Poetry Landmark: T. S. Eliot's Burnt Norton
PostedMay 09, 2011
T.S. Eliot's ecstatic exclamation in Four Quartets, "Quick now, here, now, always—" was inspired by an English garden in the Cotswolds at the country estate Burnt Norton, the idyllic gardens of Burnt Norton, only two miles from the village of Chipping Camden in England. The precise scene of Eliot's moment of profound grace—a pulsating moment with a vision of radiant light—came as he faced a great reflecting pool, then as now empty of water, positioned in a sweeping semi-circle of lawn amid a formal, timeless garden with box hedges:
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Eliot's biographer Lyndall Gordon writes in T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life, that "To go to Burnt Norton is to discover a lost world, like [a] haunted garden filled with the voices of unborn children."
Eliot visited the estate and walked the gardens in the mid-1930s with Emily Hale. He published the poem "Burnt Norton," the first of his four great poems in Four Quartets, as a stand-alone poem in a collection along with earlier poems; the other three quartets were later gathered with "Burnt Norton" in the book Four Quartets, first published in the United States in 1943.
Listen to T. S. Eliot read "Burnt Norton."