As I wandered the country lanes of West Berkshire and Wiltshire during the hot days of the summer, the thing that struck me more than anything was how timeless everything was.
A hundred years ago a writer or an artist might have explored the very lanes that I was exploring and experiencing the same feelings. In 1816 or even 1716 the same might have happened. We are lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country.
As normal thoughts about writing were not far behind me.
What would my next project be? Things Often Found.
I had not written about the commonplace for quite a while. So on that hot July day as I sat in a pub near Devizes, I thought about frequency. The frequency of discovery. In the month of July what would I find most often? Obviously certain criteria had to be observed otherwise the popular would win hands down.
It all started in the market hall in Devizes. I found a shoddy copy of T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets which I purchased. It had been owned by a Terence Day in 1957 and had the following quote from The Sleeping Beauty by Edith Sitwell added.
In that dead wild spring
Through the birds shaken voice
We heard God sing
Quite why it had been added to Eliot’s Quartets was open to question. So this was a start.
Later in the month I was in the Bath area and guess what I found? Not one but two copies of the Quartets. I did not purchase them but by then knew what I was going to write about. There were further sightings in Dover and here in Hungerford. But where could I start? It would have been improper of me to write a critique as there are many people more qualified to do so. So I settled on short descriptions of the places noted in Eliot’s work.
I have always admired the Four Quartets with their meditations on man’s relationship with God. His relationship with time and the universe. Eliot was articulating what I had felt when I was exploring those country lanes. Hang on I am beginning to analyse the poems. We cannot have that. Let’s get back to basics.
The Quartets are a set of four poems which Eliot created over a six year period just before the Second World War. The four poems were:
The Dry Salvages
All are places which in theory one can visit although one is not in England and not very accessible.
Burnt Norton is a manor house in the Cotswolds with a lovely garden. It belonged to a close friend of Eliot and the poet had enjoyed many happy visits to the house and garden.
East Coker is a small village not far from Yeovil and was the ancestral home of the poet’s family. His ashes now rest in the village church.
Little Gidding is a village about twelve miles from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire and was the site of Nicholas Ferrar’s non-conformist community founded in 1625.
The Dry Salvages are a small group of rocks off of the north-east coast of Cape Ann in Massachusetts.
Although I am a great admirer of Eliot, the nearest I have been to visiting any of these places is being driven through East Coker about ten years ago. I do not know if I will visit these places as the poems themselves mean so much to me. If I do it will be to pay my respects to Eliot at East Coker.
What did amuse me though was that I was conducting this little charade during the height of a lovely English summer. Everything was soft. The air. The light. The colours of the season. All were most agreeable. Then there was Eliot opening Little Gidding with the following line. Midwinter spring is its own season. And he ends with Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?
I was reading these lines in Bedwyn. The temperature was in the eighties. On the surface it certainly was not a zero summer but I was aware of the underlying meaning.
Little Gidding is the fire poem of the quartet and if I am reading it correctly is about lost causes. The lost causes of Charles the First and possibly their association with Ferrar’s family community.
I am going to stop here as I promised not to analyse the work. My intention was to examine the commonplace.
Things Often Found.
As it was I happened on Eliot’s Four Quartets it could just have easily been farm equipment or the like. Although it is November and the weather is anything but nice there is still plenty of time to explore. Do examine the commonplace the items that you see frequently when in antique shops and Arcades. They are always of interest and if you research them well it can be a hugely rewarding experience.
If I have set you off on the Eliot trail then it likely you will find the Four Quartets in the Arcade. Fill your motor car up with a tankful of petrol and off you go.
I will leave you with this quote from Burnt Norton
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.