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Joseph Schwartz The Theology of History in T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets The theme of Four Quartets is easily identified. It is stated lucidly in lines 212—16 of"The Dry Salvages." These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses; and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action. The hint half-guessed, the gift half-understood, is Incarnation. ' It is the divine consequence of Mary's Fiat, the "barely prayable / Prayer of the one Annunciation." Everything to be known from the reading of the poem is contained in this link. The Incarnation has made it possible for mankind to enter the everlasting bliss ofeternity for which it was created. Every hair on our head is numbered. Every moment of every hour of every day matters . Because of the Incarnation every moment in time is, paraThis is a revised version of die inaugural Stephen A. Kostick Memorial Lecture sponsored by the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota Logos 2:1 Winter 1999 32 Logos doxically, timeless. Everything done for good or ill endures forever somehow; it is a great mystery. A critical part of our common exciting adventure is the ecstasy of the will. Choice is the highest, brightest part of being, so much so that a single moment has consequences in eternity.The personal history of every human being will end in either salvation or disaster. In his essay on Baudelaire (1930) Eliot wrote that "It is true to say that the glory of man is his capacity for salvation; it is also true to say that his glory is his capacity for damnation."2 We will know our fate personally because we will have chosen it. In Four Quartets we encounter nothing theological that cannot be glossed by referring to the Catechism ofthe Catholic Church. It is, however , in the permutations and combinations of this theme— Incarnation—developed imaginatively that the difficulty for the reader comes and these difficulties are many and challenging, as are the difficulties of Hamlet, Paradise Lost, and 7Ae Book ofJob. Works of art created by the awesome imaginative talent and creative intuition of great artists must be difficult. The rich pleasure we gain and the knowledge we earn is in direct proportion to the effort employed, granting, of course, that it is a work of art to begin with. Contemporary radiant masterpieces, however, present a special problem, albeit not a lasting one. The great "difficult" works mentioned previously have been read and studied for centuries so tiiat, in fact, we do get to know them well in a way, in the way oftheir being familiar, but generally we think we know them better than we actually do. Eliot's poetry is less than a century old, a fledgling in die world ofclassics. In the twentieth century the way ofwriting a poem has changed so radically that a new mode ofpractical criticism developed that we still call "the new criticism" to enable us to read Eliot, Yeats, Joyce, Pound, et ai. There were, of course, significant changes also in Chaucer's time, Milton's time, Dryden's time, Keats's time, and Browning's time. All ofthese writers, however, are closer to each other than Eliot is to any one of them. All of them were born into T. S. Eliot's Four Q_u a r t e t s 33 societies that had, more or less, a ideological world view or at least a working memory of such a view. Eliot himself, of course, recognizes a Still Point (though reluctant in the beginning to call it God) around which experience whirls as it is being driven into meaning. But he is convinced and has cause to believe that his audience no longer shares his view. Hence, he is cunning and indirect. Modernism generally rejected his view, abusing the dialect ofbeliefin such a way that the very language of Christianity appeared to be worn out. In "The Social Function of Poetry" (1945) he wrote: The trouble of the modern age is not merely the inability to believe certain things about God and man which our forefathers believed, but die inability to feel towards...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 31-47
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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