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Four Quartets

Four Quartets is the name given to four related poems by T.S. Eliot, collected and republished in book form in 1943. They had been published individually from 1935 to 1942 . Their titles are Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding.

Eliot considered Four Quartets to be his masterpiece, as it draws upon his vast knowledge of mysticism and philosophy. It consists of four poems, "Burnt Norton," "The Dry Salvages," "East Coker," and "Little Gidding." Each of these runs to several hundred lines total and is broken into five stanzas. Although they resist easy characterization, they have many things in common: Each begins with a rumination of the geographical location of its title, and each meditates on the nature of time in some important respect--theological, historical, physical, and on its relation to the human condition. A reflective early reading suggests an inexact systematicity among them; they approach the same ideas in varying but overlapping ways, although they do not necesarily exhaust their questions.

"Burnt Norton" asks what it means to consider things that aren't the case but might have been. We see the shell of an abandoned house, and Eliot toys with the idea that all these "merely possible" realities are present together, but invisible to us: All the possible ways people might walk across a courtyard add up to a vast dance we can't see; Children who aren't there are hiding in the bushes.

Part IV of Little Gidding was set to music by Igor Stravinsky in Anthem: The Dove Descending Breaks the Air (1962).

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