The Footfalls of Memory: T.S. Eliot Reads His Four Quartets

These two posts — featuring Flannery O’Connor and A.A. Milne reading their own material — are a few of my favorite things. So is this post, wherein Jeremy Irons performs T.S. Eliot’s bewildering masterpiece, “The Waste Land.”

So you can just imagine how this recording makes me feel:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

Try pulling up this pdf version of the text and reading along as you listen. It definitely adds to the experience …though I’m sorry to say it didn’t help with my comprehension. The poem is opaque to me, even though I love every confusing, vividly-captured image. (So I cheated by listening to this Gordon College lecture from Dr. Thomas Howard — acclaimed writer, scholar, and author of “Dove Descending: A Journey Into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.”)

After all of your years of studying and reading it, what brings you back to Four Quartets?
What brings me back to Eliot?  The same thing that brings me back to Sacred Scripture (although I do not suppose that Eliot is inspired in the same way).  He speaks of “the permanent things,” which we all ignore to our everlasting peril.

Attribution(s): “Mr. Eliot” courtesy of Getty Images, which allows the use of certain images “as long as the photo is not used for commercial purposes (meaning in an advertisement or in any way intended to sell a product, raise money, or promote or endorse something).”

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