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Burnt Norton (ii) - The Ex-Communicator

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November 10th, 2009

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02:42 pm - Burnt Norton (ii)
The first 84 words set out a general philosophical position - the utter non-existence of everything except the narrow intense present. The next 23 words give a concrete example of the theory in practice, and a metaphor:
My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

In these 23 words Eliot is saying that his act of composing the words of Burnt Norton is, by the time you read this, part of the destroyed past. His words only exist in the mind of you, whoever you are, who happen to be reading this poem in this microsecond of time. Conversely from his point of view you, reading this, are just a vague potential in the abyss of non-existence that lies in front of him. So the poem is a message from a destroyed man to a reader who does not exist. The bowl of dusty old rose leaves seems to make the words you read the dried husks of a living act of creation, now long dead, and the listless breeze of your attention just lifts them momentarily in a parody of life.

The first time I wrote about Burnt Norton egretplume said it 'reminds me of the SF world of alternate realities'. I agree. I think Burnt Norton is very much like SF. It says to you 'Look - the real universe is extremely peculiar and rather dreadful. The conventional model you have of existence is not only quite dull, but completely wrong.'

The dried rose leaves are also a bridge into the next section which is about walking into the living rose garden at Burnt Norton.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:November 11th, 2009 07:12 am (UTC)
Reading this, I am also put in mind of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, with the vegetation connection and the direct address from the dead poet to future readers. Which is funny as I never ever would have thought of Whitman as any kind of influence on Eliot, or even of the two of them having anything in common.

Thanks for your poetry posts!
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Date:November 11th, 2009 09:49 am (UTC)
I've never read or heard anything about what Eliot thought about Whitman. I can't imagine that he could have unbended the stick up his ass long enough to enjoy Whitman. Compared to Whitman he was so cold and scared of the masses. It would have done him good.

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