding of reality and experience by exploiting philosophy of time and relative paradoxes, effective word choice, and circumstantial imagery. Time, the most nonsensical idea, spirals about the life, serendipitously affects the cause that gives the next effect, and yet cannot remain within a linear context. Man acts in a manner in which he attempts to perceive that the past will remain behind him, and the future ever forward. And, yet, this anxious manner of expectation causes man to neglect the ever existent present. Ignoring the life around him, man lives to his death never perceiving the utter depth of time’s contradictory, intricate, cosmic, and beautiful presence. Man never really lives. Yet, to grasp a pure understanding of time remains wholly impossible. An over simplification does not do justice, but a simplification of the complexity of time may result in a recognition of its impossibility, and thus one must recognize that time “[is] more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.”
Bush, Ronald. T.S. Eliot A Study In Character and Style. New York: Oxford University Press,
Eliot, Thomas. “Burnt Norton.” 1935. The Norton Anthology American Literature. Vol. 2. New
York: Norton, 2008. Print.
Gardner, Helen. The Art of T.S. Eliot. New York: Dutton & Co INC, 1950.
Gould, Eric. ““Recovering the Numinous: Lawrence and Eliot” Mythical Intentions in Modern
Literature.” The Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism. Ed. Harold Bloom. Vol. 2.
New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 1209-216. Print.
Moffat, Steven. “Blink.” Doctor Who. Cardiff, June-July 2007. Television.
Raffel, Burton. T.S. Eliot. New York: Continium, 1982.
Williamson, George. A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot. New York: Octagon Books, 1981.
In case you missed it.
There’s a lot of you, so you probably missed it. Here it is.
There’s a lot of you, so you probably missed it. Here it is.
There’s a lot of you, so you probably missed it. Here it is.