Argument and Parody in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets Essay

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The Seduction of Argument and the Danger of Parody in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets Though its more lyrical passages present detailed and evocative imagery, substantial portions of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets afford no such easy approach. Since the initial appearance of "Burnt Norton" it has been a critical commonplace to regard these portions of the text as at once its most conceptually profound and its most formally prosaic. Of course, the Quartets offer enough cues toward this critical attitude that it may fairly be said to reside within the poem at least as much as it is imposed from without. As the text of the poem itself apparently gives license to the view that its "poetry does not matter," the preponderance of critical attention to …show more content…
The text integrates paraphrases, near-quotations and direct citations from disparate times and cultures (Heraclitus, Krishna, St. John of the Cross, et cetera), and its citations are made to appear thematic and unified: all bear on time and renunciation, a negative theology or mysticism. Many critics have remarked that these quotations are "integrated" or "assimilated" (Traversi 89) rather than "twisted" into a "clash" with their original meanings (Gardner 30) like the allusions of The Waste Land. And the formal unity of the Quartets' imagery and structure, their very apparent craft, suggests an analogous unity of content. But the poem itself – considered not merely as a fabric of allusions, concepts, and images but a text, as it must be – steadfastly resists systematization. This is not merely a modernist poem, with the suspicion of directness which that implies, but an explicitly self questioning one whose overt content deals with the difficulties of reading. The Four Quartets use paradox, contradiction, tautology, and the performance of self doubt as their poetic method, more even than they rely on image or form. And the frequent, jarring shifts of tone, from evocative or witty lyric to prosaic self-doubt or meditation, disrupt the poem's aspirations to formal unity. In particular, the poem's discursive, abstract, conceptual, and self-doubting passages are enough unlike Eliot's earlier poetry, and critics' idea of poetry, to be puzzling. (To narrow the

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