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Four Quartets and the Language of Paradox

Four Quartets and the Language of Paradox

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jack Quin. Originally submitted for English , with lecturer Brian Caraher in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jack Quin. Originally submitted for English , with lecturer Brian Caraher in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
Four Quartets
and the Language of ParadoxAbstract
This paper will consider T.S. Eliot’s
 Four Quartets
and its paradoxical language as itstruggles with issues of theology and philosophy. This paper will frequently focusupon the violation of dictionary definitions and the “perpetual slight alteration of language” in Eliot’s poetry (with terms such as “still”, “pyre” and “fire”) and thewider implications of this disruption as Eliot turns from the rational and the scientificin favour of expression through the transcendent and “the language of religion.”The potential of paradox to present a metaphysical or theological unity in the poetryof T.S. Eliot raises a crucial issue for this paper. That being that it is important toconsider Eliot’s use of paradox as not exclusively a literary device. The nature of  paradox in several of Eliot’s poems contain a philosophical dimension, as Eliot washimself a student of philosophy with scholarly ambitions long before he achievedliterary success. This thesis will consider the deeper philosophical and theological paradoxes of his poetry through the critical lens of Søren Kierkegaard. There is littleindication of a direct influence of Kierkegaard on the poetry of Eliot, yet the Danishtheologian raises several critical discussions that can be seen to illuminate the paradoxical dimensions of Eliot’s religious beliefs. Kierkegaard approached paradoxas a tantalising philosophical term that was “the source of the thinker’s passion”
 
andthat “the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity”(Kierkegaard, 1984, 46). However Kierkegaard also seriously considered the natureof paradox as going beyond the limits of logic, “The supreme paradox of all thought isthe attempt to discover something that thought cannot think” (Kierkegaard, 1984, 46),
 
and thus the possibility of resolution through a conception of divinity that Eliotsearches for in the
 Four Quartets
.A fundamental paradox in Eliot’s poetry might be the perceived cross-religiousmessages, specifically in ‘The Dry Salvages’, where there is a transmogrification or incorporation of opposing religious traditions such as Hindhuism and Christianity.This essay will suggest that Four Quartets resolves several paradoxical intimations by bringing together these divergent schools of thought by that which unites them; their texts, messages and central figures. It should be noted that this paper was the finalchapter to my undergraduate dissertation on ‘T.S. Eliot and the Language of Paradox’that considered both
The Waste Land 
and
 Four Quartets
.
 
Four Quartets
and the Language of Paradox
By 1935, thirteen years after the publication of 
The Waste Land 
, much had changed inEliot’s personal life, his political views, his literary style and his religious beliefs. “Iam an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature and a royalist in politics”(Eliot, 1970, 11). Nonetheless in Eliot’s later poetry he had refined his language of  paradox to its fullest extent stylistically, thematically and doctrinally. Throughout the
 Four Quartets
the same tantalising contradictions emerge as in
The Waste Land 
, yetthey are resolved through a commitment to Christianity above all else.In Burnt Norton paradox is endemic to philosophical and theological considerationsof time:Time present and time pastAre both perhaps present in time future,And time future contained in time past.If all time is eternally presentAll time is unredeemable.Craig Raine accurately describes the academic language as one that places the reader “in the lecture room, listening to the noise of chalk on the blackboard and theunhurried expository voice.” (Raine, 96). The bold assertion of line 4 that “all time iseternally present” establishes this dichotomy of ‘eternity’ and ‘temporality’ to whichthe speaker(s) of the
 Four Quartets
will attempt to find an “intersection” (199).

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