David Tomas Martinez on T.S. Eliot’s “The Four Quartets”
The first time I read T.S. Eliot, I was a high school dropout, teenage father, debatably former gang member, and a twenty-two year old freshman in the Southwestern Community College library. I had been to a few open mic poetry readings, engaged enough to sit in a coffee shop and write, hoping the people around me wondered what deep thoughts sprung from my head between sips of macchiato. Writing for me then was as important a performance as reading: “I am writing. I am smart. I am cool. Look, I am no longer ghetto.” But reading Eliot for the first time, I was shook. His work is distinguished by a brutal civility, which I recognized in myself and in lines such as “Let us go then, you and I/ When the evening is spread out against the sky/ like a patient etherized upon a table” in the “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Being raised in the church, authoritative voices resonated with me then, and probably still do. And though I am cautious of the authority with which Eliot speaks, a sort of fatherly, stately voice, his is an important American voice. Much beauty happens in his midst. I decided to discuss the Four Quartets because I find it an engaging book that employs the conundrum of time while still attempting to etch a place for permanence. We will discuss these ideas of Eliot: established works of art change as new works are introduced to the canon, personality must be subverted in successful writing, religion in an increasingly secular society, the symbolic role of time and paradox, and other topics.