On Wednesday, January 29th , students, faculty and guests gathered to discuss T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. The main themes running through this set of poems are time, the universe, and the divine, all three of which were examined in depth at the symposium in Pickle Lounge.
The night began with a welcome and a thank you to everyone who helped make the “Four Quartets” extended exhibit possible. Over the last couple weeks, there have been performances by The Kandinsky Trio, art exhibits in Olin Hall, and lectures from the artists and musicians. The art will remain on exhibit in Olin Gallery through February 14th. After many representations of the poem through these different means, the symposium was a chance to discuss the poem as what it really is: a poem.
The first of our guests was Dr. Robert Denham, a retired professor of English at Roanoke College. Denham has authored a collection of twenty-nine books which gave him a unique insight on the material. His presentation discussed the inner workings of T.S. Eliot’s specific word choice and meanings. Denham discussed that Four Quartets are full of paradoxical imagery, contradicting itself every few lines. Denham connects this type of language to the Bible which will also make claims such as “The last will be first” that make us question the meaning behind the paradox.
Dr. Marwood Larson-Harris in the philosophy and religion department at Roanoke College, also discussed the poems. He looked at the poem with Eliot’s past dabbling in eastern religion in mind. Larson-Harris began his piece by telling the audience that Eliot makes a lot of statements, but “how many of them should be taken at face value in a poem that constantly contradicts itself?”
He continued by arguing that perhaps it is not Christian at all, but merely asks us to question Christian values. Perhaps, it really reflects the values of eastern religions much more, especially the concept of leaving behind material goods and the circular nature of life and time.
A question and answer portion followed the two speakers which let the speakers to go more in depth about the direction of time and the connection to other religious topics. In response to an audience member’s question, both discussed the impact of Eliot on readers who had never come across Four Quartets before. Larson- Harris discussed his view on the poem after more than twenty years of reviewing it, and he reflected on how the very first thing that struck him was the music of the words, obvious even to the untrained ear. Denham continued the answer by telling us that he remains confused at some parts of the poem, reminding us of what Makoto Fujimura said in his previous lecture: “if we think we understand anything truly and completely, we ought to think again.”