Thank you all for your fabulous participation in our exploration of T.S. Eliot’s East Coker the poem that confirmed for him that he was actually in the process of writing the second of what would become The Four Quartets. Published on Good Friday 1940, just near the start of the Second World War, this poem embodies a powerful expression of T.S. Eliot’s quest for spiritual insight and sanity in a world that truly had gone mad. The title of this poem connects him to his British Ancestry in the tiny village of East Coker in Somerset where his relatives had lived for around 200 years prior to their departure for the New World in search for religious freedom in 1668, in an England that was riven with religious dissent. Eliot himself was born over in America, but now, back in England, he reclaims his deepest roots with British traditions. One of his British ancestors, it turns out, was none other than the famous British 16th Century author Sir Thomas Elyot who published The Boke named The Governour in 1531. It was lines from this book that were directly imported into East Coker as part of T.S. Eliot’s seeming wish to anchor his physical and emotional life in a stable landscape of ancient rural traditions which seemed such a powerful antidote to the chaos that he saw around him in the London Blitz:
In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.
Enjoy the slides from today’s session, the audio introductory talk and the LIVELY interaction with the always wonderfully wise and questioning audience:
Click on the East Coker link to open the slides from today’s session:
Click on the audio link below to hear the lecture, the conversation and T.S. Eliot’s own aural rendition of East Coker:
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