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Burnt Norton (iii) - The Ex-Communicator

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November 11th, 2009


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03:52 pm - Burnt Norton (iii)
I thought I understood the next bit, as the Antithesis to what came before. Instead of fretting about the past and future, live wholly in the present. This is the Kingdom of God, Nirvana, the Garden of Eden. And Eliot represents it in the poem as walking out into the sunny rose garden and just feeling the pleasure of existing. But we find we can't sustain that ecstasy for more than a few moments, and thus we experience our own fallen nature. And Eliot's Christian belief in the fallen state of man wins over a Buddhist idea that we can attain perfection. I used to think that was all he was saying, but I've changed my mind.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we 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.

And I think that is part of what he is saying. 'Our first world' is the primal sensory experience, from which we deduce everything else, and it is also our childhood, and it is also the Garden of Eden.

But 'find them' - what or who are we are trying to find? I think we are following the 'other echoes' - other memories and traces of the past. And I think 'shall we follow?' isn't Eliot talking to a person who is with him in the real world, but to you reading the poem. And you aren't going into the garden with him, because he is long dead. So, I think instead of an innocent focus on the real garden, he is inviting you into a shared imaginative, Platonic, garden, outside of time. This whole section reminds me a lot of Yeats, who is a kind of Neo-Platonist.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.

'They' are the ideal forms who inhabit the ideal garden. I think of Yeats' metal bird, more perfect than a real bird. I think Eliot is saying there is a world of 'logos', where the past and the present and the future are reconciled, just as sitting in the Rose garden one is not disturbed by ghosts and memories, one simply allows them to be. Looking on ordinary roses with this ecstatic gaze makes them into ideal forms.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.

I know 'box' is a type of shrub, used to make knot gardens, but when I read 'box circle' I think of the theatre, and I also think of Vitruvian Man. The feeling is that we and Eliot are moving in directed perfected patterns. The formal knot garden makes us walk in the perfect path, very structured, very calm.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
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.

And those words I have just quoted are so packed with meaning, that he pulls all the meanings together. In all Eliot's poems dryness is despair, and water is relief. There isn't any real water in the pool, but because we are in a state of ecstasy and relaxation the pool fills with imaginary water. The lotos is the symbol of the perfected soul. And the angels or ghosts, or ideal forms, are reflected in the quiet self. The platonic imaginary garden and the sensual experience of the present moment are united.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

And so we are driven out of the garden. We can't sustain the moment; it always collapses. It's important to Eliot that we can't stay in the garden - it's the basis of his whole belief system. But I don't quite understand the reason: 'go... for the leaves were full of children'. What does that mean? The platonic forms and the ghosts of the dead orphans somehow drive us out of the garden, as if they were angels. I think because we are not children, and we are not ideal, we just can't live there.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

And so the first stanza of the poem concludes with a restatement of the original position. The solution has failed: we can not live in a present of estatic being. Instead we are stuck in a sort of living death 'one end, which is always present'.

PS - I'll leave it for a bit now

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