East Coker- Four Quartets Session 3

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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:

East Coker

Click on the audio link below to hear the lecture, the conversation and T.S. Eliot’s own aural rendition of East Coker:

Remember that you can post into the blog either posting your own poetic creations or any comments you might have on today’s topic, by simply clicking into the Comment tab a the top right hand of this posting.

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  1 comment for “East Coker- Four Quartets Session 3

  1. Peter Solway
    November 24, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    Back From East Coker

    Pennies for the old-fella:

    lone smoker, drunk sailor,

    having his lean feast

    by the busy harbour.

    Stooped orphan, to brave

    a pleasant summer return,

    walk her circuit of gardens

    pause and wonder

    where mum’s gone…?

    Grief’s adventure, flood of joggers

    lunch-time lovers, scavenging ibises

    an Egyptian cypress, New Guinea palms

    Short-hand typist always quick

    with names, Latin and Greek

    cross-words in the Sydney papers,

    white shark of ship, liberal wankers!

    Hawke her pick of captains

    proud to boast, real weeping man at helm;

    but Gough her Cabramatta king

    pronouncing all things egalitarian!

    Labor to win, Sydney her town

    public-parks to own, cool down by fountains;

    braving such a garden-day outing,

    telling her things, bats have gone!

    Yes, more practical prams

    tucker worth a Bob Menzies fortune;

    barefoot girl in that Great depression

    life of independent living, bush gangs of children

    Her father from England

    poor pom with Chinese name

    Grandma from Goldburn

    orphanage colder than Scotland.

    Then on, aged-son of losses theme

    gallery to ascend, columns of sandstone

    lovers in relief and bronze

    Chaucer still reading in tall end room

    In court of Edward the three-digit King,

    way back in english time

    happy without microphone

    brave speaker in Sundays Domain

    St Peter in oils within, still losing his chains

    chant of tribal carvings,

    history in one afternoon

    East Coker recovering, exploring- old- man.


    All dispossession’s will come;

    old-tourist folly, dark moving in,

    patching the cracks with memories

    self-referential tunes

    death and dung

    Last shire days in a medical haze

    her departure no – white cruise liner,

    Princess of the Seas in the Deep

    bound for Relief’s islands and reef

    death and dung

    pain of dying

    pants shitting

    father yelling

    nurse more morphine

    death and dung

    Good Friday numb

    lift a flat camera

    shoot every mortal one

    frozen in the Sydney sun

    death and dung


    Martin Place through

    hospital gates; sing Bennelong

    opera house and rum

    elocution of learned time

    Death and scented-dung;

    Special Street rose garden

    sign a petition

    halt an Iranian execution

    Descend underground

    all stations home, oblivion;

    smiling at her white-light-end,

    an egalitarian woman

    laboring forth to surprise of heaven!


    Geriatric perversity

    nurse ringing

    ukelele bringing

    abba singing

    mumma mia

    there you go again…

    my my, all our serious wishing


    Survived my Dante outing!

    Strangers looking familiar,

    like fit dad in the park

    active with push-ups,

    humping that green Venus lawn

    son dreaming, a steady income

    Death and moist dung!

    Look, French lilies, jacarandas now in bloom

    ancient Banks back home, sherry- unshaven

    floral self-portrait to name;

    Chaucer still reciting.

    Winged angel hovering, key inserting!

    All crosswords done

    as Sydney chimes along;

    FM Brown still signing

    mum still gone…

    death and sweet dung

    subways to our Sun!

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