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Being a lunchtime fantasia borne of reading Thomas Howard/T.S, Eliot and listening to Josh Turner at the same time.

Thomas Howard provides a very nice commentary to Eliot's poem, but there are points at which I think things are glossed in such a way as to convey a less full sense of the language in the poem. The following is an excerpt from the first of the Four Quartets, "Burnt Norton."

from Four Quartets
T.S. Eliot

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

Hauntingly beautiful lines, that Howard does an excellent job of starting to unpack. (Of course he's writing a commentary to a point he's not going to unpack everything for us. Where I think there is a slight faulting is in Howard's analysis of "smokefall."

from Dove Descending
Thomas Howard

And what's this "smokefall"? There is no such word. No: but Eliot, the poet ("makers" is what Aristotle called poets), can make up the word, and none of us need be in any confusion as to what it means. High noon? No. Rosy dawn? No. The quivering heat of mid-afternoon? No. It is twilight, probably the most apt time for this sort of haunting vision.

I think this is partly true. But I think smokefall is also a reference to the timeless eternity of the blessing with incense. Perhaps at twilight, whose very atmosphere conveys the sense of smoke falling, but certainly as the altar is censed, and certainly as the people are censed, and as the Holy Relics are censed, there is smokefall with its blessing of the sense of smell, that momentary transport of eternity--a fragmentary blessing that blesses us even in the recollection of it.

I think smokefall suggests this moment in the draughty Church as much as it suggests twilight. Perhaps I read too much into it, but given the context of the rest of the poem, it fits nicely.

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Am studying Eliot and came across this. Wonderful poems.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 3, 2006 1:59 PM.

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