Imagine a great turning thing, all the weight balanced on a single shaft or point. This is what time is like – the significance of the present depends on the weight of the past and future – but the past and future are dependent on this tiny pinprick of the present. There are recurrent images in this stanza which reflect this model of time.
- A wheel, turning on an axle
- A dancer balanced on one foot
- A tree, all its weight suspended above its trunk
- The night sky, turning on an invisible point
Though these images are not described explicitly in these terms, I believe they come naturally to your mind as you read these lines.
In the first stanza, in the rose garden, Eliot flirted with the Buddhist idea of living in ecstasy in a moment in time, but ran away from the implications (‘human kind can not bear very much reality’) In this stanza I think that Eliot uncovers ideas, I could call them pagan or atheist ideas, which could rescue him from his suffering. And perversely he turns away from them in the end.
I feel differently about Eliot than a lot of people who love his poems. I think he’s making a trap for himself, but it’s a very clever trap, constructed so carefully that it looks like the nature of existence has trapped him, when it’s really his own masochism. I find this stanza very frustrating, because it seems to me that Eliot stands on the brink of his cage, and then at the end withdraws back into it, and locks himself back in.