Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Burnt Norton preamble

I am going to start again with a read-through of Burnt Norton by TS Eliot.

Burnt Norton is the first poem in 'Four Quartets', which as a combined work won the Nobel Prize. But it was written five years before the next in sequence, and it was not planned as part of a series, but as a stand-alone. So I think a lot of the formal features which structure the rest of the Quartets were backwards-engineered from Burnt Norton, and arose naturally within this poem, which is by far my favourite in the sequence. BTW I am going to try to stop typing 'I think that...' and just say what I think.

I try to read it as something very plain and overt, about the nature of human existence in time. I have several books about this poem, but I don't agree with them, because they read the poem as speaking obliquely, hinting at theology. Eliot said he wanted:
to write poetry which should be essentially poetry, with nothing poetic about it, poetry standing naked in its bare bones, or poetry so transparent that we should not see the poetry, but that which we are meant to see through the poetry, poetry so transparent that in reading it we are intent on what the poem points to, and not on the poetry

And that's how I want to read it.

Burnt Norton is a manor house in Gloucestershire. It burnt down, hence its name, then the rebuilt house was used as an orphanage, and then unused. So I think this house is an image of time where the past is burnt up utterly. Think of The Langoliers, who eat the past. Or The Fire Sermon
'form is burning, feeling is burning, perception is burning, volitional formations are burning, consciousness is burning'.
Tags: burnt norton
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